Where to Sail During Hurricane Season

Where to Sail During Hurricane Season | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Sailing during hurricane season is possible with planning, technology, and the right location. However, many safer locations exist for summer sailing.

Hurricane season is a hazardous time for sailors in gulf and Atlantic-coast states such as Texas, Florida, and the Carolinas. Despite this, sailors still venture out during peak tropical storm season. Sailing during hurricane season is safer in northern latitudes and inland areas, such as the Great Lakes and the Pacific Coast.


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Why are Hurricanes Dangerous to Sailboats?

Hurricanes are enormous tropical storms that can stretch over 300 miles across. They develop and intensify, gaining strength and moving (most often) northeast from the Gulf of Mexico or South Atlantic to the North.

High Winds and Rough Seas

Hurricanes are dangerous to sailboats for a few reasons. The most destructive force of a hurricane is its wind, which can exceed 157 mph in major Category-5 storms. High winds and perilous seas can effortlessly founder and sink a large boat and positively erase a small sailboat.

Storm Surge

Hurricanes tend to stall and weaken over land, at which point they devolve into less intense bands of thunderstorms and rain clouds. However, docking your boat close to shore doesn't mean it's safe from the effects of a strong hurricane.

A storm surge often closely follows a hurricane. During a storm surge, large waves beat down anything along the coast that isn't bolted or cemented into bedrock.

Seawater floods inland and overflows rivers, lakes, and neighborhoods with up to 30 feet of water. Boats caught in a storm surge get washed inland and pounded to bits against buildings, cars, trees, and infrastructure.

How to Protect your Sailboat from Hurricanes

The best way to protect your sailboat from a hurricane is to get out of its way. Depending on the strength of the storm, this won't always be necessary—but it's wise to seek shelter whenever a powerful hurricane tracks towards your home port.

When is Hurricane Season?

Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1st and ends on November 30th. Hurricane season is when tropical storms are most common, but cyclones occur year-round on the Atlantic ocean.

Hurricanes have occurred in March, December, and virtually every month in between. The reason why hurricane season starts during the summer is that temperature and pressure conditions are prime for storm development.

Hurricane season timing is unfortunate, as the summer months are prime sailing season in the coastal states. As a result, thousands of sailboats take to the water during hurricane season and sometimes encounter extreme conditions.

What States Should Worry about Hurricanes?

Hurricanes primarily affect the gulf coast, and Atlantic states, as tropical conditions further south produce northward-moving storms during the peak months.

Most Hazardous Hurricane States

The most hazardous states for hurricanes are Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina. These states take a direct broadside from hurricanes, which often make landfall on their shores wreak havoc inland.

Additional Hurricane Threat States

States further north also have hurricane-related hazards, especially on the coast. These states include Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, a tiny sliver of New Hampshire, and Maine.

Inland Hurricane Hazards

Inland states such as Arkansas and Tennessee are sometimes affected by flooding after a hurricane makes landfall, which can make river and lake conditions hazardous as well. This effect is much less significant inland.

Where are Hurricanes Dangerous to Sailboats?

Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina have the most dangerous hurricane activity for sailboats. This is due to storm surges, high winds, and other phenomena that can damage boats both at sea and in the marina.

The most hazardous places to be during hurricane season is the southeastern tip of Florida. This also happens to be a common starting point for boats sailing to the Bahamas during the summer months.

South Texas is a fairly rough spot during hurricane season as well, with the most dramatic storm surges occurring around the Houston and Galveston area. The southernmost coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi tend to experience frightening conditions as well.

Sailing in these areas (or simply mooring your sailboat) during hurricane season is precarious and risky compared to safer northern and inland areas.

Hurricane-Safe Sailing Areas

If you live in one of the hurricane-prone coastal states and want to minimize the risks, there are locations you can retreat to and still continue to sail. Here are two alternatives to bluewater sailing during hurricane season.


Lakes are an excellent option for summer sailing, especially if you have a trailerable sailboat. Inland lakes exist in almost every hurricane-prone state, and they offer protection from devastating hurricane storm surges.

Marinas are available on most larger lakes, and fees are similar to coastal yacht clubs and docking facilities. Many of these marinas are also covered, which offers additional protection from rain, hail, and other storm-related hazards.


Rivers like the Mississippi are wide and deep enough for sailboats to traverse. Rivers, while not as protected as lakes, offer some protection from the open-water hazards of hurricane season.

Rivers are a great way to relocate when storm season comes, as you can simply sail upstream and dock far away from meteorological hazards. River sailing is challenging and still prone to storm surges, but the dangers are much lower than in the immediate path of the storm.

Intracoastal Waterways

The United States Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is one of the most useful coastal features in hurricane-prone states. It offers a unique level of protection from bluewater hazards along with ports, haulouts, and other amenities for sailors.

The Intracoastal Waterway system is a combination of coastal inlets, sounds, channels, and artificial canals that run from Boston, Massachusetts, all the way to Brownsville, Texas. The massive waterway consists of more than 3,000 miles of almost entirely protected navigable water.

Intracoastal Waterways are a fantastic way to tour the United States during hurricane season. In addition to an increased level of protection from the open sea, the ICW system runs along more than a dozen major tourist cities and cultural centers. Safe harbors and overnight stops are abundant, and provisions are never in short supply.

Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

The Intracoastal Waterway system begins in Brownsville, Texas, and runs down the western coast of Carrabelle, Florida. Along the way, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway connects to major coastal cities such as Corpus Christie, Galveston, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Mobile, Panama City, and Pensacola.

Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway connects the Gulf ICW to the eastern United States via the southern coast of Florida. Fort Lauderdale, FL, is one of the primary southern points of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway runs all the way to Boston, but not all of the waterway is close to the open sea. During hurricane season, an additional level of safety can be found north of the Manasquan Inlet in New Jersey. The inlet connects the northern parts of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway with the inland Manasquan river.

