Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Only Thing That Blows Worse Than A Hurricane Is A Bad Hurricane Plan

Here we are once again at the start of another hurricane season and every media outlet under the sun is reminding us to start making plans for an active storm season.  

And while this is good advice, I would warn you that most plans are created with their own inherent vices that can render them totally useless when the time comes for implementation. 

With a few exceptions, most boats I’ve worked on (or written insurance on) have written hurricane plans that are kept with the insurance policy and only pulled out when needed.   Some view them as nothing more than an extra layer of insurance administrivia required by an insurance company or management company.

I would argue that a hurricane plan is one of THE most important parts of a comprehensive ship safety plan and is probably the most overlooked part when it comes to training crew – and it deserves more attention than it gets.

Try this out:  the next time you’re on a boat ask one of the crew what the procedure is for man overboard or a grounding or a fire.  They can probably discuss their duties, direct you to a station bill and a ship safety plan and show you a snapshot of the written procedure.

But ask them what their hurricane plan is and they’ll probably refer you to the captain.  Ask the captain and he’ll/she’ll probably give you an overview of the written plan which usually applies to only one storm scenario; and there are your inherent vices.

What if the plan is to head up a river to a hurricane hole in Florida but the boat is in St Maarten? Or what if the plan is to head to a yard in South Carolina and haul out but the boat is in The Exumas?   What if the yard is full?  What if you have guests onboard?  What if the boat is laid up and has only one person looking after it?

Or – and here is a scenario I have dealt with – what if your vessel’s policy doesn’t cover you for storm damage during hurricane season so the plan is to head north to avoid the storm; but the storm formed quickly and you can’t get out of the hurricane zone in time?

Now think about this - Does your crew participate in planned hurricane preparedness training drills?  Have you installed the shudders? Is all securing hardware in tact and properly labeled? Have you checked the storm lines’ integrity, located and checked fenders and weights, etc…?  

Is your spot at that hurricane hole available?  Is the marina that’s supposed to haul you out still able to do so?  Do you have a plan to safely evacuate owners and guests or have you included them in the preparations?

Last year in Florida, hundreds of thousands of people attempted to evacuate Florida by driving north to avoid a hurricane – at least, that was their plan.  What they didn’t plan on was the fact that roads would be clogged, hotels would be full and gas stations would be empty.  Thousands of people made the transition from evacuee to potential victim because they failed to plan PROPERLY.

And what is a “proper” plan in yachting?  It’s a plan that addresses multiple scenarios, multiple variables and multiple outcomes.  As a result, the plan should have multiple contingencies.  They should be proactive and not reactive.  And most important, the crew should be as familiar with hurricane preparedness as they are with other shipboard emergencies. 

In yachting, a written hurricane plan is not effective if it is not comprehensive, not communicated with all crew (and guests) and not included in the safety drills/training rotation; because plans don’t work because they’re written well;  they work because they are implemented well.