The Coast Guard has decided it no longer will send its larger rescue vessels through Fire Island Inlet because the waterway has become too shallow.
Master Chief Chad Wendt, officer in charge of Station Fire Island, on Tuesday suspended use of two 47-foot motor lifeboats in the badly shoaling inlet that got shallower in superstorm Sandy last fall and is currently being dredged.
However, the station's two 25-foot response boats that can travel through shallower water, but are limited in their ability to handle heavy seas, will still travel through the inlet to respond to emergencies if conditions allow.
Emergencies outside the inlet that cannot be handled by the 25-foot boats will be covered by the stations at Shinnecock and Jones Beach, each of which has two 47-footers that would use other inlets to get out into the Atlantic, Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound spokesman Lt. Jeff Janaro said. But those boats cannot respond as fast as the boats from Station Fire Island.
The agency warned mariners last fall that the inlet had become so shallow that they should avoid using it. At that point the 47-footers from Station Fire Island were going through the inlet only at higher tides and in good weather.
The Coast Guard decision means commercial towing operations may limit their capabilities and that will dissuade more recreational boaters from running through the inlet.
Capt. Ryan Bayley of Sea Tow Great South Bay said: "We have to be more careful. If the weather conditions are poor, I'm not going to send my guys out there knowing the Coast Guard might not be able to come and help them."
Capt. Nick Manzari, owner of the day-trip fishing boats Island Princess and Bay Princess based at Captree, said: "They have been dredging in the inlet for over a month and it's deeper than it's ever been. But where the buoys are may not be very good at the moment" because the dredging is currently being done on the east side of the inlet and not where the marked channel is.
Barry Rush, commander of the United States Power Squadrons safety organization on Long Island, said, "It's going to hurt the boating activity on the South Shore because if you get stuck, you could be on your own."
"So anybody who wants to go out into the ocean is going to have to go down to Jones Inlet or out to Shinnecock," he said.
In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $15 million contract to dredge the inlet and replenish nearby beaches with the sand.