Hurricane Preparedness

Below is an in-depth overview to what occurs every year in Port Hawaii between the months of June 1st through November 30th.

Hawaii’s Commercial Harbors

The State of Hawaii Department of Transportation Harbors Division (“HDOT Harbors”) is tasked with the mission of effectively managing and operating a nine (9) commercial harbor system statewide that facilitates the efficient movement of people and goods to, from, and between the Hawaiian Islands. Port Hawaii operates as a hub-and spoke system with Honolulu Harbor on the island of Oahu (where 68% of Hawaii’s 1.4 million residents live) as the hub and primary entry point for incoming containerized cargo from the continental United States and foreign countries, and Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor, also on the island of Oahu, as the hub for fuel and bulk construction materials.

From Honolulu and Kalaeloa Barbers Point harbors, cargo is distributed to five other islands (Kauai, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Hawaii Island) through seven commercial harbor facilities. The two harbors on Oahu generate 77% of the Port Hawaii’s operating revenue.

To put the importance of Port Hawaii into perspective, 80% of all the goods we consume are imported, and 98.6% of these imported goods travel through Port Hawaii’s commercial harbor system. To keep this critical lifeline clear and open for the safety and security of our residents and visitors, it is imperative that we strictly manage our port facilities to ensure its continued viability, before, during and after any potential heavy weather event.

US Coast Guard Sector Honolulu (USCG) Captain of the Port (COTP) and Maritime Transportation System Recovery Unit (MTSRU)

The Harbors Division works closely with the USCG COTP to manage and prepare port facilities to minimize impacts during any heavy weather event and coordinates with the U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Transportation System Recovery Unit (MTSRU) to manage port restoration efforts.

Hurricane conditions are set by the COTP who manages preparations of heavy weather events through a port condition protocol based on changing weather conditions prior to storm impacts.

The Coast Guard Maritime Transportation System Recovery Unit (MTSRU) was created in 2006, after the United States Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 required the National Maritime Transportation Security Plan to include a system to restore cargo flow following a national transportation security incident. Lessons learned on recovery issues following significant disruption of maritime transportation during Hurricane Katrina played a role in the formation of the unit.

The mission of the MTSRU is not new for the Coast Guard, just the formal creation of a specialized unit. MTSRU is comprised of experts in maritime mobility, incident response and port operations who work with stakeholders to restore the commercial capacity of a waterway following a natural or manmade disruption.

Hawaii Harbors User Group (HHUG)

The Hawaii Harbors User Group (HHUG) was formed in March 2005 as a self funding, incorporated, nonprofit maritime transportation industry group established for the purpose of raising awareness of the key issues involving maintaining, expanding and improving the state harbor system.  HHUG has worked closely with the DOT to prioritize projects, advocate for needed improvements and continues to be successful at raising awareness of harbor issues with organizations whose livelihoods are also dependent on maritime commerce like the Hawaii Business Round table, Retail Merchants of Hawaii, the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Momentum Commission.

As an outspoken advocate for Hawaii’s state harbor system, HHUG has made significant contributions to the improvement of the harbors through the commissioning of several studies, providing a valuable perspective of the importance of Hawaii’s harbors which has broadened overall awareness of harbors issues and resulted in passage of key legislation. The Harbor Modernization Plan (HMP), the largest upgrade in the history of the state harbor system, is an example of this advocacy effort and came as a direct result of legislation based on a 2005 report commissioned by HHUG that was passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor as Act 200 (2008).

 HHUG members include: Aloha Cargo Transport (ACT)/Lynden, American Marine, Ameron Hawaii, Clean Islands Council, Cruise Lines International Association – North West & Canada, Hawaii Cement, Hawaii Pilots Association, Hawaii Stevedores, Inc., Horizon Lines, Kapolei Properties LLC, Kirby Offshore Marine LLC, MaCabe Hamilton & Renny Co., Ltd., Matson Navigation Company, National Oilwell Varco – Ameron Hawaii, Norwegian Cruise Lines, NYK (Ocean Network Express), Pacific Shipyards International, Pasha Hawaii, P&R Water Taxi, Sause Bros., Inc., Hawaii Gas, Young Brothers/Hawaiian Tug & Barge, and governmental partners the U.S. Coast Guard – 14th District and DOT Harbors Division.

