Ten Tips to "Storm-Proof" Your Sailboat!

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Would your small cruising or racing sailboat be able to weather a gale, storm, or hurricane in her slip, at a mooring, or at anchor? Will you have peace-of-mind the next time Mother Nature decides to unleash her fury in your area? Follow this handy ten-step checklist to make sure you do!

Wherever you live, you can expect to be visited by severe weather once in a while. And if you've strolled through any marina after a major storm and seen the damage, this provides a real "wake up" call to us sailors. What else could have been done?

Much of what I'm about to show you was done with our large fleet at the Chapman School of Seamanship in Stuart, Florida to prepare for hurricanes. These boats included sail and power craft from twenty to fifty feet. Most of these boats were tied up inside of slips.

Read over this checkoff list. Add to it. But by all means, print off a copy and add it to your storm preparations. When the heavy stuff comes your way, you'll be glad you did!

Get ready now for rough weather in port. Smooth sharp chock corners (yellow arrow), add chafing gear, line the hull with fenders, and double up your docking lines from bow to stern.
Get ready now for rough weather in port. Smooth sharp chock corners (yellow arrow), add chafing gear, line the hull with fenders, and double up your docking lines from bow to stern.
1. Double Up All Lines

Use extra line to double up springs and bow lines. If you need to make short lines longer, join them together with a double becket bend or two bowlines tied together. Bowlines are stronger, but require more line.

Position slip lines so that they are higher up on the pilings. This will help keep the boat in place when the storm surge arrives.

2. Add Chafing Gear

Did you know that many boats are lost in storms because their lines saw through sharp chocks?

Synthetic docking line has elasticity that--when under shock loads--can spring back and forth. This action can saw through a dock or anchor line in no time!

Use fine grit sandpaper to smooth the edges of chocks. Next, lash rags, canvas, split hose, or PVC tubing onto any line where it passes over a rub-rail or toe-rail, through a chock, or over the sharp edges of a Genoa track.

3. Put Out Horizontal and Vertical Fenders

Hang extra horizontal fenders onto pilings and the hull where contact can be expected. This gives more area protection than vertical fenders. On the side next to finger piers, hang extra vertical fenders. If moored stern first, hang vertical fenders across the stern.

Add chafing gear where dock or anchor lines pass through chocks, sharp corners, rails, or other potential chafe points on your boat.
Add chafing gear where dock or anchor lines pass through chocks, sharp corners, rails, or other potential chafe points on your boat.
4. Shut Off all Seacocks Except This One!

Start at the bow and work your way aft. Open up every locker and compartment to check for seacocks or ball valves. Shut off each seacock. Turn the handle perpendicular (at a 90 degree angle) to the hose.

This includes the head intake, sink and shower drain, engine raw water intake, and head overboard discharge seacocks. Leave both cockpit drain seacocks open to drain rain water.

5. Strip Away Canvas and Sails

Get rid of windage that can cause the boat to "sail" inside her slip. Strip the boat of sail covers, dodgers, Bimini tops, enclosures, and all other canvas products.

Take this sailing gear home with you or stow it in a storage unit. Remove the mainsail and headsail. Storms can shred a roller furled headsail like a grater shreds a hunk of cheese.

Don't make the mistake of leaving this super expensive sail up in a blow. Remove the sail from the extrusion, bag it, and send it below or remove it from the boat.

6. Batten and Tape Hatches

Are you sure those square hatches on your boat are watertight? Even the best production boats can leak like a screen door on a submarine from wind-driven rain in a storm.

Close and dog (latch) hatches and opening ports. Tape around the inside edges of hatches and ports with strips of duct or sealing tape.

7. Remove or Sink Dinghies

Clear the deck of inflatable dinghies. If you have a hard (rigid) dinghy, take it home with you. If cruising in a remote area, pull the boat plug and sink the hard dinghy in shallow water to protect it from damage.

8. Secure Electronics, Charge Batteries, Check Pumps

Shut down all electronics except for the electric bilge pumps. Charge both batteries so that they will have plenty of juice to run the bilge pumps. Test the float switch on each bilge pump. Lift up the float switch tab with your hand or a boat hook. Your pump should kick on within 1-2 seconds.

9. Put Out Anchors and Increase Scope

start quoteIn storms, many boats that go adrift do so not because their anchors drag but because the deck gear has broken or the rode has chafed through.end quote

-- John Rousmaniere,
author of 'Fastnet, Force 10'

If at anchor and you have the time, spread out three large anchors in a Y-pattern--to offer your boat the best chance of survival. Increase anchor scope to 10:1. Beef up chafing gear where the anchor rode contacts your hull or passes through a chock.

If you use rope-and-chain combination as your rode, attach an extra long length of chain to the bottom of the rode to increase the catenary (curvature).

With limited time, set two anchors in tandem--or in-line. Shackle a long, heavy length of anchor chain to the crown of the main storm anchor. Shackle the opposite end of the anchor chain to a second large anchor. Tandem anchors have helped some vessels survive storms where other vessels were lost.

10. Lock it and Leave It

Under no circumstances should you stay aboard during an intense storm. This could lead to serious injury or worse. Lock your boat with a stout padlock. Check everything once more and evacuate the area. If you've done things right, your boat will take care of herself.


Follow these ten sailing tips to prepare your small cruising or racing sailboat to weather storms in port. You will be rewarded with the peace-of-mind that you have done everything possible for her survival--when heavy weather comes your way.

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