Southport Marina boat owners asked to cover millions in hurricane damage to docks

On average, each boat owner is on the hook for about $20,000, with the suggestion that they file a claim for the damages with their insurance companies.
Updated: Mar. 25, 2021 at 4:26 PM EDT
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SOUTHPORT, N.C. (WECT) - It was an unwelcome surprise to boat owners, who already suffered extensive damage to their boats when Hurricane Isaias roared ashore in Brunswick County, decimating the Southport Marina. Over the last week, 185 boat owners received packets in the mail informing them they were responsible for millions in damages to the docks as a result of that August 2020 storm. On average, each boat owner is on the hook for about $20,000, with the suggestion that they file a claim for the damages with their insurance companies.

Under the terms of their contract with Southport Marina, boat owners are required to “Make arrangements for the safe mooring or removal of the Vessel on the approach of a storm and be responsible for the costs to repair of any damage caused by the Vessel to the Marina docks, piling and/or other boats.” The vast majority of boat owners left their boats at the marina as Hurricane Isaias approached, although many took time to secure their boats for the anticipated conditions.

“Well, as in prior hurricanes, we – most of us, almost all of us, moored our boat to the dock, double tied it,” said boat owner John Geddie of the preparations they made that have been sufficient during previous storms. Geddie noted their options to move the boat elsewhere were extremely limited. “All the rest of the marinas within 100 miles that way or this way were full.”

While the marina had weathered previous storms without significant issues, Hurricane Isaias was different. Although a Category 1 storm, Isaias came ashore during a full moon and a rising tide, which combined to create a devastating storm surge for south facing beaches in Brunswick County.

Robin Rose, who manages the parent company of Southport Marina, said the cost to repair damages to the marina exceeded six million dollars. While the fuel and transient docks were insured by Southport Marina, the other docks were not. Rose said that’s because boat owners are required to insure those docks under the terms of their contract.

Southport Marina hired Andrew Consulting Engineers to assess the cause of the mooring system failure that left boats and docks piled on top of one another at the marina in the wake of the storm.

“If the vessels had vacated the marina, the pilings would not have been overstressed with the storm conditions, and the marina mooring system would not have failed,” Engineer Neal Andrew concluded. “In our professional opinion, the mooring system met industry standards.”

But Geddie and other boat owners are pushing back.

“The engineer said the reason that the docks failed is that there were boats in the marina, and said had there been no boats in the marina that the docks wouldn’t have failed. But a marina is to hold boats. So it was kind of a silly argument,” said Geddie, who also happens to be a retired maritime attorney. He thought that the letters from Southport Marina were just the first step in the negotiation process between insurance companies hoping to get the other company to cover the damages.

“I passed the documents I received onto my insurance company and advised everybody else to do so,” Geddie said.

Several boat owners also think that recent dredging near the marina weakened the piling system supporting the docks, contributing to the damage. Southport Marina managers dispute that theory.

Rose indicated that some of the boat owners’ insurance companies had already begun processing the claims. He noted that 23 owners removed their boats from the marina before the storm and did not receive letters that were sent to the other 185 boat owners notifying them of their liability for damage to the marina.

In addition to the demand for damages, the marina has also passed along salvage costs they incurred to the boat owners. Boat owners we spoke to were assessed about $3,000 each for the cost of having their boats towed after the storm. Geddie said under salvage law, boat owners must give their consent to have the boats towed.

“You have to have the consent of the boat owner, and no one asked for consent, ever,” Geddie explained, adding that he already paid another company to have his boat towed after the storm. “[All the boat owners] on our Facebook page were going back and forth about how crazy this is.”

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