Ahead of hurricane, Coast Guard rescues boaters off VA coast who had ‘no idea’ they were headed into its path

Coast Guard

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — On Friday, a captain with the United States Coast Guard said a situation recently played out that underscores why they preach preparedness ahead of any potential storm.

Hurricane Isaias has the potential to bring with it heavy rain and gale-force winds to waterways across the Mid-Atlantic by early next week. So as they usually do, USGS put out notices to boaters — recreational and commercial — to be ready.

“Boats that are in the water that need to be trailered, now is the time to absolutely trailer those boats,” said Capt. Sam Stevens, sector commander USCG Virginia. “If you can’t remove it from the water, double the lines.”

The messaging has become routine for long time residents of Hampton Roads. But it’s one Stevens said they will always reinforce.

“The biggest problems in hurricanes would be folks who haven’t taken the time to prepare or become search and rescue issues,” Stevens said.

On Friday, members of the Coast Guard responded to tow a disabled 36-foot sailboat that was 130 miles offshore.

“We had a sailing vessel … headed from Little Creek Virginia, down around the Panama Canal, was headed to San Diego,” Stevens recalled. “They had no idea that Hurricane Isaias was down south. So that’s the worst nightmare is having someone head into the storm not knowing its there.” 

Stevens said if conditions deteriorate enough, a call will be made to not go forward with a rescue.

Currently, the Port of Virginia has already been advised that a full closure of the shipping channel between Cape Henry and Cape Charles could happen briefly Monday night.

“It’s a decision we don’t take lightly,” Stevens said, acknowledging that during the coronavirus pandemic, valuable PPE supplies and testing kits are arriving in port daily.

The Coast Guard response is also taking into account the pandemic.

“We’re following CDC guidance and we are making sure all of our crews and first responders are taking care of our health,” Stevens said, still acknowledging it’s “all hands on deck.”

Ahead of Hurricane Isaias’ arrival, the Coast Guard is advising boater to:

  • Stay off the water.
  • Secure belongings in advance of the storm. 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 sustaining damage. Boats able to be trailered 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 remove EPIRBs and to secure life rings, lifejackets, and small boats. 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. This also includes moving kayaks, canoes and paddleboards indoors. 
  • Stay clear of beaches. Wave heights and currents typically increase before a storm makes landfall and can create deadly rip currents even before a hurricane arrives. Even the best swimmers can fall victim to the strong waves and rip currents caused by tropical storms or 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 Super Doppler 10 Hurricane Ready Guide.
  • Stay informed. Information can also be obtained on small craft advisories and warnings on VHF radio channel 16.
  • Don’t rely on social media to call for help. People in distress should use VHF Channel 16 or 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.

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