The rule requires vessels to travel at 10 knots or less during the seasons right whales are expected to be present in designated areas along the East Coast.

In the mid-Atlantic area, which includes Savannah, the 10-knot speed restrictions extend out to 20 nautical miles around major ports. NOAA Fisheries researchers report that approximately 80 percent of right whale sightings in the mid-Atlantic are within 20 nautical miles of shore. NOAA also established a program for temporary voluntary speed limits in other areas when an aggregation of three or more right whales is confirmed.

The rule allows vessels to exceed the limit if needed to ensure vessel safety.

The rule is part of NOAA's broader ship strike reduction efforts. Existing protective actions include surveying whale aggregation areas by aircraft, extensive mariner outreach programs and mandatory ship reporting systems that provide advisories and information on right whale locations to mariners.