Will Your Marina Weather the Storm?
April 1, 2016
Bill Huffman’s remarkable 37- year career as a marine structural engineer encompasses some of the best known and most elite marinas in the Northeast, Southeast, Gulf Coast and Caribbean. His years of experience in the field give him a broad perspective from which to advise marina owners about the storm worthiness of their marinas. Huffman is the president of Structural Systems Analysis (SSA) based in Savannah, Georgia.
At the last International Marina and Boatyard Conference (IMBC), Huffman presented a talk titled “Determining Anchor Pile Type and Size for Marinas,” in which he described engineering marinas to weather severe storms. Afterward, owners and operators approached him with questions. “How do I know my marina will survive a major storm?” “What is the largest boat I should allow to tie to my docks if a storm is approaching?” To learn the answers to these and other questions, Robert Wilkes interviewed Huffman.
Robert Wilkes: For readers who missed your talk at IMBC, what was the “take away” there?
William Huffman: My talk was about how we design for storm resistance and how that has evolved over the last thirty years and how owners can understand their own vulnerabilities.
RW: You had a lot of questions from people after your talk. What happened?
WH: For many of them, the subject was a bit disturbing. No owner wants his marina destroyed in a storm. But in my view a majority of the owners in the industry are complacent, hoping it doesn’t happen to them, but without much knowledge about their own marinas. As long as things are going well, they don’t think about it. I made them think about it. Many have marinas built before epic hurricanes changed our industry and forced us to look at storm resistance in a new way. It has caused the design of marinas to become more comprehensive and site specific.
RW: If you get a call from an operator who wants to know if his marina will survive a storm, how do you respond?
WH: First question is, “When was it built?” Then, we look at the details of the site and construction. We look at winds, waves and currents, and expected storm patterns. What kind of docks do they have? How are they connected? How many piling, of what length, diameter and materials? How far are they spaced and how deep are they driven? What’s the consistency, nature and strength of the underlying soils? What size boats? It’s reverse engineering to find out how it was built. But when an assessment has been made the owner knows what he has.
RW: How old is an “old” marina? What is the cut off?
WH: If the marina was built from the mid-90s on and it has stamped or sealed professional engineering drawings, it should be fine. The mid-90s are when the industry starting changing. Prior to that it was fairly common for an owner to say, “I need a marina with 50 slips.” The dock manufacturer would calculate the square feet of docks and the number of fingers. Then he’d figure out how many piling to put in based on accepted norms or rules of thumb. Finally, he’d ask the buyer if he wanted a standard or heavy duty marina and deliver an “off the shelf” product. That was it.
RW: If an owner thinks his marina is at risk, what can he do?
WH: If he has a marina from the late 80s or early 90s, he has gotten 25 or 30 years of service out of the facility. He should consider rebuilding before a storm makes up his mind for him and takes the marina and everything in it. We’re seeing a lot of rebuilds of marinas that age.
FOR A COMPLETE COPY OF THE ARTICLE DOWNLOAD THE PDF.