 Hurricane Preparedness

Every year beginning June 1st and ending November 30th, Hawaii goes on alert for Hurricane Season. During this period, the HDOT works even closer with the Captain of the Port of the USCG and its team, along with our industry partners (the Hawaii Harbors Users Group (HHUG). This creates the Unified Seaport Incident Command Structure and our sole collective priority is to ensure that Hawaii’s commercial ports remain open as the lifeline for Hawaii’s communities for food, medical supplies, clothing, household goods and practically everything we consume.

Part of the strategy for ensuring that our commercial ports remain open before, during and after storms, is the evacuation of all commercial harbors of all vessels capable of sailing away from storm conditions to protect the safety and health of the crew and removing and securing all cargo and containers in our yards to minimize and prevent the hazards caused by flying debris.

Pursuant to Annex C of the CG Captain of the Port Sector Honolulu “Maritime Heavy Weather & Hurricane Plan”

The Captain of the Port Honolulu will close ports and waterways whenever conditions pose an unacceptably high risk to vessel and facility safety. Post heavy weather recovery emphasis is put on immediate surveys of channel blockage and prioritization of steps necessary to resume essential, then normal vessel traffic.

Ocean going vessels of 300 gross tons or more will be required to leave the port.  Vessels of 200 to 300 gross tons will be required to leave the port unless they have received the Captain of the Port’s permission to remain.

Vessels under 200 gross tons planning to stay in port during a heavy weather event are required to submit a mooring plan for approval by the Captain of the Port and HDOT.  However, for such vessels moored at state piers and facilities, the Captain of the Port will defer to HDOT for approval.

HDOT supports the Captain of the Port’s requirements for vessels 200 gross tons and greater and sets its own requirements for vessels under 200 gross tons through its delegated authority found in Hawaii Administrative Rules Chapter 19

  • 19-41-4 Delegation of authority. The chief, harbors division, district managers, and the harbor masters are the designated representatives of the department and of its director and as such are delegated full authority to administer the rules of the department and to establish procedures necessary for the efficient and safe operation of the harbors within their respective jurisdictions. [Eff 5/20/82; comp 2/26/96] (Auth: HRS §266-3) (Imp: HRS §266-3)
  • 19-41-5 Implied agreement. The use of the commercial waterways and facilities under the jurisdiction of the department of transportation shall constitute a consent to the terms and conditions of these rules, and evidences an agreement on the part of all vessels, their owners and agents, and other users of such waterways and facilities to be governed by, and to pay all charges specified by, these rules. [Eff 5/20/82; comp 2/26/96] (Auth: HRS §§266-2, 266-3) (Imp: HRS §§266-2, 266-3)

As storms form in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico or California, we begin communications between HDOT and USCG Sector Honolulu regarding storm trajectory and potential disruptions to the normal flow of commerce to, from and between the islands. This dialog between HDOT and USCG Sector Honolulu continues until the storm/storm conditions near the 140⁰ Longitude mark. As it approaches the 140⁰ Longitude mark, a regularly scheduled MTSRU teleconference call is scheduled between USCG Sector Honolulu, HDOT and our industry partners daily so that the Port Conditions for the next 24-hour operating period are relayed and appropriate plans can be made by all commercial harbor customers and users regarding the safety and security of their employees, cargo and private property.

Port Conditions and the requirements and restrictions are as follow:

Via the issuance of a Marine Safety Information Broadcast (MSIB) by the USCG Sector Honolulu, Port Conditions are transmitted and directed at commercial ocean-going vessels and represent ongoing dialogue with the COTP.

They are set up as a series of escalating conditions to keep the vessels and the Ports safe.

The measures taken for Condition Whiskey (72 hours before expected landfall) and Condition X-Ray (48 hours before expected landfall) are the same with the exception of deadlines for submitting “Remaining In Port Checklists”. The date and time that the checklists must be submitted by will be made known through MSIBs.

