The Atlantic hurricane season – how to stay safe when sailing

The Atlantic Ocean hurricane season is almost upon us. Typically starting in June and ending at the end of November, the season usually encounters a sharp peak of activity in late August through September and affects the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The consequences of hurricanes can be devastating; Hurricane Wilma (2005) exists as the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, causing $180.7 billion worth of damages and 3,960 deaths. Storm surges and flooding are the most dangerous and damaging aspects of hurricanes and are the cause for three-quarters of deaths within tropical cyclones in the Atlantic.

There is a correlation between the year of the hurricane season, and the amount of damage caused. Look at the comparison of activity between now and 100 years ago:

Hurricane comparison 

Visually, you can see that there was a lot more activity in 2018, in comparison to 1918; more than double the amount of tropical storms and a 50 percent increase in the amount of hurricanes during the season. The damage costs between the two seasons saw a 10,000% increase, with the 1918 season suffering from $5million worth of damage and the 2018 season enduring $50.205 billion of damages.

Over the years, Atlantic hurricane seasons have seen more activity, including stronger tropical storms and cyclones. Although there are studies out there that suggest global warming affects the intensity of hurricane activity, many scientists argue this is not the underlying reason. Extra energy from increased rainfall, rising sea temperatures and stronger wind speed may not all be due to global warming. Having said that, although hurricanes are natural phenomena, using renewable energy options as an alternative to burning oil, gas and coal may reduce the aggression of future storms.

Despite the average cost of damages going up over the years, the death rate caused by hurricanes is comparatively lower. This is arguably due to enhanced technology as well as people have a better understanding and increased awareness of how to stay safe when sailing.

In light of the beginning of hurricane season, Dream Yacht Sales has put together some actionable tips on how to stay safe if you are sailing during this period.

Preparation is key

Many people choose to sail during Atlantic hurricane season because it’s during the time of the nicest summer weather. However, if you’ve made plans to sail between June and November, it is important to be clued up on the ins and outs of sailing during a storm, as well as how to prepare and store your boat should the need arise.

One of the most pivotal things you should be doing is regularly checking the weather in order to plan you route and next steps of the journey. There are many great sailing weather apps that provide live data and emergency updates. If it looks as though your route is at risk of being hit my a tropical storm or cyclone, ensure you are within reach of a hurricane hole.

So, do you run for cover if a hurricane is on the horizon or do you brave the seas? If you do happen to get caught in a hurricane or tropical cyclone, there are three main options you can consider:

  • Dock the boat in a close by and protected marina and head somewhere else until the storm passes – more than likely this will involve staying at a hotel on a nearby island so take these potential extra costs into consideration.
  • Continue on your journey, making sure to stay as safe as possible with constant checks of the weather.
  • Find a hurricane hole, button up your boat and stay there until the storm passes.

Hurricanes and the build up to tropical cyclones means you will be sailing in more brutal conditions. Although sailing through big waves can be exhilarating, you must be fully prepared. Rigging a preventer to hold the boom out is a great way to ensure safety and digging out your storm sails will keep your catamaran or monohull in balance when the wind force rises.

Dos and don'ts of hurricane survival

  • DO ensure you have the right insurance to be travelling during high risk months – not all providers will fully cover damages from hurricanes – especially if you were in a designated hurricane season when the damage occurred.
  • DO put on a life vest and stay below deck if you are caught in a hurricane.
  • DO ensure you are always within close distance (no more than a day’s journey away) of a hurricane hole if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
  • DO NOT leave your boat in a marina if the facility administration doesn't have a hurricane plan.
  • DO NOT wait for a hurricane advisory to take place before looking for a hurricane hole – make sure that these types of precautions are considered when planning your itinerary.
  • DO remove all items that could potentially be ripped away by a gust of wind – sails, deck chairs, dinghies etc. as you are protecting property around you as well, not just your own boat.

2019 season predictions

Based on recent years, a comparison to previous seasons and scientific studies, it is likely that hurricanes will become somewhat stronger and more active, but less frequent. 2018 saw the second most damaging season in terms of costs, comprising 16 tropical cyclones and 8 hurricanes.

AccuWeather have predicted that the season will be pretty normal with around 50 percent of named storms forecasted to become hurricanes and 25% having the potential to become major hurricanes. Major hurricanes are those that are classified as a category 3, 4 or 5 in terms of wind strength – so anything between 11mph – 156mph.

The list of names for potential hurricanes for the upcoming season has been released by the National Hurricane Center:

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