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15-Step Guide to Hurricane-Readiness

Louise Reardon, Captain and RYA Yachtmaster Instructor

Louise Reardon, Captain and RYA Yachtmaster Instructor

Louise Reardon has been sailing around the globe on private yachts since 1992 and taught sailing with Offshore Sailing School on Tortola since 2006. She holds an MCA 3000 ton Masters, is a RYA Yachtmaster Instructor, US Sailing Instructor, and has a BA hons in Asian & African Geography.
Louise Reardon, Captain and RYA Yachtmaster Instructor

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Skipper’s Tips: 15-Step Guide to Hurricane-Readiness

Photography courtesy of BVI DDM

Like it or not, the BVI is centrally located on the hurricane belt of the Atlantic Ocean. Every summer when these waters heat up, the air above the sea rises. Suspended water particles then cool, condense and precipitate, forming localised squalls. These start to spiral as they get larger, generating tropical storms and ultimately hurricanes.

2013 had an unusually low amount of activity, which was linked to exceptionally dry air in the main hurricane formation region of the Atlantic off the coast of Africa. We were therefore spared for another year from any major storm damage. It would be nice to believe the expert predictions of a quiet 2014 season, but we should be cautious of complacency and be prepared.

Hurricane Season is officially June 1 to November 30, so many visiting yachts leave before this time as their insurance policy will not cover windstorm damage in this area during this period. The ‘Jackline Policy’ observed by insurance companies, states that “the northern tropical storm zone is comprised of the waters and territories located between 010°50′ and 031°00′ North latitude and between 030°00′ and 100°00′ West longitude”.


Not long ago, the Zone’s southern boundary was up at 012°40′N, making Grenada, Tobago or the ABC Islands favoured ports of refuge, but when Hurricane Ivan devastated that southern strip in September 2004, the line was moved further south. Inside the Zone, we pay an extra premium, so we should help ourselves out by following these guidelines.


1) Determine the time and effort it will take to run through your hurricane plan and preparation list

2) Keep all documents, insurance papers, recent photos and/or videos of your boat, and inventory of equipment in a safe place off the boat

3) Understand your marina’s rental agreement and know your and their responsibilities and liabilities

4) Move your boat 48 hours ahead of the storm to an identified/certified hurricane hole e.g. Paraquita Bay in Tortola

5) If you haul out, lash the boat to the cradle and secure web straps to ground screws; fill the bilge with water to weigh it down if the boat is light weight

6) If you leave the boat on the dock you must consider damage from storm surge. Position the boat centrally in the slip and lead lines long to absorb the surge. Avoid lines jarring and pulling out the cleats

7) Double all lines. Use your thickest lines. Cover all lines at chafing points with rubber hose or rags. Note that nylon line will stretch up to 10% of its length. Use a round turn and two half hitches not a bowline around pilings so the knot tightens but won’t chafe

8) Use all your fenders. Attach them to strong stanchion bases and cleats. Rig them horizontal around pilings and vertical on flush face dock walls. Make a fender board for greatest protection

9) Remove all loose equipment from the deck (sails, bimini, cushions, winch handles, radios, antennas, instrument covers, dorades, dinghy outboard engine)

10) Lash down anything that must stay (boom, tiller, cockpit table flaps, running rigging)

11) If the dinghy cannot be well stowed or lashed down, deflate the air chambers and sink it until after the storm passes

12) Seal all openings with duct tape to enhance their watertight integrity. Ensure cockpit drains are clear. Close all but main engine sea cocks

13) Fill fuel tanks. Clean fuel filters. Clean bilges. Charge batteries. Turn off all loads but the automatic bilge pump

14) If you have to be on anchor or mooring, reduce your windage to absolute minimum. Rig all anchors with the heaviest to the direction you expect strongest wind and swell. Know your ground tackle, use all your scope and back down hard when setting. Guard against chafe. Remove trip lines

15) Do not stay on board if you can avoid it

The absolute key to protecting your boat from the effects of high wind and storm surge is proper planning, preparation and timely action, so make your plan well ahead of any storm and practice it.

The Department of Disaster Management in the BVI employ the theme, “It is better to prepare and prevent rather than to repair and repent.” – S. Thomas 1856. If we are to honour the motto of the BVI then indeed we shall be vigilant. Good luck with your planning.

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