To enter, transit or remain within this safety zone, vessels must comply with the following requirements:

  1. Report Intentions to Marine Safety Office:All commercial vessels and ocean-going barges greater than 2200 gross tons must advise the Captain of the Port of their intent to remain in port or depart.
  2. Closure of Departure/Arrival Windows: Ocean-going ships and barges over 2200 gross tons departing the port must depart no later than 12 hours prior to the arrival of gale force winds.
  3. Cargo Operations/Bunkering: All transfer operations shall cease upon arrival of sustained 39 mph winds.
  4. Smaller Commercial Vessels Not Restricted by Draft: Smaller commercial vessels not restricted by draft, including fishing vessels, are asked to seek shelter outside the deep draft shipping channels and turning areas. (HDOT requirement)


Condition Yankee (24 hours before expected landfall)

No vessels may enter, transit or remain within this safety zone without the permission of the Captain of the Port. The following additional requirements are in effect:

  1. Cease Cargo Operations: All transfer of cargo operations shall cease when wind speeds reach 39 mph.
  2. Vessels Desiring to Depart Port Must Arrange Immediate Departure: Movement of all vessels and barges greater than 200 gross tons desiring to depart the port must contact the Captain of the Port to arrange immediate departure.
  3. All Vessels Must be at Mooring Site and Follow Approved Remaining in Port Checklist: All commercial vessels and barges greater than 200 gross tons remaining in port must be at their mooring site in accordance with their “Remaining in Port Checklist” as approved by the Captain of the Port.
  4. Smaller Commercial Vessels Not Restricted by Draft: Smaller vessels not restricted by draft, including fishing vessels, are asked to seek shelter outside the deep draft shipping channels and turning areas. (HDOT requirement)
  5. Vessels Bound for This Port: Vessels bound for this port are advised to seek an alternate destination.

Within 12 hours of expected gale force winds from, the COTP will set Port Condition Zulu. Future Port Conditions are set contingent upon the storm’s course and speed. Should the hurricane increase in speed, Condition Zulu may be set sooner.

Condition Zulu – Port Status: Closed

  1. All movements require Captain of the Port approval.
  2. Hurricane landfall predicted in 12Hrs.

As stated earlier, HDOT’s mission is to plan for and protect our state’s commercial harbors. We understand that in some instances, unlike commercial fishing vessels who are out hundreds of miles at sea for weeks at a time chasing their catch, certain vessels may not have the ability to outrun a storm. For those few vessels that are our normal customers seeking to remain in our commercial harbors, they are required to provide a heavy weather plan (how you are going to tie down and remain with the vessel) and have a designated assist tug alongside during the duration of the storm (1 to 1 ratio).

We also do not maintain small boat or recreational harbors. As our commercial harbors are vital assets through which 80 percent of the state’s goods and food supply comes into the islands, we must take all possible actions to protect them. Allowing leisure vessels without emergency plans or tug support into our critical infrastructure where they may become debris blocking access to the harbor or break apart our piers would not be responsible on our part. Our role, and that of the Unified Seaport Incident Command, is not to provide safe harbor for all boaters, our role is to ensure that the cargo operations can resume as quickly and effectively as possible following the passing of a storm.

This requirement can be found in Annex C of the CG Captain of the Port Sector Honolulu “Maritime Heavy Weather & Hurricane Plan”

 The determination to leave a vessel in port or send it out to sea during a hurricane should be made long before the start of hurricane season. This requires foresight and planning on the part of vessel owners/operators to determine what is the safest action for the vessel and its crew and what resources are necessary to execute those plans. If a vessel owner/operator

plans on leaving the vessel in port, then they need to consider whether or not the facilities the vessel will be laid up at will be sufficient and have the proper resources needed to hold the vessel in hurricane winds. Then they need to make the proper arrangements with the facility owner/operator to ensure that those resources will be available when a hurricane approaches the area. Finally, facility and vessel owners/operators need to receive authorization from the Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP) to allow them to implement those plans. Otherwise, vessel owners/operators need to have plans for safe evacuation from the port prior to the hurricane.

