Dive shops have routines to prep for hurricanes

September 18, 2008 

The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 until the end of November. As much as I don't want to wish the summer away, I'm looking forward to the end of November.

Because so many dive shops are on or near the ocean, tracking and preparing for a hurricane is simply a fact of life. Most dive shops have standard protocols to follow when it comes to securing the shop, the gear and the dive boats.

The best way to prepare the dive shop for a storm will depend on the location of the shop. Strong winds are a major hurricane threat. Most islanders will tell you, it's not that the wind blows; it's what's in the wind that blows.

So to begin, the property has to be secured. Anything that could possibly fly away has to be stored, and this usually means it has to be dragged into (or under) the dive shop. This may include signs, rinse buckets, hoses, hangers, chairs, tables, umbrellas - anything that's not nailed down and could possibly get picked up by a strong wind. Awnings and antennas also need to be dropped or removed.

Next, windows have to be boarded up. Some dive shops have built-in shutters you simply have to pull together or drop down and secure. Some shutters are separate and have to be installed along tracks above and below each window. Sometimes window protection is simply a piece of plywood cut to size.

If there's time and manpower, dive shop owners may scout the immediate area for tree branches and coconuts that could be potential projectiles. Removing them in advance may save some damage. Of course once they are off the tree they also need to be stored somewhere safely, which may be inside the dive shop, at least until the storm is over.

Flooding is another danger of big storms. All electronics should be moved up off the floor. It's best to put anything in danger of water damage - paper, teaching materials, store inventory - as high off the ground as possible. It may be necessary to sandbag the perimeter of shops perilously close to the ocean.

Dive shop owners usually keep tarps and flashlights on hand and are eager to check their property as soon as it's safe to do so. A tarp will help if there's minor roof damage that's letting in water. Owners may also feel the need to be present if they are worried about looters.

Securing boats

Securing the dive boat (or boats) is the next major concern. Each boat is stripped of anything - life rafts, dive and snorkel gear, boat hooks, buckets, weight belts, extra lines, snorkel vests, buoys, life rings - that could possibly be lost. Some items may be safely stored onboard the vessel, either in a secure dry box or in the v-berth if there is one. Boat stuff may also get put in the dive shop (which is pretty crowded by this point) if that's the only other storage option.

Dive boats are secured at the dock or in a boat slip by multiple lines (ropes) pulling in opposite directions. In a slip, the boat is centered and then secured on all sides so it can't hit either side of the slip. Lines have to be loose enough to account for high and low tide and the possibility of storm surge.

Dive boats sitting at a dock need to be held away from the dock as much as possible. This may require throwing out an anchor or two, or if the dock is in a canal or marina, extending lines across the water to the other side. Lines pulling away from the dock will help keep the boat from washing ashore if the water rises above the edge of the dock.

We'll check the bilge pumps before we leave to be sure they are in good working order.

Dive shop employees are often the first line of defense when it comes to hurricane preparations. We are usually right there with the owner helping to secure the shop and the gear and the boat. Once we're done there, most of us will head home and secure our own house. We'll check on each other as we go, to be sure everyone has what they need, including a safe hurricane plan.

It usually takes a couple of hours to secure a dive shop and a boat or two, and at least that much time to put everything back together again. Hurricanes can't be diverted, but being prepared can make all the difference in the world.

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