For the second year in a row, a hurricane bore down on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, where we keep our boat. Our mooring is not in a very sheltered spot, and both times, we decided to haul it out for the storm. Both times, the brunt of the storm missed us, and we probably could have put some extra lines on our mooring and let the boat ride out the storm. But it's a gamble I'll play the same way the next time.

Boatyards work fast and furious to haul boats out when storms are threatening, so make sure you don't slow them down.

In 2010, Hurricane Earl tracked farther to the east of Cape Cod than expected. This year Hurricane Irene went west, wreaking havoc on our neighbors in Connecticut but causing only isolated problems with boats here in Rhode Island. So, were we wrong to haul out our boat? Here are some thoughts on that question, and a few things to expect when hauling for storms.

Playing the Odds at the Hurricane Casino
Imagine a scenario where all the boat owners in your area who depend on boatyards for haul out are forced to play a game they’d rather not play at the “Hurricane Casino.” Each owner is given an overdose of information on the approaching hurricane and left to estimate the chances of losing his/her boat in the storm. Owners can pay a haul-out fee and leave the game, or stay in the water and risk losing the boat. The problem is you have to make the decision three days before the storm.

While you’re at the casino, you hear some bold owners claiming the odds are 1 in 20 that boats will be lost. These are the owners who vow to stay in the water. Others are sure that this is “the big one” and are hauling out. Perhaps you conclude that the odds are about 1 in 5 that your boat will end up on the rocks in pieces, so you pay for the haul-out and go home to see what happens.

I think of the haul/no haul decision as similar to a (bad) casino game: nobody wins, but everyone might lose.

After all that, let’s say the storm misses your area. You conclude that you could have left your boat in the water. The bold owners who kept their boats in were “right,” and you didn’t need to paid that haul-out fee or take time off to deliver your boat to and from the boatyard.

Were you wrong?

No way! You had to make a decision based on the information available, and you based it on the odds that you perceived at that time. If the odds are 1 in 5, you’re going to be “wrong” 4 of 5 times, but that doesn’t change what the odds were when you made the decision – and you hauled the boat based on those odds.

So, with that in mind, I’m glad we pulled our boat twice, even though we were “wrong.” And I’ll do it again next time.

Help from our Insurance Company
We learned last year that our insurance company, Ace Insurance, offers hurricane haul-out coverage, whereby they pay 50% of the haul-out fee for the storm (smart company!). This made our decision even easier. With their contribution, it cost us $254.68 to haul out last year and $272.95 this year at New England Boatworks.

Getting it Done
When it comes time to haul-out, don’t expect the same relaxed atmosphere that you may find in your boatyard at the end of the season. Make arrangements early, and be ready to get hauled quickly. Here are a few key details:

  1. Get all sails off before you get to the yard. Boatyards don’t want you unfurling sails while the boat is on land, and they want to be able to haul you out immediately. So don’t make them wait while you pull sails off at the dock.

  2. Take out speedometer transducers and replace them with their plugs before you get to the yard. Again, things will be happening fast. This year, when it was our turn, I drove our boat right into the travel lift – never even handed off a dock line. The guys at the lift didn’t even want me to slow down, because they had the forward sling just below the water’s surface to catch me. There was no time to worry about whether the forward sling might damage the paddlewheel transducers. They just asked where the prop shaft was, set up the aft sling to avoid that, moved the boat forward so that I could climb off the bow, and out it came – all in about 2 minutes.

  3. Get there early. We made the mistake this year of arriving at the yard in the middle of the day on which we were scheduled to be hauled. The work docks were full, the slips were full, and there were six boats ahead of us in a holding pattern outside the marina. It was 2 1/2 hr. before we were hauled-out. I did some cleaning on the boat in that time, but wished I had arrived early for a shorter wait.

  4. Enjoy the peace of mind. As this year’s storm arrived, I was worried enough about how many shutters or roof shingles would fly off our house. I would have been a wreck if I were listening to the house shake and wondering whether the boat was still on its mooring, or already lying on a beach somewhere up the bay.

As frustrating as boats can be, it’s good to know yours is safe on land when the wind bends the trees like twigs, and the sheets of rain are blowing sideways.

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series on buying and maintaining a used J/35.

Paul Grimes is an engineer and marine surveyor living in Portsmouth, RI. For more information, visit Grimes Yacht Services.