Last October, Hurricane Matthew left a trail of death, destruction and flooding between Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and most of the southeastern United States. It also damaged or destroyed thousands of boats, many of which had to be recovered by insurance companies in the days and weeks following Matthew.BoatUS puts Matthew’s total cost at approximately $110 million in damage to boats that had been driven ashore, smashed against docks or sunk. To keep it in perspective, however, superstorm Sandy caused closer to $650 million in damage to approximately 65,000 boats.
I recently spoke with some of the experts at BoatUS to find out what exactly happens after a storm like Matthew or Sandy, and what I learned was impressive, to say the least. The Boat US catastrophe (“cat”) team is made up of veteran professionals who are called in to do everything from survey boats to process claims, operate cranes and barges, and plan, organize and direct the best way to recover insured vessels. Local contractors are also employed to perform many of the recoveries under the direction of the cat team.
Some boat recoveries are simple, others…not so much. Cat team coordinator Mike McCook told me how complicated some salvage operations can become: like the time when the team had to recover a boat with its keel buried in the shore alongside a power plant; or the 42ft catamaran that ended up deep in a marshy woods, where it took four days to get it out. In the latter case, the team had to put down log mats so a crane could reach the boat, which it then “walked” back out under a bridge and to the water.
It became clear that boat recoveries are like snowflakes; no two are exactly the same. Every scene needs to be assessed individually to determine the safest and quickest course of action. Time is of the utmost importance, especially when it comes to vessels that may be potentially hazardous, posing a threat to the environment or a major inconvenience—for example, when a boat has landed in the middle of a major roadway. Cases like these typically take precedence, for obvious reasons.
As for writing off a boat rather than repairing it, according to Boat US vice president of public affairs Scott Croft, the majority of boats are repairable, but due to the average age of boats today, the cost of repairs often exceeds its value, in which case it’s totaled.