Preparation saved boats from Wilma’s destruction

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – TowBoatU.S. salvors have reported that the Florida boating community was largely prepared for Hurricane Wilma and that damage to recreational boats could have been much worse, BoatU.S. said in a release today.

The salvors credit most Florida boaters with taking the proper precautions to protect their boats from the storm.

"While we did have boats fall out of lifts, we didn't have nearly as many losses as last year's hurricanes,” TowBoatU.S. Palm Beach owner Chris Shafner said. “Most boaters prepared.” Shafner said the lull in the middle of the storm allowed many boaters to adjust lines to help keep boats off docks.

Mike and Judy Stewart of TowBoatU.S. North Miami reported that boaters in their area also did pretty well. "Even the boats that we find washed up on shore show evidence of having been double lined and canvas removed," said Judy Stewart.

Todd Seeds of TowBoatU.S. South Dade said most of the work he's focusing on now is with environmental and navigational hazards. The company just retrieved two large sailboats that had sunk and were blocking a ship-loading pier at the Port of Miami.

A bigger problem the industry is experiencing now, Seeds said, is the lack of repair yard space for salvaged vessels. "Some boat owners are walking away from salvaged but repairable vessels because they can't find a yard to take the work. Our repair facilities are already at capacity with work on Katrina affected boats.”

In Miami, Cory Offutt of TowBoatU.S. Miami reported some complacency issues. "Our hurricane hole on the Miami River was not nearly as full as it could have been,” he said. “Perhaps boaters are tired of storms.” Offutt said a lot of damage occurred in the "crash & smash" style where vessels broke loose and struck other vessels or fixed objects.

Some lessons learned from the TowBoatU.S. salvors are that basic preparations such as doubling of dock lines and removal of all biminis, dinghies and sails make a big difference. Boats at the end of T-docks can be significantly more exposed than boats in a slip, and boaters should take advantage of long-range forecasting information. Above all, treat every hurricane as though it were the first of the season and don't get complacent in your storm preparations.

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