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Coast Guard: Inlet too shallow for rescue boat

A boat navigates around a buoy in the

A boat navigates around a buoy in the Fire Island Inlet. (Sept. 20, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

The Coast Guard will no longer allow a specialized 47-foot rescue boat to use Fire Island Inlet because it's become dangerously shallow, but some charter fishing boat operators said Friday they're not letting the shoaling stop them.

The Coast Guard's $1.2 million Motor Lifeboat, designed for rescue operations in hurricane-force winds and rough seas, will be transferred from Station Fire Island to the Shinnecock station. Fire Island Inlet has become too difficult to traverse, the agency said in a statement.

The boat draws more than 4 feet of water, while water in the Fire Island Inlet is as low as 4 feet at high tide and less than a foot at low tide, the Coast Guard said.

"It's not safe for our vessel to transit in and out of there," spokesman Lt. Jeff Janaro said.

Janaro said two 25-foot rescue boats based at the Fire Island station will still use the inlet.

Those, along with Motor Lifeboats at Jones Beach and Shinnecock stations and Coast Guard helicopters and aircraft, will be adequate to handle any rescue operations, officials said, adding that local agencies may also assist.

On Wednesday, the Coast Guard issued an advisory instructing boaters to seek alternate routes to the inlet due to sand buildup.

Captains of charter fishing boats based at Captree State Park said Friday the Fire Island Inlet is in dire need of dredging, and some of the buoys need to be moved to more accurately mark deep water since sands in the area have shifted.

But most said they've a found a way to avoid the most shallow parts of the inlet by going outside of some buoys, and they've been operating their businesses as usual.

"We have no problem getting in and out of the inlet," said Neil Delanoy, captain of the Laura Lee. "We safely go in and out three or four times a day with a 72-foot boat."

"I've seen it a lot worse years ago," said Robert Andresen, captain of the 85-foot Captree Princess, which, like the Laura Lee, took fishing parties out to the Atlantic on Friday.

But Andresen said "you have to proceed with caution." He praised the Coast Guard for transferring its Motor Lifeboat, noting that the self-righting boat is taller than the inlet is deep and could be damaged.

"It's safe and smart to not let that boat go out," he said.

While the Coast Guard said it's in the process of moving some buoys, Andresen said he won't stop using the waterway in the meantime.

"I do this for a living," he said. "I'll find a way out."

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