A Port in the Storm

In South Florida, hurricanes are accepted as an unfortunate fact of life. Even when we manage to dodge a direct hit, serious damage still often results from strong winds, heavy rains, storm surge flooding, and rip currents. Both literal and figurative sitting ducks, boats are particularly vulnerable when severe weather threatens and owners need to be aware of their responsibility to secure their vessels in case of a storm.

The insurance division of the Boat Owners Association of the United States, the oldest and largest association of boaters, has published a 12 page preparation guide for both boat owners and marina owners. For example, if boats must be left at fixed docks, adding more lines and longer lines to many different pilings will enable the boat to better rise and fall with the surge. Damage to boats and docks can be reduced by moving boats to larger slips. Taking vessels out of the water and securing them on land also reduces the potential for damage, although boats ashore can still be badly battered.

The best advice is to prepare or move your boat when a hurricane is a substantial possibility. If you wait until a watch is issued, any number of problems could arise such as bridges being locked down, hurricane holes being inaccessible, or the marina being too busy to haul your boat ashore.

Some marinas have launched “Hurricane Clubs,” which allow vessel owners to have their boats hauled by prior arrangement whenever a hurricane is imminent. Marinas determine in advance how many boats can be hauled and blocked, putting a restriction on the number of plan participants. When a hurricane threatens, vessel owners are required to strip their boats (dodger, covers, outboard motors, dinghies, etc.) before they’re hauled or marinas will do the work for an additional fee. Many insurance companies will reimburse at least some costs when vessels are hauled prior to a hurricane.

Many dock contracts include language:

  • Dictating what a vessel owner must do as a condition of using the marina,
  • Listing specific regulations about what steps need to be taken before a hurricane (including that the boat must be out of the water),
  • Explaining that the marina does not owe the vessel owner a duty to prevent damage in the event of a storm, and
  • Informing the vessel owner of liability to the marina for damages caused by the vessel owner’s failure to properly secure the vessel.

These contracts also usually make it clear that if the marina has to secure the vessel because the owners failed to take steps to adequately prepare the vessel for a storm, the marina will charge them reasonable rates for such preparation.

It’s important to review dock contracts, hurricane plans and insurance policies with an attorney to make sure that your rights are protected. And remember that in the event severe weather causes damage to your vessel, representatives sent for evaluation are not working for you. Rather, they are working on behalf of the insurance company. Marine policy claims are often highly complex and policyholders should consider hiring their own professionals to assist them.

As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski Law has helped many people sort out their legal rights, responsibilities and remedies. We are highly experienced in handling boat loss claims and, in many cases, we can do so without cost to you. Fees and expenses are frequently paid by the insurance company, so nothing comes out of your recovery. We also work on a contingency basis, which means that if there is no recovery, there is no fee or cost to you. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation by calling 305-643-3100 or filling out a case evaluation form.

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