Coast Guard, rescue officials warn boaters about submerged piling

Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 11:32 PM EDT
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WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - Ahead of what’s expected to be a busy weekend out on the water for July 4th, the U.S. Coast Guard and rescue officials at Wrightsville Beach are warning boaters about the dangers of a submerged piling near Banks Channel.

“There’s a large metal piling right around the junction between Motts Channel and Banks Channel in front of the Blockade Runner,” said TowBoat U.S. Captain Jesse Pushee.

Last week, a boat struck the submerged piling in Banks Channel and one passenger was ejected while the boat took on water.

The Piling is marked with a red wreckage buoy — 14 WR.

“This one is especially important for that because it is a wreck buoy and, as I mentioned, any time you see a buoy that has that WR marking on there, that signifies that there is a wreck,” said Jason Miller, the Officer in Charge at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Wrightsville Beach. “And there’s no way to say how big that wreck is. This one’s actually very small.”

However, a boat still struck the piling late last week, causing major damage. Pushee was one of the captains who responded to the collision and said the boat immediately started taking on lots of water.

“We managed to get the boat in between two of our boats to keep it from sinking while we got it to the ramp,” said Pushee. “And when we did get it out of the water, there was about a two-foot gash down the middle of the haul there.”

The boaters — like others — were probably unaware of the hazard beneath the water’s surface.

“If you are in the area, more than likely [you] won’t see a thing other than the wreckage marker — that’s kind of a temporary marker,” Pushee said.

Pushee said the collision could have been much worse.

“One of the passengers was actually ejected out of the boat when they hit the obstruction,” said Pushee. “Another fellow was injured — I believe he injured his rib, but yeah, they’re lucky nothing really worse came of it. It could have ended much more poorly.”

It’s a piling that supported one of the navigational beacons in the area, according to the Wrightsville Beach Coast Guard station. More specifically, it used to support dayboard number 14. It was damaged, but the Coast Guard does not know how as an accident was never reported.

Because it is marked by a temporary, floating buoy, Miller said it’s essential for everyone to steer clear and not cut too close.

“Those buoys, while they are anchored to the bottom, they’re not truly stationary. So if you can picture that buoy’s floating on the water — it has to have room to move up and down for the tide,” Miller said. “It’s connected to the bottom with a chain that’s connected to a big weight down there at the bottom, but there has to be enough chain for that buoy to move up and down with the changing tides.”

So while the buoy is marking the wreckage, it may not always be directly on top of the piling depending on the tide. Especially during low tide, the buoy can move laterally across the top of the water.

Miller said in general, “none of these buoys or dayboards should be approached really close.”

A Coast Guard Cutter out of Fort Macon, Cutter Smilax, will eventually remove the piling, but there is no firm timeline as to when that will be because that crew serves all of North Carolina’s coast.

Meanwhile, it’s best to avoid that part of the channel.

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