Hurricane Preparations For The 2010 Season

Have you ever had the experience of sitting out a hurricane on your boat? Have you had to leave your boat and wait out a storm, wondering if it would survive? We have done both and neither are experiences we want to go through again. Sitting on board, listening to the wind howling in the rigging and climbing on deck during pelting rain just to adjust dock lines and anchor rode is not our idea of cruising fun, and the anxiety factor is off the charts. Sitting in a hotel room hundreds of miles away, not knowing if the boat made it through or if your next contact is the insurance company. June is just the beginning of the hurricane season, but it is also a good time to get yourself and your boat prepared. With our former boat Sea Trek, we have been through fifteen named storms, twelve of them hurricanes. So we do have some first hand knowledge for preparing and we thought this a good time to share our experiences.

Given a choice, our preferred place to have the boat ride out a storm would be in a well protected, open anchorage, shielded from wind and wave action. In our opinion, the place you would most likely expect to have the boat damaged is in a slip. It is almost impossible to adjust dock lines to compensate for storm surge and not have lines so long that the boat could be slammed against the dock and pilings. During hurricane Georges, in the Florida Keys, we tied the boat up in the middle of the basin of the marina, with an anchor out at the bow and several long lines ashore. After the storm passed, we were the only boat in the marina undamaged to some extent. We rode out hurricane Floyd anchored in the Wye River in the Chesapeake and the wind howled for two days. We were at the head of the river so there was very little wave action and since we are always confident of our ground tackle, we were never concerned about the anchor dragging. We did have two anchors set, and having the proper anchors and rode are very important to your success and the boats safety. One of our biggest concerns is other boats dragging or breaking loose and fouling our anchor. We look for safe harbor in the most remote spot we can find, far away from where the other crowds gather. In Belhaven, NC we rode out hurricane Irene in a large creek with just two other boats while another smaller and narrower creek just north of us had twenty or more boats sheltered there.

If a good safe harbor is not available nearby, our next alternative is to haul out the boat. In some cases your insurance policy may pay part or all of the haul out costs if they offer this option and you have taken advantage of that option. We also look at the location of the marina and the professionalism of the yard before we make the call. And of course if you are in an area prone to hurricanes, you will need to make arrangements well in advance. Some marinas will charge to put you on their haul out list. One of the downside of this is, the marina will begin hauling for a storm well in advance because of all of the work involved and they will also have to prepare their facility. If they notify you a week in advance of the storm that you must get the boat to the yard for haul out, the storm track can change considerably in a weeks time. We have been in these situations and based on our experience decided not to haul that early and made the right call. The storm took another track and missed the area completely. You have to pay for the haul out whether the storm comes or not. This is a tough judgment call and everyone has to do what they feel is right.

Some times you will just need to leave the boat and go. As a matter of fact, in most cases this is what you will need to do. As much time and emotions as we have invested in our boats, the reality is that they are just a thing. And things can be replaced but lives can not. It is foolish to try and ride out a storm on a boat when safer alternatives are available. So you prepare the boat as best you can and you seek shelter ashore. If you have a home or just seek a safe public shelter, there is much preparation that needs to be done in this case also.

  • You need to have a plan.Where will you go, and will your family need to meet you there? Be sure you have phone number handy for friends, family members, doctors, and any others you feel will be important, and possible contacts you might need for up to a week after the storm. If your phone will allow you to send text messages, they sometimes will get out when a call will not. Be sure you know your evacuation routes if needed and cars are fuel up and stocked for emergencies. Is your emergency kit accessable to you in a hurry? Make sure family members understand what circumstances determine whether you stay for a storm or evacuate. The local authorities might require a mandatory evacuation.
  •  Prepare an emergency kit. You can easily buy everything you need at your local storms, but the shelves might be empty just prior to the storm. So put your kit together NOW.  
You may need to survive on your own after an emergency. This means having your own food, water, and other supplies in sufficient quantity to last for at least three days. Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone immediately. You could get help in hours, or it might take days. In addition, basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment, and telephones may be cut off for days, or even a week or longer.

Recommended Items to Include in a Basic Emergency Supply Kit:

  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger

Additional Items to Consider Adding to an Emergency Supply Kit:

  • Prescription medications and glasses
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container
  • Cash or traveler's checks and change
  • Emergency reference material such as a first aid book or information from
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
Find out how to keep food safe during and after and emergency by visiting:
  •  Stay informed through as many sources as possible. Have online sources for weather and hurricane tracking and forecasts bookmarked on your computer. Stay tuned to local weather broadcasts and national information like The Weather Channel. Power failures will be common so battery operated devices will help, just be sure you have lots and lots of batteries. Cell phones will work if land lines go down, but you will need to keep the batteries charged. A small portable generator will make a considerable difference in the days to come if there are major power outages for long periods of time. Have enough fuel for the generator to last a week and store it safely. A WORD OF CAUTION, never run one of these generators inside or in any enclosed, confined area. You could survive the storm to loose your life from carbon monoxide poisoning. We have a portable Honda 2000 Generator that has been invaluable during these storm conditions on many occasions.  

We have posted on our Sea Trek site, a few occasion where we prepared the boat for less serious storms. These preparations can be used in many cases, but for major storms, additional care will be needed. You can read those posts here; It is our hope that some small piece of information here will help in getting you prepared for this coming season and we also hope that all of your preparations will be a total waste of time.

