Effective 9 a.m., Friday, Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP), Capt. Linda Fagan, increased port conditions for the Port of New York and New Jersey to WHISKEY, due to the expectation that gale force winds generated by Hurricane Irene may arrive within 72 hours.

Ports are currently open to all commercial traffic and all transfer operations may continue while WHISKEY remains in effect. Threatening winds between 39 and 54 mph from a hurricane-force storm are possible within 72 hours.

All self-propelled oceangoing vessels over 500 gross tons (GT) and all oceangoing barges and their supporting tugs must report their intention to depart or remain in port.  If desiring to remain in port during the storm, vessels over 500 GT and all oceangoing barges and their supporting tugs must complete a REMAINING IN PORT CHECKLIST, and submit it to the COTP within 24 hours for approval. Vessels bound for Connecticut and Long Island unable to depart 24 hours prior to threatening winds making landfall are advised to seek an alternate destination.

Pleasure craft are advised to seek safe harbor. Drawbridges may not be operating if sustained winds reach 25 mph or when an evacuation is in progress.

Port facilities are advised to review their heavy weather plans and take all necessary precautions to adequately prepare for the expected conditions.

Mariners can anticipate the Coast Guard setting port readiness condition X-RAY when gale force winds from Hurricane Irene are within 48 hours of landfall.

If and when port readiness condition YANKEE is set, meaning hurricane force winds are expected within 24 hours, vessel movement shall be restricted and all movements must be approved by the Captain of the Port.

The Coast Guard is warning the public of these important safety messages:

Stay off the water.  The Coast Guard’s search and rescue capabilities degrade as storm conditions strengthen.  This means help could be delayed.  That is why boaters should heed to weather watches, warnings and small craft advisories.

Evacuate as necessary.  If mandatory evacuations are set for an area, the public should evacuate without delay.  Coast Guard personnel and other emergency responders may not be able to evacuate those in danger during the storm.

Secure belongings.  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 damage.  Trailerable boats 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 secure life rings, lifejackets and smallboats.  These items, if not secured properly, can break free and require valuable search and rescue resources to be diverted to ensure they are not actually people in distress.

Stay clear of beaches. Wave heights and currents typically increase before a storm makes landfall. Even the best swimmers can fall victim to the strong waves and rip currents caused by 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 National Hurricane Center's webpage.

Stay informed. The public should monitor the progress and strength of Hurricane Irene through local television, radio and Internet. Boaters can monitor its progress on VHF radio channel 16. Information can also be obtained on small craft advisories and warnings on VHF radio channel 16.