Major port cities along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway include Key West, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach, Brunswick, Savannah, Charleston, Georgetown, Cape Fear, Wilmington, Norfolk, New York City, Albany, Cape Cod, and Boston.

Intracoastal Waterway during Hurricane Season

Few sailors would recommend sailing in the Intracoastal Waterway during an active hurricane. That said, if you must travel, it's safer to stay inland and away from the driving seat.

However, sailing and mooring in the Intracoastal Waterway during hurricane season is probably much safer than cruising in open water or anchoring in an exposed cove.

The Intracoastal Waterway offers protection from the other unpredictable weather hazards that are common during hurricane season. These include explosive thunderstorms that occur in the afternoon and the occasional low-visibility rainstorm.

Safety Benefits of the Intracoastal Waterway System

For sailors in hurricane-prone states, the Intracoastal Waterway can lay a lot of fears to rest when traveling between destinations. The Intracoastal Waterway is a heavily-traveled shipping lane, which means towing and emergency services are never far away.

Additionally, there are hundreds of marinas, restaurants, boatyards, and fueling docks dotted around the shores of the Intracoastal Waterway. In the event of storm damage, it's much easier to get repairs and find land-based shelter in the Intracoastal Waterway.

Navigation is also easier, as the channels are clearly marked, and landmarks are everywhere. The Intracoastal Waterway makes sailing between coastal states simple and direct.

Sailing out of State

If you decide to avoid hurricane-prone areas during the summer season, there are plenty of places to sail to far out of range of tropical storms. Sailing or towing your boat away from the Atlantic and Gulf states is a popular option for hurricane season, especially if there's a storm on the way.

The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are an excellent destination for sailors during the summer. Though famous for their rough weather, the Great Lakes are calmer during the warm months. Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario are the largest lakes of their kind in the world.

St. Lawrence Seaway and Ocean Access

The St. Lawrence Seaway allows commercial vessels and private boats to access the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean. Combined, the seaway and the lakes are one of the largest surface navigable waterways on the planet and features some of the largest marine locks as well.

Fresh Water, Fair Weather, and Easy Maintenance

The Great Lakes offer another hidden benefit that's great for your sailboat: freshwater. The Great Lakes are freshwater lakes, which means you'll have an entire season to avoid the corrosive qualities of saltwater and the worst kinds of marine gunk.

When to Leave the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes offer safe and interesting refuge during hurricane season, but they're not fair and friendly year-round. During the fall, conditions on the Great Lakes get stormy and hazardous.

Additionally, winter temperatures in the region frequently freeze the lakes, making them totally impassable to small boats. It's best to vacate the Great Lakes area and return home before October, which is right at the end of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Tourist Locations

Great cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Duluth border the lakes, and they're easily accessible from the water. If you're looking to get out of the Atlantic coast during hurricane season, consider taking a trip through the St. Lawrence Seaway and into the Great Lakes.

International Voyages

Looking to do some international travel by boat? The Great Lakes border the United States and Canada, making it easy to visit our northern neighbors and stay far from the weather during hurricane season.

Pacific Coast

The Pacific Coast is another popular option for sailors during hurricane season. There are two primary ways to get from an Atlantic state to the pacific coast: You can transit via the Panama Canal or haul your boat out and tow it to the other side of the country.

Atlantic to Pacific Sailing via the Panama Canal

Larger boats are generally too expensive to ship or haul, making the Panama Canal the most convenient option. Contrary to popular belief, it's relatively easy to transit via the Panama Canal. Private sailboats tie side-by-side and get towed through the locks.

Pacific Coast Destinations

The Pacific Coast is hurricane-free, and typhoons (Pacific hurricanes) rarely make it to the US West Coast. Unlike the Atlantic and Gulf coast, there aren't a lot of harbors on the jagged and inhospitable western coastline.

However, there are numerous destinations on the West Coast that are worth your while. San Diego and its islands are a popular spot for sailboats, along with Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay.

Further north, Portland and Seattle are accessible from the Pacific. Vancouver, Canada, is another popular sailing destination for those escaping hurricane season out west.

Sailing around Cape Horn

Sailing around Cape Horn is another way to escape to the Pacific Ocean during hurricane season. Cape horn rounds the southernmost tip of Chile and connects the two great oceans via a treacherous antarctic passage.

Cape Horn is known for rough weather that intensifies during the summer, so escaping hurricane season this way may cause more problems than it solves.

Is it Safe to Sail during Hurricane Season?

Each year, thousands of people set sail from Atlantic states during the summer. And each year, thousands of sailors return without ever encountering a problem.

Unlike many other kinds of natural disasters, hurricanes often give several days of warning before making landfall near major sailing hubs. As a result, sailors who properly prepare and monitor weather data can almost always avoid getting caught in dangerous situations.

However, the farther out from shore you sail, the greater likelihood you have of encountering an issue. Your ability to receive and react to new information is compromised if you're too far from shore to take shelter.

How to Be Safe During Hurricane Season

The best thing you can do to stay safe during hurricane season is to be informed. Modern weather prediction methods are remarkably effective at detecting and tracking hurricanes, and advanced warning can help you steer clear of a storm's path.

Monitor weather patterns and stay vigilant for weather alerts, and always check for potential meteorological hazards before setting sail. The NOAA and the National Weather Service are a great place to start, along with Weather Band (WB) radio.

Thunderstorms are also a hazard during the summer months, so use resources like the Storm Prediction Center's convective and thunderstorm outlooks to see if you're likely to encounter foul summer weather during your trip.

Where to Sail During Hurricane Season
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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