Hurricane Damage on Yacht: What To Know

With the Category 1 hurricane named Hurricane Isaias making landfall in August 2020, boat owners in Florida have had to prepare their boats for the hurricane. Luckily the hurricane did minimal damage. But it prompts the question, “What do yacht and boat owners do when the hurricanes hit?”

Hurricane Season in Florida

Hurricane season in Florida takes place from June 1st to November 1st. Boat owners in Fort Lauderdale and Miami typically dock their boats in the Atlantic Ocean. Some clients we’ve worked on keep their boats in the Caribbean, while others are docked on the west coast of Florida. When hurricanes ride up the coast it can create a lot of damage. When winds are up to 280 miles an hour, whole fleets of boats can be seized, and pushed into the harbor, marina, or mainland.


“Boats just piled on top of another” – a hurricane boat buyer talks about Irma’s devastation on the British Virgin Islands.

“More boats get damaged by storms than any other way.” Scott Croft from BoatUS

The Most Common Types of Boat Damage

Yacht Survey listed the most common damages, including structural damages, that can occur on a vessel. These include:

  • Water saturation inside the balsa core & hull
  • Bottoms splitting open
  • Hull sides delaminating
  • Stringers and bulkheads broken loose
  • Failed hull/deck joints
  • Corrosion in electrical paneling, engine, and electronic systems
  • Machinery failures due to inadequate repairs


Common Damage You Can Expect to a Yacht or Boat After a Storm

Most boats that you look at will have a combination of these types of damage. You’re likely to see some flooding, some dock rash, some wind damage, some salvage damage.

#1. Dock Rash. The boat is banged up against other boats, or continually hits and grinds up against the dock. You’ll see a lot of damage to the hull side, particularly around the sheer and rub rail. Often this will chew its way into the deck and infect the deck. (If you’re purchasing such a boat, these boats can represent a pretty good deal, and do have potential for being restored, particularly if you’re good at doing woodwork and glasswork, as that’s where most of the repairs will be). Areas to check on boats afflicted with “Dock Rash” – broken bonds on bulkheads. Also be sure to check the opposite side of the boat. These impacts that these boats sustained echo throughout the structure of the boat, so there may be “invisible” damage on the opposite side of where you clearly see the visible damage. A boat that has been battered and bruised, (with severe dock rash) has probably been opened up. Water then seeps into the hull and balsa, either downwards or across, inside the hull.

#2. Grounding. This is when a boat has been blown off of its mooring. Groundings are fairly common. Boats will lay over on their side. Sometimes they’ll pound on rocks, sometimes on soft mud, and sometimes on weeds. Damage associated with groundings is around the rudders keels, running gear, small holes punched in the bottom of the boat right at the turn of the bilge. Keep a close eye on the rudder keels and running gear, and watch out for #4, additional salvage damage.

#3. Wind Damage. Wind damage usually results in damage like shredded canvas, shredded sails, broken boats, damage from bits and pieces of buildings and loose trash, hitting the boat. Wind damage can also cause damage like broken windows, although most yachts have windows strong enough to resist this. Before a storm be sure to put away all your sails and canvas as they can get shredded like confetti in a hurricane force gale, and you will regret that you didn’t make the effort to take them into safe storage.

#4. Salvage Damage. This is a type of damage most people don’t think of, because once the storm has passed they think the danger is over. But salvage damage happens when one is in the process of salvaging the boat; removing the boat from the shore, lifting the boat up from wherever it is. Salvers are oftentimes very busy after a storm; they don’t have time to be gentle with the boat.

Common salvage damage:

  • Cleates ripped out of the deck
  • Running gear and keels as the boat is twisted and lifted off the beach
  • Lifting straps improperly placed can cause damage to the sheer and rub rail

A special note on Gel coat, Fiberglass, and Balsa repair

Gel-coat and fiberglass repairs to the exterior hull of the boat are to be expected. As boats “slosh” about in the marina, they hit other boats, as pictured in the picture above. The gel-coat and exterior surface is likely to get bruised. Sometimes this damage is not immediately apparent until years later when the material of the hull begins to decay. Gel-coat scrapes is a sure sign that the fiberglass is damaged behind it. The repair work: Remove the gel-coat and fiberglass in areas that show exterior damage; chances are the damage is much deeper, down to the balsa. After removing the gel-coat layer, and going deeper, the fiberglass layer – with an electric sander, you will get down to the balsa. The areas where the balsa core is still attached to the fiberglass are good; the areas where they are not attached is indicative of trauma. Digging further into the core, one may find that the inside laminate is torn or cut. Removing the balsa that isn’t attached to the laminate is a good idea. Once the damaged area has been cleaned away of gel-coat, fiberglass, and balsa and the area around the damaged area has been determined to still be held together and intact, the repair consists of grinding polyester filler, and then applying it to the laminate, then adding new balsa, thereby bonding the inside layer of fiberglass. Then, a layer of fiberglass is applied (and the final gel-coat on top) to finish the boat repair.

Frequently asked Questions about Storm Damaged Boats:

Question #1. I think I’ve documented all of the damage on a boat. What other areas are left for me to check? Answer: Check underneath the waterline and make sure you do construction underneath the waterline. Hurricane damage is likely to hit a boat here. (In case you were wondering, the waterline is calculated by loading the boat up and putting it afloat). This may require that you bring the boat into a dry dock.

Question #2. I’ve detected some damage to the interior of the hull. Can I replace what’s broken and stop? Answer: A thorough carpenter will replace the water damaged hull/balsa, but also make larger repairs to the area (generally 6 to 12 inches around the affected rotten area). Make sure you do a thorough job on this. (You want to be confident and assured that the boat will stand the test of time. Being cheap, speedy, or perfunctory in your repairs now could cost you later on big-time).

Question #3. Who can I contact about buying a storm damaged boat? Answer: Marine surveyors, salvage companies, and marine transport companies are a good start. They can put you in touch with the right person at the insurance company, or put you in touch directly with an agent or broker representing the boat. Salvagers work with boats on a daily basis, but are particularly busy after a storm. If you have an introduction, going directly to the insurance company and asking “Do you have any deals on storm damaged boats,” may also be a good tactic.

*As of this writing, August 22, 2020, two tropical storms are moving into the Gulf of Mexico. Storm number 13 has been upgraded to Tropical Storm Laura, while storm number 14 still remains a tropical depression.*

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *