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Cruisingdad 06-07-2013 11:43 AM

Tornadoes and boats...
Had an interesting situation the other night. It was about 1030 pm and there was a strong cell moving through from Andrea. The alerts started going off as they had rotation and a tornado (waterspout) was apparently on the ground and moving our way. It gave us 15 minutes warning... a LOT in my opinion.

At the moment, we were sitting in a marina. It was nasty and raining, but we could have gotten off the boat. We could have run to the bathrooms or a ditch and tried to hide. But Kris and I began debating each other: where was the best place to be? Should we get the kids up in that storm with lightning and rain everywhere, run to a ditch or maybe a bathroom, and hide there over the boat?

I have no doubt that if we had been directly hit, our boat would have gotten torn up into the docks. But would it have sank? Would it have been turtled or just put on its ear and righted itself? We are 28000 lbs with the bulk of that under the waterline. We present a very low "air" area. How safe would the boat have been compared to a ditch or a building that is very exposed or/and present a LOT of "air" area?

We decided that the boat was the safest place. We prepared to get knocked on our ear, stowed everything we could (luckily we keep our boat pretty much this way... another discussion), and hunkered down.

We got some pretty good wind. A lot of rain. Lots of lightning. However, the tornado did not get close to us (that we know of). Still, it did create quite a conversation that night and the next morning: Where is the safest place in a tornado?

Of course, at sea, you are stuck. I would venture to say that if you were on a ball or at anchor, same thing. But at a marina, you do have a choice.

What would you do? What is the lesser of two evils?


Tim R. 06-07-2013 11:49 AM

Re: Tornadoes and boats...
Brian, my biggest worry would be something else coming lose and hitting the boat causing it to sink.

That being eliminated, the boat may just be the safest place to be.

mad_machine 06-07-2013 11:52 AM

Re: Tornadoes and boats...
I agree with Tim. At 28,000 pounds, your boat is not going to jump around too violently. I do think I read somewhere that more tornado injuries come from flying debris?

Cruisingdad 06-07-2013 12:08 PM

Re: Tornadoes and boats...

Originally Posted by Tim R. (Post 1040897)
Brian, my biggest worry would be something else coming lose and hitting the boat causing it to sink.

That being eliminated, the boat may just be the safest place to be.

Well (snicker), in this area and especially in this slip, if we did sink, we wouldn't sink far!!! Damn near run aground coming into the slip! However, even if that were not the situation, would it still be the safest place?

Lots of variables, but good food for thought. Now is a great time to consider it too given that most of us can be exposed to a tornado and that season is upon us.

Personally, we have a hurricane plan. We have a heavy-weather plan. We have a flood plan (keep out boat stocked up in case of heavy flooding). Didn't really have a tornado plan until a couple of nights ago... and it was thrown together quickly in the heat of the moment.

How many of you have put any thought to this? What would you do?


Cruisingdad 06-07-2013 12:13 PM

Re: Tornadoes and boats...

Originally Posted by mad_machine (Post 1040899)
I agree with Tim. At 28,000 pounds, your boat is not going to jump around too violently. I do think I read somewhere that more tornado injuries come from flying debris?

I grew up in NE Texas. I can certainly see the validity of that argument. Also, where I grew up, tornadoes are generally accompanied by very large hail - the likes of which can total a car and burst through sky lights and windshields (all of which I have seen happen). One of those hitting you on the head could be deadly. We did not have any hail here, but if you add that into the equation, is it really safer to leave your boat and hide in a ditch? Remember those pics of straw puncturing a tree?


JimMcGee 06-07-2013 12:22 PM

Re: Tornadoes and boats...
Interesting question. There are just so many variables. Are you talking about a small water spout or a monster F3 or F4 tornado? What kind of straight line winds are associated with it?

Looking at the damage photos from out west I would think a direct hit would tear apart a fiberglass boat - after all they take down brick/block buildings. But I have to wonder about the boats ability to move. Palm trees do better in wind storms than oaks because of their greater ability to bend and move with the wind and their lower windage. A boat can bob and heel, a brick building can't, and there's a lot less windage on a boat than a building.

I wonder if any Sailnetters have experienced a tornado going through a marina?

chef2sail 06-07-2013 12:43 PM

Re: Tornadoes and boats...
Last year returning from the LI Sound we were chuggubg down the CXhesapeake Bay with ominous dark clouds and behind us 1/2 mile a waterspout appeared off of North Point Dundalk, moving away from us. It scared the crap out of us.

Waterspouts are not really very strong so you boat may be a safe place. Rarely do you have the same type of super cells with 70,000 foot tops you see in the Midwest. It is the worst place for tornados on the earth. The temp differences and air mass differences are far greater power than tornados spun off of tropical storms. Not al tornados are accompanied by hail. My friend is a storm chaser for the Midwest a job I would never do.

Having lived in Leavenworth, Kansas two years of my childhood I can tell you a real tornado of F2 or above would rip the boat apart. Mast shrouds everything would get shattered. Ever been out in 65 knot winds and seen what that does to your boat. Take that times 12 at least.

They have real tornados there. Real storm cellars in the ground to get in the SW corner of. What you see on TV doesn't paint even 1/10 the true picture of the destruction. If I kept my boat on a lake in Kansas or Oklahoma I would not feel safe in it if tornado was approaching. I be heading for cover.

jimgo 06-07-2013 12:52 PM

Re: Tornadoes and boats...
I was thinking the same thing, Jim. I would think the hydrodynamic/aerodynamic nature of the hull would tend to part the air, at least as compared to a semi or a building. But, at the same time, while 28,000 lbs does seem like a lot, I wonder how much a typical long-haul trailer can hold. Yes, they have more windage, but still, there may be a lot of weight there, yet they still seem to be knocked down, and thrown about, with some regularity in a storm.

Brian, I think I'd rather be on land. I can appreciate your "not very deep" argument, but if the boat winds up on its side and is pushed through the water, how much water will you take on? Can you guarantee that you (or more importantly, your kids) won't be swamped/knocked unconscious during the initial flooding? Those are the things that worry me. Granted, the same thing can happen out on the water, but you're more prepared for it, at least in my opinion.

SlowButSteady 06-07-2013 01:02 PM

Re: Tornadoes and boats...
I think I would opt for finding shelter on land, IF there were suitable shelter available. A direct hit by a large tornado might be fatal wherever you are, but at least on dry land you don't have the added worry of you shelter sinking with you inside.

Cruisingdad 06-07-2013 01:20 PM

Re: Tornadoes and boats...
Yep, good thoughts everyone.

Like I said, I grew up in Tornado alley. I am well versed in the destruction they can do. I have also been (on my boat) in 95 mph straightline winds, Gabriele (sustained 71 kts), and other smaller storms. I was in Charlie (Cat 3) but NOT on a boat. Wind is an awesome thing.

Jim, as far as F3 or better, I am not sure there is a place where you would be safe. Some of those monsters will pull the concrete foundations out of the ground. A boat isn't going to help much, and certainly few shelters would. We do have the added benefit here that most buildings in S Florida are concrete block (hurricane code) so able to withstand more than the stick houses we had up in Texas, and hail here usually pea size. But you still have to find a place to get to, in time, without windows or a roof to come off. How many places really have that and given the timing to get there, would you risk it? Would you leave "some" shelter for what may or may not be "more" shelter. If you get caught before you get there, could be lethal.

Again, I don't think there is a right answer. I am not saying to stay in a boat... and certainly not all boats. But I wonder how well a heavy boat, sitting in the water, would withstand those winds?? Unlike the 18 wheeler, we present very little windage. I do believe they could be put on their ear, maybe even rolled, but I find it unlikely in anything but a monster it would be picked up out of the water and thrown. Drowning is a real possibility, especially in deep slips, but how do you factor that against being struck by debris going hundreds of miles an hour that would certainly kill you?

Like I said, straw through a tree... and there are certainly things that would cause more damage than straw flying around out there. A storm shelter would be the ideal place, of course, but in all the years I have been cruising, I sure haven't ever been in a marina with a storm shelter... not even in N Texas or Oklahoma. SO now you choose between the lesser of two evils and I am not sure which one that is, and obviously, it all 'depends'...


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