The Harbor Column:

Harbor master explains evacuation

March 11, 2010|By Mike Whitehead

This week’s column is the second part of my response to the discussion from the tsunami advisory issued from the devastating earthquake last month off the coast of Chile. As a reminder the seismic activity did prompt a tsunami advisory by the West Coast Tsunami Center, which was not a warning.

However, a later and inaccurate tsunami notice, which did not come from the center, reported that larger swells were heading our way. This may have been misguided information meant for the Hawaii. Last week, I mentioned how that inaccurate report triggered the city of Newport Beach to activate the AlertOC, and it is better safe than sorry is what comes to my mind.

This week, Chandler Bell and I met with Lt. Mark Long, Orange County harbor master, to discuss the rumors floating around the bay about the evacuation of the Harbor Department’s headquarters and that the harbor entrance was closed to boat traffic.


Long said in light of conflicting information about any approaching swells, it was prudent to evacuate the harbor-side offices. The Sheriff’s Department has an Emergency Operations Center to handle such events, and this will keep most personnel out of any potential harm’s way.

Another rumor surfaced that the patrol deputies had closed the harbor entrance for any boats leaving or entering Newport. As we all know, the best location for a boat to be during a tsunami is out to sea where depths are more than 300 feet, which is more than a mile from the harbor’s entrance by looking at my chart No. 18754. In these depths, a boat will ride over the swells, which have long intervals.

Long assured me that his deputies were informing boaters that an advisory had been issued, and that skippers may want to take precautionary measures. The harbor entrance was not closed, and that would be the correct action without confirmed knowledge that devastating swells will hit our area, as Newport is deemed a “safe harbor” for any boater needing to seek refuge. The last time I can remember the harbor being officially closed was due to the oil spill off Huntington Beach from the tanker American Trader in February 1990.

In my professional boating opinion, the city and the Harbor Department were correct in their actions, especially acting upon the inaccurate warning that surfaced, which left not much time to spare.

MIKE WHITEHEAD is the Pilot’s boating columnist. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to .

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