Beating the Bridges: Hurricanes in Fort Lauderdale

13 July 2010 By Janine Ketterer
Photo courtesy of the City of Fort Lauderdale

Spending the summer season in Fort Lauderdale, yachts can enjoy the quiet calm before the rush of between-season yachts in transit and hustle and bustle of the fall boat show. One of the drawbacks, however, is the possibility of hurricanes. The 2010 Atlantic season is upon us and captains in the area need to know the bridge lockdown protocol in this Venice of America, where drawbridges line the waterways.

The City of Fort Lauderdale has a hurricane preparedness sheet that provides you with all you need to know for riding out the storm in the area.

The city locks down all bridges, closing the waterways to boat traffic about three hours after an evacuation is ordered or when winds reach 40 miles per hour. This could be as much as 23 hours or more before a hurricane is predicted to make landfall in the area.

There are no exceptions to the bridge closures, as the Department of Transportation removes all the traffic gates (they are windstorm hazards) after the lockdown order is in effect.

The city advises crew strip the boat of anything that could become loose during a storm, move all deck furniture in or strap it down as best as possible.

Broward country utilizes a Flotilla Plan that ensures a timely and orderly movement of vessels before the bridges are locked down. The Hurricane Preparedness document says, “The timing of the flotilla and the location of harbors where boats participating will congregate will be issued at the time of the weather emergency.”

The City of Fort Lauderdale has posted this Flotilla Plan on their website:

During Phase I of the Flotilla Plan, the Broward County Sheriff Marine Patrol will notify all those participating in the flotilla that it is in effect. They will then check the waterways for hazards to be moved or secured. The crew of vessels participating in the flotilla should fuel up prior to moving.

During Phase II of the Flotilla Plan, the Fort Lauderdale Police Marine Patrol supervise and assist in the formation of the flotillas, which will be north of New River in the Bahia Mar area and south of New River in the Pier 66 area. Marine Patrol will be in the I-95 overpass and New River area to help with the westward movement of the flotillas. The USCG Auxiliary vessels will direct vessels to the flotilla formation and all communications to the bridge tenders will be via the Fort Lauderdale Communications Dispatch Center or Marine Command post. Once there are a sufficient number of vessels in the flotilla, the signal to move up the river will be given. Disabled vessels will be taken in tow.

Three-and-a-half hours after an evacuation order has been issued, all flotilla operations must come to a halt. Broward County Sheriff Marine Patrol will inform all participants. The USCG will be contacted by the Country Emergency Management Division with a request to lockdown all of the drawbridges.

Vessels have three options:

Berth at a dock; ensure it has sturdy pilings and shelter from the storm surge. Double mooring lines and but allow slack in the instance that the vessel will rise with higher tides. Ensure all lines have chafe protection in the event of wear and put out as many fenders as you deem necessary.

Anchor the yacht in a protected harbor. Ensure the bottom will provide good hold. Anchoring out will allow the yacht to respond to changes in water and wind without the possibility of hitting the docks or other vessels. Extra anchors should be put out. Be sure you have enough line on hand.

Hurricane holes are the perfect place to weather the storm. These sheltered, inland anchorages are deep and narrow and surrounded by lots of trees to tie lines to. It is important to scout out these locations early and make sure they are easily accessible in the event of a hurricane.

Keeping the vessel safe and out of harm’s way is indeed important, but keeping the vessel’s crew safe is paramount.

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