Living in South Florida, and especially in a waterfront home, definitely comes with the pleasure of a tropical lifestyle, quick access to the ocean out through the inlets, and a home for your boat at the dock. Unfortunately, hurricane preparation takes on a whole different meaning for homeowners who live on the water with a seawall and dock to ensure they are storm ready. As always, your life and safety are most important; but before evacuating, the following tips will help you leave, if necessary, with the peace of mind knowing the waterfront portion of your home is as secure as it can be.
Protecting your belongings that are typically kept out on the dock or along the seawall will be the first items to be put away and stored when bad weather approaches. Any potted plants, outdoor furniture, nautical decorations, hoses, fishing or dive gear can easily be taken in and put away in the home or garage. Kayaks, paddle boards or small floating docks can usually be taken up out of the water or off the dock and stored tightly against the side of the home if there is no room in the garage for these larger items. Lash down any items that are not practical to be moved or if indoor space is scarce. The greatest damage during a storm is often caused by loose items that become hazardous when swept up in high winds.
Disconnecting power sources should be done if possible to prevent damage that may be caused by an electrical power surge or possible accidental electrocution after the storm. Circuit breakers can be turned off as an added safety precaution as well. Water can typically be left on as long as any hose attachments have been removed and stowed away. Light fixtures, especially those that are attached to the tops of dock piles, should have their bases checked in order to make sure that all hardware is fastened tightly.
Fixed docks should be maintained well ahead of the storm season by a routine inspection of all deck boards and hardware to ensure that any loose wood is properly fastened with screws into the framing beneath the structure. Loose 1” x 2” wood pile trim should be re-nailed to the wood piles or removed if there is not time to secure the trim properly. Cleats, ladders and mooring whip bases should be re-checked for secure attachment to the dock structure. If there is time before the hurricane season gets underway, all wood docks should have a coating of Wood R/X dock sealer applied in order to help the wood maintain its appearance and water resistance.
With storm conditions, often times water levels rise in the canals and Intracoastal Waterway. These surges of seawater may cover a waterfront homeowner’s dock and seawall throughout the storm. Nothing can be done about the force of water or rising of the tides, but constructing a seawall cap and dock at its highest elevation allowed by code is a prudent long-term goal of many living on the water. Several cities are now, in fact, requiring waterfront homeowners to elevate their seawall caps for this very reason. Docks can also be built over the seawall cap in many cities, if allowed by code, in order to lessen the amount of saltwater exposure to wood framing support systems. Having the seawall inspected for any loose seam seals, open areas of facing or cavities along the backland side of the wall before the season gets underway gives a homeowner time to prepare and have any needed seawall maintenance completed. In the weeks before a hurricane is forecast, many marine contractors are extremely busy helping waterfront customers with docking and boating needs.
Moving a vessel to safe harbor is always preferable, but most boat owners do not have that option and must rely on keeping their boat secure at the dock. Lines should always be checked beforehand for strength, suitable length and the best system for rigging using the cleats available on the dock. If the boat will remain on a lift, caution must be taken to prevent water from accumulating in the boat and not draining. The added weight of the water may overload the weight capacity of the lift. Raise the boat on the lift above any possible high-water surge. The boat drainage plugs should be removed; do not rely on the bilge pump alone! If the batteries fail during the storm, any electronics will not work. If possible, the vessel should be tilted a few inches in order to help gravity drain the water as it accumulates. Note: if you are not sure that the boat will be above any highwater surge, then do not remove the plugs! Tilting the boat as described above will still help the excess water run out of the scuppers, but you will now need to rely solely on the bilge pump.
Mother nature is unpredictable. Many times the forecasting and ensuing media blitz of storm warnings create a false sense of panic. When this happens, we tend to get complacent regarding the possible storms still out there as the hurricane season progresses. Don’t let this happen to your mindset as a boater and waterfront homeowner! Best to have a plan and follow your plan as needed with each storm watch. Anything that can be done well ahead of time, like the seawall and dock maintenance items, will lessen the excited preparation that comes when the storm is imminent; and, as stated above, your safety of family and pets comes first!