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Here is a link to a post-Sandy video produced by the BoatUS Catastrophe Response Team.

As anyone messing around in boats eventually discovers, BoatUS (which may mean “Boat Owners’ Association of The United States” ; or Berkshire’s “Boat America Corporation” which performs the for-profit services; or a separate but affiliated political lobbying arm – all conducting business as simply ‘BoatUS’) provides a range of marine services including the Berkshire arm’s AAA-like emergency boat towing, boat insurance, financing, transaction services – and all manner of other boating-related activities.

BoatUS also publishes four magazine titles, available at its website. Here is an example of ‘Seaworthy’ For anyone going there, that “This Issue’s Video” YouTube link of a boat launching fiasco (those characters can’t possibly be Canadian, Ontario plates notwithstanding) is best watched with speakers muted!

The BoatUS articles in its publications often have insurance tie-ins – the examples used in safety and other articles reference actual BoatUS claim numbers, and there are sometimes interesting statistics from claim data,

Back to Sandy:

Looking back on this board, after the storm there were some criticisms tossed around regarding the lack of preparedness and general absence of self-sufficiency of folks in New Jersey. I can relate to that. The week and even much of weekend before the storm hit, we all weren’t sure where the storm was going to land. I spent the time battening things down in a New England coastal town. Boatyards were hopping. When the predicted storm track range narrowed considerably and it looked like NJ was likely going to get it head-on, I high-tailed it down to the New York suburbs to close things up. Just before the storm I fortunately thought to top off the tanks of a couple of cars (and pick up some stables - Chinese take-out, Costco-size bags of chips, some cases of beer, and lots of beer-cooler ice). Unfortunately I had already intentionally depleted all the other gasoline, propane and stuff like that so it wouldn’t be sitting unused all winter.

Being situated on a hillside, flooding wasn’t a concert, but high winds certainly were. The Monday evening of the storm, forecasts were for 40mph (average) with gusting to 80 or so – from the north for several hours and eventually clocking around to come from the east and the south. The detailed forecasts were pretty much right on, to my observations.

I can’t speak for sustained levels at the storm’s center at landfall, not being there, but while the periodic gusts were at hurricane destruction levels and perhaps even more damaging (I’ll explain in a minute) I could certainly believe the storm did not meet the ‘sustained 75 mph’ requirement for hurricane classification. My insurance adjustor, who actually seemed pretty knowledgeable about all this, concurred that there was a lack of actual evidence of sustained winds at the eye. Who knows.

That isn’t to say the storm didn’t cause hurricane-level damage. For several hours there were maybe half-minute spurts of terrific gusts, followed by similar lulls. At the gust peaks I could hear the gun-shot cracks as some trees in surrounding woods started coming down, but for the first few hours it was no worse than the usual nor’easter -type winter ice storm we are used to getting every few winters.

After several hours, though, those 75mph+ sporadic gusts started hammering in from the east, with the occasional really heavy gust from the south coming in increasing frequency. That’s when pandemonium hit. Several over-60-foot trees that had survived decades of icy nor’easters started coming down (including one that was closing in on Rockefeller Center-caliber potential) – all falling from the east or south, banging against the roof, against the chimney, and one huge cedar falling from the south square on one of the cars – the new one, of course. The earlier gusts had pushed so forcefully and irregularly from the north that you could see the rocking had weakened the opposite, southern-side roots to the point that they snapped pretty easily when equally powerful gusts eventually rocked the trees from the opposite direction.

Next morning I learned that the neighbors on both sides had trees come into their houses, one neighbor having a tree trunk crash right through a second floor bedroom. Fortunately nobody was hurt. The discouraging thing was that, at least at my place, the trees that really made the place all came down, while the ones I was kind of hoping would resolve themselves of course held up.

The main road out was completely blocked by downed trees tangled in downed power lines, and that road stayed blocked for days. The only alternate route, out over the hill-top, looked dangerous; it initially seemed pretty sketchy to be driving over powerlines draped across the street and under hung-up trees and poles, but people started doing it. The local utility company ended up just replacing the poles and re-hanging the same wires; being run over for a couple of weeks by cars and trucks apparently didn’t damage the wires as I would have thought (let's hope). This past week, officials for our little community (fewer than 1,000 homes) reported that over 100 telephone poles had been replaced.

