Hurricane Lessons

Oct 27, 2017 By Diane M. Byrne, Editor, megayachtnews.com

This hurricane season has raised more questions than ever about how to recover from – and prepare for – big storms.
Here are tips from brokers who have been there.

Harvey. Irma. Maria. Their names, and the destruction they’ve left behind, are emblazoned on our brains. Headlines reading “devastating,” “mind-boggling,” “merciless,” and “catastrophic” were anything but exaggerations. Even the most seasoned residents of hurricane-prone regions were left stunned by the power of Mother Nature and the aftermath. Almost as quickly as the storms roared through, pictures emerged of flooded neighborhoods, marinas reduced to rubble, and docks ripped from their foundations. Even more photos revealed boats, from small sailboats to superyachts, smashed and sunken. With economic recovery estimates in the billions of dollars, it’s no wonder some people have a hard time imagining the future.

Every boater knows that major storms can come with the territory. Still, they can be left dazed by their yacht being damaged or destroyed. Along those same lines, they may not be fully conversant in the steps to take before a potential natural disaster strikes. If you’ve never been through a hurricane before in your current role, you may have questions as well. To help both you and your clients, we spoke with a handful of brokers who are hurricane veterans, both personally and professionally. Their sage advice comes down to one word: planning. In fact, they emphasize the importance of mental planning as well as physical.

1. Communication is key. Before and after a storm, reach out to your customers and/or their captains. Lon McCloskey of Worth Avenue Yachts urges his customers to protect their boats as far in advance as possible. “There’s no reason for you not to be prepared,” he says. “With Irma, we had a week to prepare.”

Growing up in New Orleans, and being a broker in Florida for more than 30 years, McCloskey cautions that hurricanes aren’t the sole risk, either. “Even a tropical storm is an issue,” he explains. “Water can do more damage than wind in some cases.” Furthermore, he points out that tornadic activity associated with both types of storms can be unpredictable.

Stan Hoynowski of Galati Yacht Sales, who was a boater for many years before becoming a broker, considers conversations prior to a hurricane to be valuable. “… it gives you an avenue to follow up and discuss with them how they came through,” he says.

Hoynowski believes it’s especially important to communicate with clients who keep boats in your area but aren’t local themselves. After all, a storm’s path can change, and their yachts ultimately may not be affected.

Leonce Richards of Worth Avenue Yachts has dealt with hurricanes in a variety of professional roles over the years. He strongly recommends that post-storm, brokers send an e-blast to the owners of yachts in their central listings that sustained no damage. “That way, they don’t have to worry,” he says. Then, he suggests, “Get the word out that those boats are fine. It drives more business for your clients.” 

Besides, Richards adds, “If you watch the news from anywhere else in the country, you’d think every boat in Florida has been destroyed.”

2. Take care of things for your clients without their asking. McCloskey recommends securing boats for customers who may be consumed with storm preparations at home or, if they’re not coastal residents, busy with their regular lives. “They become a customer for life,” he says.

Most important, all three  brokers strongly recommend reminding clients to follow their insurance agency’s hurricane-plan policies.

3. Post-storm, “Know what you do not know.” Richards makes this point, explaining that you need to determine when it’s appropriate to give advice versus giving your customer the name of someone else to call. “The best brokers know how to direct their clients to help,” he asserts. “It doesn’t mean they need to be that help.” 

The types of referrals you offer might include a company to perform salvage, which McCloskey says is crucial to get right. “Salvage operations are critical, sometimes doing more damage than the storm,” he explains. 

4. Remind clients that storm recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Due to all the hurricane activity this year, insurance claims adjusters have a significant number of cases on their hands. Furthermore, McCloskey points out, adjusters are called in from all over the country, whether they are boat experts or not. “They’re so overwhelmed,” he says. “This process, with these storms, will be a slow process.” 

Richards cautions that even if the insurance response is swift, it may not be wise for your client to respond similarly. “If the insurance company calls you and offers you anything other than the full value of the boat, I wouldn’t move that quickly,” he says. “You’re going to be out of boating for a little while anyway. So, take your time, and make sure the damage is assessed properly.”

5. Encourage customers to advocate for themselves when it comes to insurance claims. In fact, arguing over the insurance claims could very well be the right thing to do. Every broker we spoke with was adamant that clients need to do their homework, because insurance companies may make offers that don’t add up.

“Figure out whether your insurance company is trying to get you a check and almost overpay you just to clear your claim, or whether they’re trying to nickel-and-dime you,” Richards recommends. He also says big claims can make it challenging to secure future policies. “[Clients] need to think down the road before taking a check from the insurance company,” he advises. 

Hoynowski says the Galati team, “only gets involved in insurance discussions if the owner is unsatisfied with what the insurance company is offering, and will ask for advice for the value of the boat.” In that situation, he continues, he and his colleagues provide market-analysis numbers that the customer can use in his or her negotiations. 

6. Like the Boy Scout motto, both boaters and brokers need to “be prepared” well before a storm develops. Even if you know your clients have a hurricane plan, make sure they follow it. “If a marina says you have to leave, you leave,” McCloskey says.

Richards sees the biggest problems arising when people try to secure their own boats, yet fail to think through different scenarios. “It’s not because of stupidity, it’s because of ignorance,” he says. “Sometimes it’s better to move the boat, and sometimes it’s better to haul it out. If a boat will remain in the water in a slip, the owner or the captain needs to consider on what side of the boat the storm’s going to pass.” They should create a diagram of exactly where their lines and fenders need to be for each scenario. It will save valuable time.

The concept of preparation applies to you and your colleagues as much as it does your clients. For example, just as every owner should have a hurricane plan, so, too, should your office. “Galati has set plans for each location to protect stock boats as well as the office equipment,” Hoynowski says. 

In addition, your storm plan should incorporate a communications plan. The three brokers agree that company policy should include using e-blasts and/or social media to alert customers to how you and your business fared during the storm. You might be surprised at how much your customers care about your well-being. Post-Irma, “It was amazing how many people called us up and wanted to know the status of our offices,” Hoynowski says. “There was genuine concern from customers.”

Not surprisingly, every piece of advice these brokers shared really comes down to prior preparation. The more you weigh the proper steps to take when a hurricane threatens, and do so when circumstances afford a calm and methodical approach, the better off you and your customers will be when the next one strikes.