With Tropical Storm Gustav poised to enter the Gulf of Mexico, boaters should take a moment to review their hurricane preparation plans.
Don't wait until the storm strengthens or changes course to decide what to do with your boat.
Are you ready for torrential rain, storm surge and 160 mph winds? That is what a Category 5 storm can bring.
Tropical systems typically affect boats in several ways.
Storm surge can raise sea levels far above normal high tide. This rush of water can stack unsecured watercraft like cordwood.
Winds can range from 70 to 200 mph, which is enough to lift most small fishing boats and send them flying like loose shingles. As the wind speed increases, the damage caused increases at a much greater rate.
Waves, even in protected harbors, can grow to surprising heights. These rollers will wreak havoc on poorly secured boats, smashing fiberglass and sinking even large vessels.
Most major storms bring at least 6 to 12 inches of rain in 24 hours, which is enough to swamp a boat. And tornadoes, spawned by the swirling winds, may strike without warning.
Move it if you can
The best course of action is to move a boat inland (if it is trailerable) well ahead of the storm so you won't have to contend with clogged roadways.
If you must motor your boat to safety, take it up a creek or river where it can ride out the swells, storm surge and heavy winds.
But remember, drawbridges are authorized to lock down eight hours before the arrival of gale-force winds. The last place you want to be is trapped on the water when the storm hits.
If it is possible to store your boats indoors, i.e., dry storage at a marina or in a garage, do it. A storm-proof structure offers the best level of protection.
Tie it down
If you plan to leave your boat in the water, remove all valuables before you secure it. Disconnect all electronics, and remove any Bimini tops, sails, antennas, life rings, outriggers, booms and dinghies off the boat.
Check your lines — make sure they are not worn or frayed — and have a plan for securing the boat to the dock, leaving enough slack in the lines to account for the rising water. Don't wait until the last minute. It may take several tries to get it right.
Extra-long "spring" lines, designed to keep a boat secure during major tidal fluctuations (spring, as in spring tides), are extremely helpful.
Seal it up
Boat U.S., the largest boaters' advocacy group in the country, also recommends removing all cowl vents and sealing the openings. Use ample duct tape to secure any hatches, portholes and/or doors.
Try to make the boat as watertight as possible. This may seam like overkill, but a well-sealed boat has a much better chance for survival. Have all your necessary hurricane gear (duct tape, lines etc.) stowed in one, easy-to-access location.
When a storm is approaching, you don't want to be waiting in line at the supply store to buy the things you should already have.
Hit the road
Resist the urge to stay behind to "keep an eye on the boat." Once you have secured the vessel, get to safety.Many fatalities occur when people try to "ride out" the storm on the boat.
If you are at sea, head for the nearest port. If you find yourself onboard a vessel at sea (and this shouldn't happen in this age of satellite technology) unable to make landfall before the storm, put on your life jacket and ride it out. The last place you want to be is in the "impact" zone where the waves break against the shore.
After the storm
Once the danger has passed, remember that aids to navigation, particularly buoys, may be torn loose from their usual positions. If you must travel by boat, proceed slowly. Channels will be difficult to locate without markers.
There is also the added danger from floating or submerged debris. Everything from derelict boats to fallen trees will be in the water. Post a lookout on the bow.
For more preparation tips and information, visit the Boat U.S. Web site at www.boatus.com. It has the latest storm advisories, strike probabilities, satellite maps and tracking charts.