In the end, Hurricane Sandy lived up to just about every bad scenario that was painted for her as she churned toward the Northeast just over two weeks ago.
The final tally in terms of pleasure boat damage is sobering: More than 65,000 boats were damaged or destroyed, with a total loss to insured and uninsured boats of $650 million, making the storm the most costly for recreational boating in U.S. history, according to BoatUS, the country’s largest marine specialty insurer.
The previous high occurred last year with $500 million in pleasure boat losses from Hurricane Irene.
“Not good,” BoatUS spokesman Scott Croft told me Tuesday as the damage estimates were being finalized. “Not good at all.”
The main culprit with Sandy, which made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29 as a post-tropical cyclone, was surge rather than wind or rain.
“By far it’s surge, and it’s in the tri-state area,” Croft said. About $589 million of the $650 million occurred in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. “There was no place for the surge to go. The elevation was so low. No one was expecting a 14-foot surge.”
Click here for a dramatic interactive before-and-after presentation of the destruction. Be sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page.
Most of the damage occurred when boats on the hard were lifted off their stands, cradles or blocks by the rising water. Some were set down gently; others were piled into heaps and damaged or destroyed.
And many boats were out of the water when Sandy came ashore, given both the time of year and the traditional wisdom that boats are safer hauled than in the water, Croft said. “That is the course to follow.”
This time, however, they probably would have fared better in the water if they were at protected marinas with floating docks attached to tall, sturdy pilings, he noted.
But Croft cautions about changing future storm-prep tactics based on one event. There will be plenty of post-mortem Sandy analysis after the lengthy cleanup. “We’re trying to learn, too,” Croft said.
Croft does not have an estimate of marina damage other than to say “tremendous. This took a lot of marinas to their knees.”
BoatUS has a record 70 people on its catastrophe team in the field from Maryland to Massachusetts, most of them surveyors.
“We’ve had guys who have been through [Hurricane] Andrew with us, and they say they’ve never seen anything like this,” Croft said.
Given the many boats that the surge carried some distance from their original locations, Croft said boat owners may want to review their policies going forward to be sure they have adequate salvage coverage to pay for retrieval.
The breakdown in damage is as follows:
• New York: 32,000 boats, $324 million
• New Jersey: 25,000 boats, $242 million
• Connecticut: 2,500 boats, $23 million
• Everywhere else combined: 6,000 boats, $60 million
Just over two weeks after Sandy made landfall, and with the damage estimates finally in, Croft said wearily, “Surge is still king when it comes to boat damage.”