How to Secure Your Sailboat for a Hurricane

How to Secure Your Sailboat for a Hurricane | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to secure your sailboat, if you have not planned for it already you are in a bad spot.

While moving your sailboat ashore is the best way to secure your sailboat for a hurricane, you will have to prepare it regardless by removing as much gear as possible, moving it if possible, and using as many lines and anchors as you can as well as installing fenders.

Deciding which of the three options you choose to do, making your sailboat as lean as possible and removing valuable property and documents is a given. Beyond that, if you cannot move your sailboat to a covered facility on high ground, moving to inland waters or at the very least using extra lines and anchors at the marina will be your only other options. Each choice has their own considerations to be made and will depend largely on the circumstances of the storm and your personal situation. Therefore, no matter which one is best for you, the best plan is one formed well before a storm forms.

Universities and insurance companies are two entities that are not likely to work together but they have when it comes to securing boats and sailboats because it is a public safety matter. Through studies done by several universities and from research conducted by insurance companies, they have all reached the conclusion that moving ashore is the best way to guarantee minimal damage to your vessel. Each of the talking points as well have been thoroughly studied through decades of research into storms, their impacts, and how people weathered them with minimal damage.


Table of contents

Basic Prep Work

No matter what course of action you choose to take, it is important to note that you will have to prepare your boat by securing as many things as possible and removing as much equipment as possible. For instance, any gear left on the decks or in the pilothouse that could become a missile hazard should be removed or locked inside of a locker. If gear like this is left out, it could not only damage your sailboat but potentially hurt someone else inadvertently. It is also advisable that any property of value such as electronics, personal belongings, galley equipment, and important documents should be removed from the vessel ashore for safekeeping.

Speaking of documents, you should not leave any sort of paper on the vessel that could get lost or damaged in the storm. Some of the types of documents you should have before the storm hits include:

  • Insurance policies
  • Marina or pier lease agreement
  • Title
  • Registration
  • Recent photos of the sailboat
  • Contact information for Marina Manager

If you do not have all these documents in one place, it is strongly suggested to do so. By keeping all these documents in a secure location ashore, you make filing an insurance claim that much harder by not being prepared. Additionally, you should take frequent pictures of your sailboat, but especially before a hurricane hits you should take time-stamped photos to prove the condition of your sailboat if the worst happens.

Another item to consider besides removing missile hazards, personal property, and important documents is your navigation equipment and radios if you can. No matter what kind of sailboat you have, you probably spent a pretty penny on navigation equipment since after all safety of navigation is tantamount to having an enjoyable experience on the water. However, if you are able to remove such equipment to bring ashore, you would not only be saving yourself thousands of dollars in replacement costs if damaged but also preventing electrical fires.

No matter where you move your sailboat, if you can remove the sails and secure them ashore that would also be the best course of action. However, removing sails, even for experienced mariners, is time consuming and tedious. In the hours before a storm, sometimes we are not afforded that luxury. In this case, tying down your sails with plenty of line is the best course of action.

Moving Ashore

Removing your sailboat from the water is the only guaranteed way you can ensure your boat does not get damaged at all. By taking it to a covered facility like a shed, warehouse, garage, or anywhere else it can fit between four walls and a roof would prevent debris from hitting the boat, other boats from crashing into it, or from the boat taking on water.

If you do not have a covered facility to take the sailboat to, or if your marina does not offer one, you could also securely anchor the sailboat to the ground using pad eyes and lines. It is also important to note that when taking a boat ashore, you would need to take it to an area of high ground that would be above the predicted storm surge. Simply removing the boat from the water and putting it in your backyard at your beach house would not be a good idea.

It would also not be a good idea to put your sailboat in a sailboat lift or davit. While these devices are fine for storing your boat at home during normal conditions, hurricanes are anything but normal. With strong winds and heavy rain, it is quite likely your sailboat would tip over since it would be more exposed than before.

But before you rush over to your marina and pluck your sailboat out of the water there are a few things you need to consider. First of all is the timing. Having the time to be able to go to the marina and recover your sailboat takes a long time. If a storm suddenly changed direction and is going to make landfall near you, you would have to prioritize protecting yourself and your home versus your boat.

Another obstacle here would be the availability of a trailer. You might not have a trailer, have one that is too small, or not have a vehicle that pulls a trailer. In any of these cases, especially if you have little time, moving your sailboat ashore would not be an option.

As a general rule, if you wish to move your sailboat ashore, you would need to this preferably days in advance if you thought a storm would make landfall near you. By preparing in advance, you would be more likely to find a trailer, vehicle, and shelter for your boat if you did not have any of these than if you were trying to scramble at the last minute.

