Florida authorities told the Sun-Sentinel that more than 1,500 boats have been salvaged since Hurricane Irma. BoatUS also reported today that more than 63,000 boats have been damaged or destroyed by Irma and Harvey, the hurricane that struck Texas.

The country’s largest boat owners’ association estimated that the combined dollar damage for boats from both hurricanes will be about US$655m. The numbers are close to the damage to the boating industry from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.

BoatUS said that Irma damaged or destroyed 50,000 boats with about US$500m in damage. Hurricane Harvey damaged or destroyed 13,500 boats, with costs of about US$155m.

“These two storms were as different as night and day,” said Rick Wilson, vice president of the association’s marine insurance division. “The boats that were hit the hardest by Harvey were located on a relatively small slice of Texas coast, while we saw damage to recreational vessels from Irma in every corner of Florida.”

Wilson added that the damage “could have been much worse” from Hurricane Irma. “Irma ultimately travelled up Florida’s West Coast and not the East, which was initially forecast,” he said. “While locations in the right front quadrant of the storm such as Big Pine Key and Marathon were hit hard with a Category 4 storm, Irma lost strength as it approached the mainland and swept up Florida. As the storm passed east of Tampa Bay, waters receded and came back gradually, also lessening surge damage.”

In South Florida, a US Coast Guard official told the Sun-Sentinel that Irma either sank or swept more than 1,000 vessels onto land. The official said that the costs of salvage could cost US taxpayers up to US$20m.

As of last week, nearly 1,500 boats had been salvaged by government agencies and individual owners. The geographic breakdown includes 1,101 boats from the Florida Keys; 69 from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties; 265 from the St Petersburg area, and 57 from the Jacksonville region.

Coast Guard Cmdr JoAnne Hanson told the paper that the salvage firms are prioritising vessels that pose the biggest environmental threat. “Vessels that are actively leaking are our top priority,” she said.

The costs of salvage are now approaching US$13m, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) paying 75% and the state of Florida paying the rest. Hanson said the job is far from over. Salvage costs could approach US$20m.