Harbors Division has a direct line of communication with vessel owners, captains and shipping agents that is used to communicate safety and operational information with regards to Hawaii’s commercial harbors. We also have open dialog with other federal partners such as the US Army Corps of Engineers, which has the responsibility for channels, depth of water and turning basins, as well as Customs and Border Protection, which has oversight of the foreign crews. This transparent and open dialog that we have with our users and partners form an important tool that we use to ensure compliance with security and safety protocols established by federal and state agencies.

Hawaii Long Line Fishing Fleet

There is a total of approximately 140 long line fishing vessels in the Hawaii Long Line Association fleet. Approximately 80 vessels were in port at Honolulu Harbor as Hurricane Lane approached and upon the setting of Condition X-RAY (48 hours prior to expected landfall) Captains and Owners were asked via a Harbor Master Notice to start their planning and preparations to evacuate on or before the setting of Condition Zulu.

It was at this point that we discovered 22 fishing vessels in laid up status (no engine, no navigation or no propulsion), which they shouldn’t have been, without proper notification to either HDOT or the USCG Sector Honolulu via the Request to Remain in Port forms.

The requirement regarding laid up vessels can be found in Annex C of the CG Captain of the Port Sector Honolulu “Maritime Heavy Weather & Hurricane Plan”

No vessel will be permitted to enter or remain in lay-up status during the hurricane season, except as provided below. Laid-up vessels unable to depart, before June 1 in the Hawaiian Islands and November 1 in America Samoa, each year must obtain written permission from the COTP to remain in port. This is done by completing the “Request to Remain in Port” form, attached to this appendix. Requests that are not fully or properly completed will not be considered, and the vessel will not receive the written permission. Requests, at a minimum, shall include a lay-up plan containing specific provisions for all categories of hurricanes.

For purposes of this policy, a vessel is considered in lay-up status if it is not operational or undergoing repairs or contracted to commence repairs within seven (7) days. A vessel is considered operational only if it is manned, has valid certificates from the flag administration, and is prepared to conduct cargo operations or sail within 14 days of entering port.

 It is also a requirement of HDOT Administrative Rules Chapter 19

  • 19-41-8 Standards. Every vessel and all other personal property and facilities at a state harbor shall be kept in such condition of repair, maintenance, neatness, and orderliness so as not to constitute a common nuisance, substantial danger to person or property, or obstruction to proper public use. [Eff 5/20/82; am and comp 2/26/96] (Auth: HRS §§266-2, 266-3) (Imp:HRS §§266-2, 266-3)
  • 19-42-52 Small craft and smaller commercial vessel repairs, reconstruction or major modification. Minor repairs to small craft and smaller commercial vessels may be made at the assigned berth and shall be completed within thirty days. If repairs are estimated to, or actually do, require that the vessel be out of service for more than thirty days, prior approval shall be sought from the department to initiate or complete the repairs in the harbor. Prior approval shall be sought from the department for any repairs requiring the use of cranes, lifts, and any similar devices within the harbor. Repair, reconstruction or major modification that would interfere with the free flow of other vessels, pedestrian, or vehicle traffic shall only be accomplished in an area designated by the department. Failure to seek approval as required by this section shall be grounds for the revocation of the use permit. [Eff 5/20/82; am and comp 2/26/96] (Auth: HRS §§266-2, 266-3) (Imp: HRS §§266-2, 266-3)

As evidenced by the massive damage that we see from the impacts of Typhoon Jebi in Japan and pictures from Hurricane Maria below, vessels that choose to remain in port during hurricane conditions pose a threat to the piers that they are moored to and, should vessels break free from their mooring, threatens the entire facility if the vessel strikes any piers and sinks.

