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HURRICANE SANDY: LESSONS LEARNED

Posted 12/3/2012

Are You Prepared for the Next Major Storm?

She came in the middle of the night at high tide on a full moon packing high winds and pushing an unprecedented wall of water ahead of her. Hurricane Sandy was the most storm to hit the Northeast coast in recorded history, claiming over 75 lives and destroying thousands of houses and businesses. The massive flooding compounded by wind damage to the power grid left tens of millions of people in the dark, and 20 days after the storm, there were still tens of thousands of homes in New York and New Jersey without power.  

Sandy set another record—damaged or destroyed over 65,000 recreational boats with an estimated loss to exceed $650 million. Over 32,000 boats in New York and 25,000 in New Jersey were impacted, and damage to the marine industry will likely be in the billions. 

“There are lessons to be learned whenever a massive storm like Sandy strikes,” said Scott Croft, Assistant Vice President for Public Relations at the Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS®), one of the largest insurers of recreational boats in the country. “Our Catastrophe Teams were dispatched to affected areas within hours of the storm, and they were followed by our Damage Avoidance Team. The CAT teams have been working with the thousands of boaters insured through BoatUS®—getting their boats recovered, filing claims and trying to relieve as much of the burden from them as we possibly can. The Damage Avoidance Team goes to hard hit areas to access our performance and see what can be learned that might help us reduce damage impacts to our members' vessels in future storms.”

 Major storms present three threats to recreational boats: surge, wind and rain. Sandy did most of its damage with a tide surge that ran from 10-to-14 feet. 

“The scope of the damage to boats is unprecedented,” Croft reported. “The combination of boats stored ashore at low elevations and record high surge levels caused thousands of boats to float away into neighborhoods, parks and marshes.”

It appears that boats tied securely to robust floating docks with tall pilings fared far better than those blocked on land in low-lying areas, but floating docks that did not have pilings tall enough to withstand the upward surge of water lifted off the pilings and floated away with the boats still attached. 

According to Croft it is not prudent to base the hurricane plan for your boat on just the latest storm because the next one could have very different characteristics. BoatUS® recommends hauling and blocking boats prior to a major storm, and even provides haul-out reimbursement to its policy holders in such instances. 

 

“There are storm conditions where keeping a boat tied up to a well-maintained, sheltered floating dock with pilings tall enough to handle the estimated surge is a smart choice,” Croft advised, “but keep in mind that if massive rain amounts overtake your bilge pumps or high winds batter the boat in its slip, the only place for the vessel to go is down.” 

Surprisingly, many of the boats that floated off blocks sustained little or no damage so the majority of the cost was associated with the recovery of the vessel. This leads to another lesson that is directly related to your recreational boat insurance policy, and one you should review in light of what happened. 

Not all recreational boat insurance policies include “full salvage” coverage. All boat policies include “hull” coverage, usually based on the agreed upon reimbursement value of the vessel. But unless your policy includes “full salvage” rider, you can be left holding the bag for thousands of dollars in costs associated with the recovery of your boat.

With Sandy, thousands of boats simply floated away coming to rest in unlikely places as the surge waters receded. They were found on public streets, on railroad tracks, in residential neighborhoods, in destroyed houses, on golf courses, and many were scattered around remote back bay areas miles from their original location. Salvaging some of these vessels will require special equipment and can cost thousands of dollars. Full salvage coverage pays for recovery costs up to the full value of the boat, but many policies either do not include salvage reimbursement or only reimburse up to a percentage of the value of the boat. Often policies offered with full salvage coverage are priced competitively with those that do not, so buyer beware.

Further discussions with Croft revealed a startling statistic. Approximately half of the boats owned in the U.S. are not insured at all. In most states there is no legal requirement to have boat insurance, and a substantial number of owners of older boats simply do not purchase it. Newer boats that are financed are required to have insurance by the company holding the paper, and most marinas require slip customers to provide proof of insurance. 

Regardless of whether you have insurance or not, a boat owner is responsible for the recovery of a boat after a storm and for any property damage the boat might have caused. The costs can also include penalties and fines for the remediation of any environmental impacts caused by fuel or oil spills from the vessel. To be exposed to these kinds of liabilities without the benefit of a comprehensive insurance policy—that for most outboard powered boats is reasonably priced—is simply incomprehensible. Furthermore, if your boat is simply abandoned, the state will come after you.

When tragedies like a major hurricane or a winter storm strike, the first thing on the minds of people impacted is to deal with the after effects and attempt to get their lives back to normal. Once that is done, it is smart to reassess what went right and what went wrong and make the appropriate changes. For those unaffected by the storm, observing and learning from the experiences of others, and using those experiences to develop a storm plan of their own, can help avoid problems caused by future storms.