When is the hurricane season? What is the most important reason for getting out hurricane-prone areas for hurricane season? What’s the scoop with hurricane boat insurance? How should you plan your passage to ensure you’re in a hurricane safe zone prior to the season starting? What can you do to prepare your boat for a hurricane?
Before you begin, notice on the right-hand side margin all of our hurricane season articles and videos. If you’d like to watch a video all about hurricane season, check out: Hurricane Season On A Boat – How To Survive It!
When is the hurricane season?
Hurricane season in the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean from June to November. That doesn’t mean that a hurricane won’t form before or after but as a general rule, these six months are when hurricanes are most likely to form. The peak is the end of August through to September and October.
Hurricanes form off the coast of Africa over the equator. They make their way across the Atlantic Ocean and head north sometimes in the middle of the Ocean and other times they head into the Caribbean Sea and make landfall in Central or North America. Hurricanes have been known to hit as low as Trinidad and, in recent years, as high as Canada.
What are the two main reasons for getting out of hurricane-prone areas during hurricane season?
There are two reasons to avoid hurricanes. The first, and most important, is for the safety of your boat and your life.
The second is for insurance purposes. Several insurance providers will not fully cover damages from hurricanes if you’re in a designated hurricane zone. In our case, we use Pantaenius and any location south of Jacksonville, Florida is considered a hurricane zone. If we’re in the zone and our boat is damaged by a hurricane we will not receive compensation.
Just because your insurance provider outlines boundaries of where you can and cannot be for full hurricane coverage, that doesn’t mean you, personally, are safe from hurricanes. Let me explain.
A while back, our plan was to sit out hurricane season on the east coast of America. When looking at our insurance policy we discovered that we’d be fully insured as long as our boat was above Jacksonville, Florida.
We were very flexible as to our location, however, having family in North Carolina swayed us to that general area. Due to various complications, we eventually settled on a long stay in Charleston, South Carolina (one State below North Carolina and only a four-hour drive away from my family.
The red dot on the map is Charleston.)
After checking with our insurance I was comfortable that we’d be covered in the eventuality of a hurricane. For some reason, my mindset was completely on the financial side of things. What I didn’t consider, however, was the practicalities and the emotional upheaval of actually living through a hurricane. I just didn’t question whether or not hurricanes hit South Carolina nor did I speculate what it might be like to live through one of them.
Unbeknown to me, Charleston is actually a location where tropical storms hit often. And the hurricanes that have hit South Carolina have been extremely destructive.
During our stay in Charleston Harbor Marina, we had to prepare Britican for three storms.
One tropical storm, one Cat 2 hurricane, and Irma – predicted to hit Charleston head-on as a Cat 3 or above. Initial models of Irma had Charleston at ‘ground zero’ speculating that it could hit as a Cat 5. If you’d like to see how we prepared for these hurricanes and the emotional upheaval we felt please check these videos/articles out:
- Tropical Storm Preparation – Staying In A Marina
- Sailboat Hurricane Plan – Anchoring up a river!
- How We Prepared Our Boat For a Massive Hurricane
The lesson I learned is that when considering a hurricane hole, do your research about whether or not hurricanes hit the area or not. Don’t base your decision on insurance boundaries as they often don’t make sense (e.g. We were fully covered in Charleston, a city that gets hit often but was not covered in Trinidad which has only ever been hit by a hurricane once. More on insurance below).
What’s the scoop with hurricane insurance?
Hurricane insurance is a joke. Every provider offers a different policy with different hurricane season dates and different requirements. Every applicant seems to get a different offer with different stipulations.
Some providers will cover a boat in the hurricane zone 100% with no requirements. Others will only cover your boat at 80% of the value. And that’s if and only if you pull your boat out of the water.
Some policies will only approve you if you have a certain level of sailing skills. Others require a ‘hurricane plan’ outlining everything you’re going to do in the event of a hurricane. And just because your friend on another boat got covered, who has far less sailing experience than you, doesn’t mean that you’ll get approved.
Some policies will be able to payout.
Others you’ll have to fight with for years to see any money and some will never payout.
Grenada, in the south Caribbean, used to be considered ‘safe’, and insurance providers would cover boats but many companies no longer will provide coverage.
Since the hurricanes of 2018 (Irma and Maria), many insurance providers will no longer fully insure a boat anywhere in the Caribbean sea no matter how south you go. Many cruisers are now considering the ABC’s (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) as they have never been hit by a hurricane.
I’ve written a checklist about how to choose an insurance provider.
It’s not until after you need to make a claim that you realize you could have selected a better provider. Do your homework on this upfront. Otherwise, you could risk losing a ton of money.
When looking for the best value for money it’s important to call around. And compare and contrast a few insurance providers. It’s also imperative to know that the cheapest deal isn’t always the best. In my guide Checklists For Sailors – Passage Planning, Sailboat Maintenance, Cleaning, Medical and more, you’ll find a checklist on selecting an insurance provider.
Find an insurance provider that is reputable and known to payout. Take time to understand what you need to do to be 100% covered in the event of hurricane damage. Determine if you can fulfill the requirements and in the event of an impending hurricane, video and take pictures of everything you do to prepare the boat. Then consider sending it to the provider before the hurricane hits. Ask if there is anything else you can do to ensure you’ve prepared the best you could.
How should I plan my passage through the Caribbean to ensure I’m in a hurricane safe zone prior to the season starting?
First of all, you do not have to be in a hurricane safe zone when the hurricane season starts. My experience is that the bulk of the storms seem to hit closer to September and October than June and July.
What you do have to do is ensure you’re only a day or two sail away from a hurricane safe area. Tropical storms can start forming off the coast of Africa around five to ten days prior to arrival in the Caribbean. If you’re in the south, you’ll want to be near St Lucia or St Vincent & the Grenadines when the season starts. By doing so it’s only a two day sail out of the hurricane zone.
One hurricane season we were in St Lucia as the season started.
We had two named storms but they were in the Gulf of Mexico. Every morning we would look at the National Hurricane Center forecast. If we saw a storm forming out in the Atlantic, we’d immediately head south to Grenada or Trinidad.
Being in the south Caribbean during hurricane season is actually a great time to sail. There are very few boats around so often have all the anchorages to ourselves! At one point we did get caught out when a tropical storm formed above us overnight. It wasn’t too big of a deal. To get a glimpse of what our tropical storm adventure was like, check out Sailing From A Tropical Storm.
What do I do if a hurricane is on its way and I need to prepare my boat?
The best advice I can give is to plan early. Way before hurricane season starts, make sure that you know your options. If you’re in an area that has had hurricanes hit before, what do you need to do to make sure your family and boat are safe? If you’re looking for a comprehensive and fully customizable hurricane preparedness checklist, get my guide.
Also, check out these other resources…
- 10 Reasons To Spend Hurricane Season In Grenada
- Hurricane Preparation – Where To Put Your Boat
- Dealing With Hurricane Season