If there’s a hurricane, the best place for the boat is as far away as possible from the storm track. Many Keys residents with small- to mid-size boats choose to trailer their boat to a safer location. If that’s your plan, be ready to go early: Monroe County’s phased evacuation calls for high-profile vehicles to leave first. After that, boats are not allowed on the highway. Captains who intend to sail to their evacuation destination must also leave early; at some point during a mandatory evacuation the Snake Creek drawbridge will be locked down so vehicular traffic flows smoothly and, of course, the weather will get nasty.
If it’s not possible to sail or tow the boat away from the storm, take the boat out of the water and stow it in a garage or on the lee side of a building. Tie the boat to the trailer and the trailer to an immovable object — such as a palm tree. Do not fill the boat with water. Boats are designed to keep water out and filling it with water could cause structural damage.
If it’s not possible to stow the boat on land, find a spot in a protected harbor. Again, the early bird will get the best spot though it’s recommended to keep checking on the vessel as the harbor fills with other boats to ensure safe clearances between vessels. Take everything off the boat — sails, electronics, etc. Heavy and extra anchors are needed for this option and enough line should be on hand to allow a scope of at least 10:1 for each anchor.
Many working Keys captains adhere to the time-honored tradition of stowing their vessels in a hurricane hole, or a narrow inlet lined with mangroves. These protected spots block the wind and provide a tie-off. The best location for a hurricane hole — preferably scouted ahead of time — is one far enough inland to avoid the most severe winds and tides, yet close enough to reach under short notice.
The last option mariners should consider is leaving the boat at the dock. In a strong storm, high winds and waves will batter the vessel against the dock or lift and destroy both. A better option is to tie off in the center of the canal, again using immovable objects on land and the strongest part of the boat such as a mast, not a cleat. This requires cooperation with other boat-owning neighbors to ensure each boat has sufficient room. Also, leave some slack in the lines to allow for tidal change. Use extra fenders and also use chafe protection on lines.
Never try to ride out the storm on the boat.