MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — When hurricanes strike, first responders leap into action — fire departments, police, National Guard units and medical professionals all converge to help provide aid to people affected by the storms.
Insurance providers, not a category of first responders that typically comes to mind, are there in the wreckage, soothing distraught property owners and working for days on end, climbing over debris in areas that have often just reopened to traffic.
BoatUS, one of the nation’s largest providers of boat insurance, has one of the largest catastrophe response teams it has ever assembled in Florida to assess damage to boats this week.
In this video, BoatUS catastrophe team coordinator Mike McCook works out how to salvage a vessel in a way that will cause the least damage to the boats.
Many members of the BoatUS CAT team were working their 25th day in a row today, having come directly from working long days in Texas recovering boats damaged and destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.
The work can be emotionally draining. People, especially here, are attached to their boats in ways that are seldom seen for cars or even homes, said D.J. Smith, a team member who had been working for 20 days straight on Friday.
“They want to talk about the boat,” Smith told Trade Only Today. “They don’t care about the house, but they want to talk about the boat.”
“People will get an emotional attachment to their boats that’s different from their cars, or even homes,” agreed team member Tom Benton, who also wrapped up his 20th day of salvage on Friday.
The result is being part therapist, part salvor.
Bill Pike, of Power & Motoryacht, a sister publication to Trade Only Today, was caught off guard by how emotional people were discussing their damaged or destroyed boats during a trip in which he followed the BoatUS teams last week.
One of the most poignant examples of that raw emotion occurred when he and BoatUS public affairs vice president Scott Croft encountered Carol Hawkins, who had just gotten to her home on Big Pine Key to assess the damage.
She and her daughter, Jennifer Hawkins-Dydra, and son-in-law Jason Dydra had just gotten back to their home an hour before a BoatUS van carrying two reporters rolled up. The three were still taking in the damage.
“We’re literally in shell shock,” Carol Hawkins said.
Despite all the destruction in her yard, somewhat depicted in the video below, Hawkins was sitting close to her 2001 Glacier Bay — her husband had recently passed and this was her connection to him. “I just don’t want to lose her,” Hawkins said, holding back tears.
Despite the destruction of her home and property, partially shown here, Carol Hawkins was most emotional about the prospect of losing her boat.
These are the stories that members of the CAT team hear day in and day out.
“People just want to tell their story about their boat or jet ski,” CAT team member Shawn McGee said. “If you’re a good listener and spend five, seven minutes listening to people tell their story, you can do a better job for them.”