Installing A Marine Electrical Panel In A Day

Prior to purchasing Beach House, we had a thorough survey done by Bob Dulce from Hilton Head South Carolina. Bob knows the Marine Traders intimately, as he has been involved with them since the first hull was imported into the U.S. He is also an excellent and knowledgeable surveyor that understands what can happen when a survey reaches an insurance company with a lot of "recommendations." They immediately become "requirements" as soon as a clerk at the insurance company sees them. So items that were not major, but needed attention at some point, were made known to us during the survey, but did not find their way on to the final report. One of those items was an electrical panel that a previous owner had installed in the hanging locker for the forward cabin. As was the practice during the late 70s and early 80s, a household electrical panel had been installed to service the added air-conditioner, some 120-volt lights and an added outlet in the engine compartment. The panel was in good shape and wired correctly so there was no urgency to replace it immediately. So it went on our to-do list. In time, it finally rose to the top of the list, and the weather cooperated so that neither the heat or the air-conditioning would be needed for an entire weekend--plenty of time to complete the project. So it began.

The first item of business was to find the appropriate spot to mount the panel. We had considered putting the new one back inside the locker where the old panel had been. It was out of the way and the wiring was already there, a tempting prospect. But it was also a pain having to go in the locker behind all of the hanging clothes, we could not see to monitor the gauges and breakers, and we did not like having clothes hanging right next to an electrical panel. Outside the locker did not leave a lot of options. The panel needed to be accessible, yet not in an area where it could get bumped and the breakers accidentally turned off. At first glance, we ruled out anywhere on the front of the lower helm station. But after some study, we decided that this would actually be a good spot since we had instant access, and by putting it high enough and slightly behind the wheel, we would have to try very, very hard to bump it or come in contact with the panel so as to be a problem.

The next step was to cut the hole to fit the connections and breakers that stick out from the back of the panel. We chose the Blue Seas panel because we knew from past experience it was of good quality. They provide a template with the panel to make cutting the hole easier. An important issue is to be sure there are no wires, plumbing or anything else that will interfere with the mounting on the back side of the bulkhead. We used the template on the inside to determine where the panel would be mounted by tracing it on the inside wall, then drilling small holes in the corners. We could then transfer the template to the front of the bulkhead by using the small holes as a guide. The entire area where the panel was to be mounted is covered with easy release blue tape, and then the template is drawn on the tape with a fine tip marker. I like to drill holes in the corners with either a small hole saw of drill bit large enough to accept the blade for my jigsaw. Once this is finished, the hole is carefully cut for the panel and all of the sawdust vacuumed. In addition to replacing the panel, we were also replacing the shore panel outlet mounted on the outside cabin side. The old outlet was plastic, quite old and beginning to deteriorate. This is actually what started us on this project. The new stainless outlet would match the other Marinco outlet that we had previously installed. 

The panel is put in place to be sure it will fit the cut out, and to make sure it is straight and not mounted on an angle. It is also the time to check that all of the wiring that needs to be connected will reach the panel and be clear of obstructions in the back. Any slight trimming of the cut out or a little sanding to make a better fit can be done now. 

With the hole cut and the tape removed, the holes are drilled slightly smaller than the screws that will hold the panel in place and the fitting checked one more time. There is usually lots of sawdust and debris on both sides of the bulkhead, so a good vacuuming and wipe down is in order. We usually like to take this time to sand and varnish the area around where we are doing the work to avoid taking everything apart later.

Before doing any work on the boat's electrical system, the power must be turned off at the breakers on the dock and the shore power cords disconnected. The old shore power outlet was removed, and as is our practice, the core material around the cut out is sealed with West System, and then a thickened epoxy is used to fill in uneven spots and holes. The epoxy is sanded smooth before the outlet is installed. This insures that any leaks will not work their way into the core and cause rot and other problems. Even the screw holes get an injection of epoxy.   

The new outlet is installed, and even with the gasket provided from the manufacturer, we use additional sealant to prevent water intrusion. Everyone has their favorite brand, but we like to use SikaFlex for most of these projects. Prior to re-installing the outlet, it is wired with long enough wire to reach the new panel. This panel would feed the air-conditioner, hot water heater, a few outlets and 110-volt lights. It is a fairly heavy load, so care needs to be taken in using the proper wire size. I used a #8 wire on both of our outlets to connect to the panels, even though the run from the outlet to the panel is only a couple of feet. The green earth grounds from both outlets go into our galvanic isolator and then to the panels. The hot and neutrals go directly to the main circuit breaker for each panel.

The wiring can be done with the panel in place from the back, or in some cases I prefer to connect up everything before the panel is put in place if there are not too many connections. I would add a word of caution here. Unless you have a complete understanding of the proper methods for wiring a boat, I highly recommend you hire a professional. I have been doing this for many years as a profession, so it is fairly simple for me. The wrong connections or improper installation can have catastrophic consequences. Once all of the connections are made and the panel secured in place, all of the wiring needs to be secured. We tend to use lots of wire ties and wire straps to keep everything neat, organized and from moving around, which can cause connections to come loose and wire to chafe through. 

This time, because of the time it would have taken to make some repairs to the wood and varnish the surrounding areas, we did not refinish. That will get done later. With everything in place and all connections tested to be sure they were secure and tight, it was time to connect the shore power. Our practice is to make sure everything on both panels is turned off. The dockside breaker is also turned off, and the shore power cords are plugged in at the dock and the boat. The next step is to turn on the breaker on the dock, and check the voltage meters on the panel for proper voltage. The reverse polarity lights should not be on on either. If they are, something is wrong, and the power should be turned off immediately. If all goes well and looks good, the circuit breakers on the panels should be turned on one at a time, waiting a brief moment between turning each on. Watch the voltage meter for sudden voltage drops, since this could mean a short or other problem. Watch the reverse polarity light as each breaker is turned on. If everything was done correctly, the appliances, etc. can now be switched on. This is a small, relatively simple panel, but if a larger panel with more complicated wiring and DC breakers are included, a much more comprehensive approach is needed. But if a small auxiliary panel is needed, this will get you back in business without a great deal of expense. If you are not sure of your abilities, get the advise of a professional.