USCG to Boaters: Wait Now, Help the Bahamas Later

Aerial shot was taken in the Bahamas on September 2 by USCG

Aerial shot was taken in the Bahamas on September 2 by USCG

The U.S. Coast Guard is urging boaters who want to help with Bahamas recovery efforts from Hurricane Dorian to keep their boats—and themselves—safe at home until conditions improve, both in the islands and along the U.S. East Coast.

“Right now, for the next week, it’s imperative that boaters stay off the water and pay very close attention to messages being put out by their local Coast Guard sectors,” Ryan Doss, senior chief for the Coast Guard’s Atlantic area, told Soundings by phone on Tuesday. “One of the things that we see after storms are numerous sunken vessels and hazards to navigation. Until teams can get out to assess the waterways, we don't know if it’s safe for boaters to go out. That process can take a few days to a few weeks.”

While Dorian is no longer expected to make a major landfall on the U.S. East Coast, numerous ports have issued notices to mariners that conditions will remain dangerous as the storm churns just offshore and moves north.

As of 8 a.m. Monday, the Port of Jacksonville was closed to all commercial traffic with pleasure vessels advised to seek safe harbor. As of late Monday and early Tuesday, the Ports of Virginia as well as Wilmington and Morehead City in North Carolina were advising pleasure vessels to seek safe harbor before Dorian arrives; and the Port of Charleston in South Carolina was urging owners of trailered boats to pull them out of the water ahead of the storm. Florida’s Port of Miami was closed to all vessels until further notice.

Aerial shot was taken in the Bahamas on September 2 by USCG

Aerial shot was taken in the Bahamas on September 2 by USCG

And while U.S. ports were making preparations for the storm, conditions in the Bahamas remained treacherous as of Tuesday morning, with Dorian virtually stalled over the islands. The National Hurricane Center continued to report “dangerous winds and life-threatening storm surge” on Grand Bahama Island in particular. While the U.S. Coast Guard’s MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews were able to perform 19 medical evacuations from Marsh Harbour, both the U.S. and British governments were still trying to get a sizable number of assets to the Abacos for reconnaissance as well as search and rescue. Early reports via social media indicated that the Abacos had already sustained catastrophic damage, with Dorian continuing to pound the islands.

The hurricane center expected Dorian—with maximum sustained winds near 110 mph as of 11 a.m. Tuesday—to stay over Grand Bahama Island through Tuesday night. The storm, moving at just 2 mph, was then forecasted to “move dangerously close to the Florida east coast” late Tuesday through Wednesday evening. Dorian was expected to be along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts Wednesday night into Thursday, and over North Carolina’s coast by late Thursday.

Warnings also came out from the hurricane center at 11 a.m. Tuesday for the possibility of tornadoes along the U.S. East Coast, as well as combined storm surge and tides raising water levels as high as 7 feet from Flagler, Florida, to Cape Lookout, North Carolina.

“With a storm like Dorian, it's moving very slowly,” Doss says. “The sea states are going to remain bad for several days after the storm has moved on. We are actively working search-and-rescue cases in the Bahamas right now. The last thing we want is for people with good intentions to go to the Bahamas and become another search-and-rescue case."