HURRICANE IRMA: Freedom Boat Club president prepares boats at 17 Florida locations

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Bats in Marina photo

Freedom Boat Club boats in Tierra Verde, Fla., are shown.

The marine industry in the Southeast was responding to the threat of Hurricane Irma, taking the storm more seriously than is usually typical of Floridians.

“It’s amazing how things can go from very calm and peaceful to complete and total chaos,” Freedom Boat Club president John Giglio told Trade Only Today. “You kind of get numb to it when you’ve watched these storms go by through the years, but this one felt different from the beginning.”

“Harvey opened the eyes [of people],” Giglio said. “It’s unfortunate that you get these catastrophic events like Hurricane Charlie in 2004, and Katrina in 2005, but people forget about that over time. Harvey is fresh in everybody’s mind. People here reacted much more so than if Harvey hadn’t hit the Houston area last week. My children’s schools are half full.”

Giglio owns 17 locations of Freedom Boat Club on the west coast of Florida, and a fleet of about 500 boats — “and I have about 20 trailers,” Giglio said. “We keep most of our boats in the water at various locations.”

“We’re required to have a hurricane preparedness plan for our insurance, and we’re in a lot of marinas where they have a high and dry rack facility,” Giglio said. “Probably about half of our locations, we have the ability to pull boats out of the water. Often we can’t get all our boats out, but we’ll get what we can out and stick them in racks.”

Those that remain in the water are secured as well as possible and tend to be in areas that are protected from big storm surges, Giglio said.

The biggest problem is people who don’t have the opportunity to throw out an extra line and make sure boats are secured, Giglio said. “It’s the other ones. You always just hope there aren’t too many of those in your marina.”

That was echoed by Scott Croft, BoatUS public affairs vice president, who urged boaters to spend a couple of hours securing their boats in advance of Irma, adding extra lines, ensuring chaff is in place and removing electronics. (Boat owners can use as a resource on how to prepare.)

“There’s always one boat in every storm … that starts floating away and goes through another series of vessels like a bowling ball,” Croft said. “Hurricane prevention is really only as good as the community of boaters around you.”

Giglio said that at his 17 locations about 250 boats will ride out the storm in the water.

“We shut down yesterday to begin preparations,” Giglio said Thursday. “The bimini tops are tied down, the batteries are charged, the bilge pumps are tested. It’s probably not the best strategic plan, but cross fingers, we hope we prepared them well enough.”

Giglio has “significant exposure” from a franchise standpoint, as well.

“We have locations all up the East Coast, so even if it misses us on the west coast [of Florida], all that means is it shifted its target over to East Coast operations and heads up into the Carolinas,” Giglio said. “This is a very nerve-wracking time when one of these big boys pops up.”

“We’re certainly preparing from a club standpoint. All the guys up in the Carolinas, they’re preparing as though they’re going to be impacted,” Giglio said. “They’re all pulling boats out if they can, and if not, securing them as best they can in the water.

“Obviously, the fine line for us is we need to make sure the boats are secure, but we also want to look out for our employees and employees’ families,” Giglio said. “We’ll do what we can to save the property, but at the end of the day we’d rather have our employees worry about their own safety. Boats are replaceable.”


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