The ship ran aground during a storm. Sunset, water spray, high waves.

To the uninitiated, it may seem like a hurricane should have no effect on a sailing vessel. After all, sailboats are built to withstand the wind and storm surge – except when they don’t. Note that a Cat 1 hurricane can send a boat sailing inland. Imagine what it’s like for Cat 4s and 5s.

Unfortunately, sailors in the U.S. faced two extremely serious storms earlier this year (2018). Florence hit the Carolinas in September while Michael made a mess of Florida’s panhandle in October. Both storms sent boats to places they were never intended to go. Some still haven’t been recovered.

So what is a boat owner to do? If a boat manages to stay put in the water, it is a matter of going aboard and assessing the damage. If a boat has been swept onto land, things are a bit more complicated. It will have to be recovered or scrapped.

Go Take a Look

NauticEd, a nationally known sailing training organization that offers online sailor education as well as practical sailing training through its affiliated schools, says the first step is to go take a look at the boat. However, you first need to speak with marina owners and/or local authorities. It’s not uncommon for areas along the coast to be completely closed to the public for some time following a hurricane.

Getting permission to look at your boat is critical. Depending on where your boat is, you may be dealing with spilled fuel and other hazards. There may be downed power lines, dangerous debris, and even other boats that are rather unstable and very close to yours.

Retrieve Valuables and Equipment

Assuming you can safely board your vessel prior to the hurricane hitting without risking your safety or damage to other vessels, the next step is to retrieve any valuables and vital equipment on board. This is a good idea even if you’re not sure yet on the path of the hurricane. Why? Because it might take some time for your boat to be recovered should the hurricane turn for the worst. You don’t want valuables and expensive equipment left on board where it could be stolen. Get anything of value off the boat if possible prior to the hurricane.

Dry Out the Boat

As strange as it sounds, the interior of your boat is subject to water damage. So the next step is getting the boat dry. Remove soaked seat cushions and mattresses. Remove standing water with a pump. Use fans to help circulate air throughout the boat if possible. And once the boat is dry, cover any openings with tarps so that rain doesn’t get in.

Flush the Machinery

On-board machinery, particularly engines, could be filled with water if they were submerged during the storm. They need to be flushed with fresh water and then refilled with fuel. This is a process known as ‘pickling’. The sooner your machinery is pickled, the greater the chances that any potential long-term damage will be minimal.

Make a Recovery Decision

Finally, you will have to make a decision about whether to recover your vessel or scrap it. The decision is likely to be made along with your insurance company, so you do what you can to help facilitate the process. One of the most important things to do is take pictures – lots of them – before and after. The more evidence you have to back up your claim, the more likely you and your insurance company will reach an amenable solution.

It is never pleasant when a hurricane sends a boat sailing onto land. But it happens. If you have been victimized by either Florence or Michael, know that the rest of the country is thinking of you. You have a lot on your plate just to recover your boat.

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