Additionally, as part of your lease agreement, insurance policy, or both, you might be required in the event of a hurricane to move your sailboat at a minimum out of the marina and potentially stipulating it be ashore. To prevent you from accidentally breaking either terms, read these documents carefully and ask well ahead of time any questions about what you are supposed to do before a hurricane.

Moving Further Inland

If you cannot move your sailboat ashore, moving it to a more protected area is your next best option. Some examples of protected areas would include places like going upriver, going into small creeks, and canals. Keeping your sailboat moored in the marina would be the least favorable option since it would be more exposed than other waterways further inland.

When securing your sailboat further inland, it is important to note that you would still have to do all the same preps as before minus taking the navigation equipment off since you would need this to get where you are going. Once you get to where you want to moor, you need to find good anchor points. As is common in hurricanes, often the lines will not fail but the cleats on the pier will.

Therefore, it is imperative that you use good anchor points such as trees, bollards, and anything else that would not break easily. Additionally, dropping multiple anchors into the water will ensure that your sailboat will not go anywhere.

Despite its advantages over staying moored in a marina, mooring in a river or canal does have its drawbacks. The first one would be the timing again. With rising tides, stronger currents, and heavy winds, getting to where you want to go will take longer than it usually takes. Therefore, if you want to make it there in time, you will have to leave sooner to beat the hurricane to be able to navigate, moor, and evacuate safely.

Another factor about timing is the fact that you might have to deal with drawbridges and other obstacles. Depending on the tides, certain bridges might have too low of clearance to get under them. Other obstacles could be heavier boat traffic or poor visibility that all inhibit safe navigation and prevent you from getting where you want to go.

The second drawback to moving further inland is draft. While your sailboat might have enough draft to get you where you normally go, with adverse weather the tides are likely to be thrown off greatly. Because of this, depending on the size of your sailboat, you might not be able to access the waterways you did previously.

Staying Moored

If you decide to keep your sailboat in its current berth, you are taking the greatest risk. If done properly and with the right lines, keeping it where it is currently moored will be safe only if two conditions are met. The first condition would have to be the seawall that protects that marina. If the seawall does not cover the storm surge, then the marina’s water level will increase and potentially sweep your boat away.

The other factor to consider is the height of the pylons of the pier. If the pylons are say fifteen feet high but the storm surge is going to be twenty feet, you would need to move your sailboat somewhere else since if the storm surge raises the water level above the pylons your boat will probably crash up and over the pier or into other vessels.

If your marina does have a high enough seawall or the pylons on the pier allow enough room to compensate for the storm surge, you can successfully moor your sailboat to the pier and greatly decrease the amount of damage your sailboat might take.

The most important thing you can do to secure your sailboat is to use the right lines the right way in the right configuration. Oftentimes, even experienced mariners can do the wrong thing either through losing knowledge or complacency which is something you do not want in regards to your lines. Below is a list of common issues for lines that were done incorrectly for storms:

  • Not long enough
  • Not the right size
  • Too worn or damaged
  • Tied versus spliced

When making up your lines for a hurricane, you need to make sure they are a bit longer than usual. Because of the greater possibility for an abnormal tidal shift, you need to prevent as much tension on the lines as possible. Though you do not want to make the lines extremely long where they do not hold any tension, you do need them to account for more slack to hold that tension over a greater range of depths than normal.

Mariners should also use the right size of the line when mooring your sailboat. By using a line that is too small, you might not have enough strength in the line to keep your boat on the pier. On the other hand, if your lines are too large, you might not be able to completely tie them to the cleats.

Before a hurricane comes, it would also be wise to change out your lines to new ones, especially if they are worn or damaged in any way. Though they would not be guaranteed to part, lines that are damaged do not have nearly as much strength as newer lines. However is this is not possible, you may put chaff guards on them to reduce friction as they feed through the chalks. If you do not have these, you can make homemade ones out of rags or t-shirts since anything would be better than the bare line.

Splicing your lines is another way to bolster the strength of your lines. As a general rule, tying knots in your lines reduces its strength by half. When you splice the line, it reduces the strength by a nominal ten percent. By either splicing the lines or replacing lines with knots in them you can retain the strength of the line.

Once you have securely moored your sailboat to the pier, there are a few other ways you can keep your sailboat from breaking free. One of these ways is to put out as many anchors as you can. Putting out three anchors on the bow, stern, and leeward side will offer the most protection.

Speaking of leeward, another way you can minimize risk to your sailboat is by moving its bow into the prevailing winds. Of course, this might not be available to you depending on if you know where the wind is coming from and your pier heading, but if you are able to freely adjust your berth this could be an option.

Lastly, as a last-ditch effort to protect your sailboat in case a line parts, a cleat breaks, or tide pushes it away is to install fenders on your sailboat. By installing fenders, you can help prevent damage to your sailboat and limit damage caused to other vessels.

How to Secure Your Sailboat for a Hurricane
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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