The few days after the storm, gas station lines at the handful of stations that both had gas and power really did exceed a mile in length, at some times. Lines were remarkably orderly. Home Depot and Lowes both opened promptly after the storm using their generator power, and were doing a brisk business. They were getting in tons of stuff quickly, including propane and such. Traffic on the heavily traveled roads was amazingly orderly. The local police forces obviously had a well-coordinated and clearly marked traffic plan immediately in place that channeled flow so nobody was crossing intersections or turning into oncoming traffic anywhere, and could get anywhere they needed without traffic lights.

It ended up taking only a week to get power, and another to get internet, cable and such. Having a full tank of gas, charging the phone was no problem. Water was a concern, since the well pump was electric, and those 5 gallon emergency containers started looking meager after a bit.

The insurance adjuster finally got out after a couple of weeks. My homeowners deductible was only $500 – and to the point earlier, if the storm had had sustained 75mph winds (‘hurricane’ level), the deductible would have over $22,000. In any event, most of the really big-ticket damage in my case was not covered by insurance in any event.

And back again to boats

One of my sailing buddies in the NY/NJ area keeps his boat at a floating slip across from Manhattan – it typically stays in the water year-round. After the storm he had heard that all of his marina’s buildings had been destroyed by the surge, and he was certain his boat was gone, too. I asked if he was insured; he was. Not having power, he left town for an impromptu vacation for a week, and when he returned he was surprised to find his boat was still at his slip, and fine.

The storm surge there had been over 10 feet above high tide, but the pilings to which his dock was attached were a bit higher than the surge, and the dock slid up and back down during the storm, but remained in place. All of that particular marina’s boats were fine. As it turns out, if he had pulled the boat out ahead of the storm, it’s far more likely it would have been destroyed. Those adjustable Brownell stands can only support boats so well.

Harbor Traffic

Speaking of New York Harbor – it’s striking to see the commercial traffic – or more precisely, the lack of large tankers and such -- now versus a few decades ago. Here is an interesting live-action site with everything you want to know about any ship you happen to see – name, size, what it’s carrying, where it’s going, how fast, where it’s coming from. It even has information about the larger pleasure craft you might be eying from the terrace as they sit tied up out there in the harbor.

Anyway, what we see a lot of these days, instead of tankers and such, are articulated barges and their integrated tugs. These aren’t the barges of old, with long tow lines and subsequent control problems in heavy seas, treacherous currents, or crowded channels. Instead, the bows of the barges are tapered, and the sterns are notched so the tugs fit right in. For oil and such, the barges are now pretty much all double-hulled, similar to tankers.

For coastal work, the advantages for articulated barges are several: crew sizes are one-third those of comparable ships; barges can be moored if necessary while are tugs redeployed; pulling a tug out for maintenance and such can be far more economical than pulling out a freighter, etc., etc. Typically, contracts are written so that even if the barge alone is just sitting there moored for a while, the meter is running at a very hefty hourly rate.

Most of the companies in this business segment are privately owned – typically a century old and now run by heirs of the founder – and they are highly secretive. By most indications these businesses are also quite profitable, and – in the inland waterways at least – american companies have some unique legislated protection from foreign competition. There is one publicly traded consolidator in the segment, Kirby (KEX), that has been steadily buying up barge operators as they become available.

Speaking with one of the stronger private competitors recently, they pointedly observed that Kirby had had its struggles in profitably assimilating some of its acquisitions. And in any event, this is not necessarily an investment recommendation – only an observation that tugs and barges seem to have some advantages and have found some business momentum in recent year---and that Kirby is basically the one relatively large public player "in this space", as analysts seem to like to say. Basically, my observation is just that when you happen to be out sailing in New York Harbor, these days you find yourself dodging articulated barges much more often than tankers.
The BoatUS web site: From the site:

Boat Owners Association of The United States – BoatUS – is a non-stock association with no stockholders, incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia. Members are listened to intently, and drive many changes in BoatUS programs and policies, but do not have a “legal” say in running the organization. The Association does not publish an annual report.
BoatUS officers direct the Association activities. The officers are elected by a Board of Directors and receive advice from a National Advisory Council (NAC). The Board Members and NAC Members are listed below. They can all be reached through the Executive Office, BoatUS, 880 S. Pickett Street, Alexandria, VA 22304. Boat America Corporation has a contract with BoatUS to provide services to BoatUS and its Members, including insurance, towing and boat financing. Boat America Corporation is part of the Berkshire Hathaway family of companies, chaired by Warren Buffett, and does business under the name “BoatUS”
Also affiliated with BoatUS is the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that is funded primarily through voluntary tax-deductible donations from BoatUS Members. It also receives grants from the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA and other organizations. The Foundation’s annual report is published and available online…
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