Coast Guard warns gale-force winds possible in Savannah

Condition X-ray set alerts commercial ships, recreational boaters

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter patrols the Savannah River.
A U.S. Coast Guard cutter patrols the Savannah River. (Photo by Stephen Morton/Getty Images)

SAVANNAH, Ga. – The Coast Guard captain of the Port of Savannah set condition X-ray on Wednesday morning due to the expectation possibility of gale-force winds from Hurricane Florence reaching the area within 48 hours.

Sustained winds between 39 and 54 mph are possible within 48 hours. Condition X-ray allows commercial ship traffic and transfers at terminals and facilities to continue, but mariners are reminded there are no safe havens in these facilities, and ports are safest when the inventory of vessels is at a minimum.

All ocean-going commercial vessels and oceangoing barges greater than 500 gross tons should make plans for departing the port.

Pleasure craft are advised to seek safe harbor. Commercial vessel operators authorized by the captain of the port to remain inside Sector Charleston’s harbors, and recreational boat owners, should ensure their vessels are secure at berth and will not pose a hazard to surrounding vessels, the navigable channel, or the environment.

Mariners are reminded that drawbridges may not operate when sustained wind speeds reach 25 mph or when an evacuation is in progress. Pleasure craft are advised to seek safe harbor.

Port facilities are advised to review their heavy weather plans and take all necessary precautions to adequately prepare for the expected conditions. Mariners can view the latest port updates on the Coast Guard’s Homeport site.

If and when port condition Yankee is set, meaning sustained gale force winds are expected within 24 hours, vessel movement shall be restricted, and all movements must be approved by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard is warning the public of these safety messages:

•    Stay off the water. The Coast Guard’s search and rescue capabilities degrade as storm conditions strengthen.  This means help could be delayed.  Boaters should heed weather watches, warnings and small craft advisories. 
•    Evacuate as necessary. If mandatory evacuations are set for an area, the public should evacuate without delay.  Coast Guard personnel and other emergency responders may not be able to evacuate or rescue those in danger during the storm.  
•    Secure belongings. Owners of large boats are urged to move their vessels to inland marinas where they will be less vulnerable to breaking free of their moorings or to sustaining damage. Trailer-able boats should be pulled from the water and stored in a place that is not prone to flooding.  Those who are leaving their boats in the water are reminded to update your Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) registration, and secure them safely to your vessel prior to a major storm. These devices often float free from vessels in marinas or at docks during hurricanes and signal a distress when there is none. Ensure life rings, lifejackets and small boats are secured. These items, if not properly secured, can break free and require valuable search and rescue resources be diverted to ensure people are not in distress. 
•    Stay clear of beaches. Wave heights and currents typically increase before a storm makes landfall. Even the best swimmers can fall victim to the strong waves and rip currents caused by hurricanes.  Swimmers should stay clear of beaches until local lifeguards and law enforcement officials say the water is safe. 
•    Be prepared. Area residents should be prepared by developing a family plan, creating a disaster supply kit, having a place to go, securing their home and having a plan for pets. Information can be found at the National Hurricane Center’s webpage. 
•    Stay informed. The public should monitor the progress and strength of the storm through local television, radio and the internet. Boaters can monitor its progress on VHF radio channel 16. Information can also be obtained on small craft advisories and warnings on VHF radio channel 16. 
•    Don't rely on social media. People in distress should use 911 to request assistance whenever possible. Social media should not be used to report life-threatening distress due to limited resources to monitor the dozens of social media platforms during a hurricane or large-scale rescue event.

For information on Hurricane Florence's progress and hurricane preparedness, visit the National Hurricane Center's webpage.