When it comes to preparing boats for a hurricane in the Florida Keys, the question is not if, but when.
Chip Kasper, marine program meteorologist at the National Weather Service, recently explained the importance of a back-up plan for boaters.
"Paradise has a price," said Kasper. "For us it's not tornadoes or earthquakes, but hurricane preparedness."
Sunday, the City of Marathon Marina hosted a packed room of boat owners eager to hear advice from the Cruising Companion publication brought forth to educate and prepare them for hurricanes.
Assistant Ports Director Mat McJunkin emphasized that tying up boats correctly and safely is really a community-wide effort.
"Neighbors should be looking after neighbors," said McJunkin. "If a boat breaks free, it is going to be causing mayhem like a domino effect."
The proper securing of boats was a key topic of the recent seminar and McJunkin offered additional advice to protect a boat's mooring lines from chafing and ultimately breaking during a storm.
"Cover lines with carpet and fire houe to prevent chafing from cleats and wood that occurs when the rope is being stretched by the hurricane's force," he said, adding that such precautions should be taken 84 to 60 hours in advance of the storm's predicted arrival.
He also noted the importance of inspecting lines regularly for fraying and ensuring that all cleats are well anchored and in good condition. Also, all canvas and other objects that will catch wind must be secured, along with heavier objects such as propane tanks that cannot be stowed inside a boat's cabin.
Captain Marti Brown, president of Cruising Companion Publications, and survivor of multiple hurricanes in her sailboat, explained how to seal up vessels to best protect them from damage.
"Cover engine vents with plywood and duct tape," Brown said. "Water is going to get wherever it can."
She directed boaters to obtain an entry decal for hurricane shelters and emphaized the importance of a hurricane plan so no one is left stranded "on the hook," as boaters who live at anchorage rather than at a marina are known.
"You definitely won't want to be in a dinghy in 20 knot winds," she said. "In 30 knot winds the dinghy will flip over."
Additional precautions, Brown said, include a video or photographic inventory outside and inside the boat for insurance claims; fully charged batteries; shut off fuel lines; seal windows and doors with duct tape; remove loose items from the cabin and detach all electronics from controller boards and tape over the holes.
Kasper explained people can never be too prepared for a hurricane and Key West has not been hit directly since the mid 1800s.
It is important to allow plenty of time to prepare for these catastrophes because to create certain splices and ties in anchor lines takes hours alone, according to Brown.
She has additional information and developed a diagram to prepare boaters for storms that can be seen on her organization's website at idiyachts.com.