2017 Hurricane Season: How to protect your documents, home, boat

Published Sep. 5, 2017

Longtime Floridians know the drill. Each year, as the heat and humidity build, forecasters begin their warnings: Hurricane season is upon us, and you'd better take it seriously.

Sure, it was easy to tune out the advice when, year after year, storms skirted past Florida. The Tampa Bay area hasn't had a direct strike in almost a century.

Let the 2016 storm season serve as a warning: Destructive hurricanes lashed both Florida coasts. The bay area also endured flooding, especially in Pasco County.

What's at stake in a storm is just about everything you own — your irreplaceable wedding photos, your pets, your windows and watercrafts. And when a hurricane is bearing down, you won't have much time to make sure they're protected.

Here are some specifics to guide you through the critical process of keeping your home, your boat and your belongings safe this hurricane season.

Protect your home

• Act fast: Everybody else will flood the same hardware stores to buy storm supplies.

• If you're boarding your windows with plywood, don't drill directly into the frame. That lets water inside. Instead, apply bolts, nails or screws to concrete or wood about every 6 inches.

• If you're in a rush, don't waste time taping your windows. Experts say it doesn't keep them from shattering (though it may make cleanup easier afterward).

• Need to brace your garage door? You can buy a kit from a home-improvement store. Experts recommend using wooden 2 by 4s to brace the door horizontally and vertically.

• French doors and double doors are additional vulnerable spots that need to be reinforced. Add extra locks or slide bolts, and pay extra attention to doors that swing inward.

• Give your roof and eaves a close look. The impact of a storm will likely accelerate any damage. Same goes for broken trusses or beams. Make repairs before a storm is bearing down.

• Secure any loose items on your lawn. Hurricane-force winds will take old tree limbs, sports equipment and lawn ornaments and turn them into window-shattering projectiles. Don't put your home (and your neighbors' homes) at risk.

Protect your documents

• Grab a pen and paper and make a list of your important documents, then make copies of each one. When a hurricane hits, you don't want to be scrambling to find the papers that prove your identity and verify what you own.

That means insurance policies, car titles, important receipts, passports, Medicare cards, appraisal documents, medical paperwork, birth certificates, tax returns, Social Security cards — the list goes on. Don't forget your pets' paperwork.

• If you're evacuating, take photos of your home and belongings before you go. Print them out, if possible.

• Your smartphone and email won't be much help if the power is off for an extended period of time. That makes it even more important to have physical copies of your documents on hand to help speed up the process of reporting storm damage.

• It helps to have electronic scans of your documents, which the IRS accepts, saved on an external hard drive as a backup. You can also back up files on the cloud through free and paid services such as Dropbox and Google Drive.

• Sporting goods stores sell watertight bags that can protect your paperwork and photos, and stocks airtight, watertight and "crushproof" cases. Some tackle and ammunition boxes with O-ring seals can also keep documents safe from water.

Protect your boat

• The best course of action is to move your boat inland far in advance of a storm. Look for dry storage in a marina or garage.

• If you're short on time, take your boat up creek or a river — mitigating the effects of storm surge, which raises the water level and can break deck lines. Operate cautiously, and know that drawbridges can lock down many hours before gale-force winds begin.

• Leaving your boat tied up at the marina invites more risk, but you can minimize the damage. Ensure your deck lines are strong — this is not a time to take chances. Extra-long "spring" lines help during major tidal fluctuations and are a good investment. Remove all valuables, disconnect electronics and put away loose items, such as sails and cushions.

• After the storm, remember that buoys and channel markers may have shifted. Drive your boat slowly, as if you're in a no-wake zone, and keep a close watch for debris, fallen trees, wrecked boats and other dangers.

Information from Times files was used in this report. Contact Claire McNeill at