This is an area that both HDOT and USCG Sector Honolulu plan to address in the very near future to remind vessel Owners and Captains of their responsibilities to keep their vessels in full operating capabilities during Hurricane Preparedness Season or risk losing their privilege of berthing in Honolulu Harbor by putting the entire system and the people of Hawaii at risk for their negligent behavior. Though warning and reprimand letters are preferred, in some instances fines may be issued.

A finding and issuance of a fine for violating the Harbor Masters Orders is addressed in HDOT Administrative Rules Chapter 19

  • 19-41-12 Enforcement and penalties. These rules have the full force and effect of law pursuant to sections 266-2, 266-3, 266-4, and 266-25, Hawaii Revised Statutes. The enforcement of these rules shall also be pursuant to the provisions of section 26-14.6, Hawaii Revised Statutes. The violation of these rules shall be subject to penalties as set forth in section 266-25, Hawaii Revised Statutes, and the bail schedule for Harbors Division, Appendix A, Bail Schedule for Commercial Harbor Offenses relating to violations of chapter 266, Hawaii Revised Statutes and Title 19. [Eff 5/20/82; am and comp 2/26/96] (Auth: HRS §§266-2, 266-3, 266-25) (Imp: HRS §§266-2, 266-3, 266-25)

Violation of Harbor Master Notice and violation of rules shall not exceed $10,000 for each day of violation.

Lessons Learned from Hurricane Lane

In the aftermath of Hurricane Lane, working with the Captain of the Port Michael Long, USCG Sector Honolulu, and our harbor partners, the HDOT was able to reopen ports throughout the Port Hawaii system in record time.

At first light, separate teams of DOT and USCG personnel coordinated simultaneous landside inspections on or before 0600 followed by waterside surveys of navigational channels and substructure assessments at Hilo, Kawaihae, Kahului, Honolulu, and Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbors. These conditions were forwarded to both HDOT who provided its recommendations, then onto the Captain of the Port for final determination of safety and suitability to resume cargo operations. Due to excellent weather conditions, cargo yard reconstitution activities commenced at 0800. Waterways were declared opened by 0900. Cargo operations resumed at all harbors by 1200, with the Horizon Pacific and the Matson Mahimahi unloading at Honolulu Harbor’s Sand Island piers, and the Matson’s vessels the Columbia and the Haleakala unloading at Hilo and Kahului Harbors, respectively.

This expeditious resumption of cargo movement was only possible because potential damage to the facilities were minimized by sending vessels out to sea. It also underscored the important role the Unified Seaport Incident Command Structure (USCG Sector Honolulu, HDOT and HHUG) fulfills when everyone carries out their appropriate responsibilities on our team.

Lessons Learned from Tropical Storm Olivia

Using the successful tactics and techniques honed from our combined Unified Seaport Incident Command response for Hurricane Lane, coordination between the Captain of the Port Michael Long, USCG Sector Honolulu, and our harbor partners greatly improved our response actions and resumption of normal operations far exceeded our expectations.

All of Port Hawaii’s commercial harbors statewide were placed in Port Condition Zulu by 1200 on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.

Starting at first light, port assessments were conducted at the ports of Kawaihae and Hilo (Hawaii Island), and Nawiliwili and Port Allen (Kauai) by independent HDOT Harbors and USCG teams, and the channels and waterways of these harbors were surveyed for underwater debris and possible change in depth due to surge by our industry partners on site. By 0900 on Wednesday September 12, 2018, these four commercial harbors were deemed safe and were returned back to Hurricane Preparedness status, and the first barge loads were at pier side by 0945 ready to be worked.

Maui County harbors and Oahu harbors were still under a Tropical Storm Watch as Olivia continued approaching from the north. After steadily tracking and monitoring the effects of wind and waves on Maui County and the island of Oahu for several hours, independent port assessments commenced at these harbors at 1300. Observing no apparent damage caused by the effects of the Tropical Storm Force winds and waves, by 1530 all cargo yards were given permission to begin yard reconstitution activities (raising the container stacks back to the operational level of 4 to 5 containers high, and placing containers back onto chassis ready to be delivered), and by 1700, all remaining commercial harbors waterways and piers statewide were returned to Hurricane Preparedness status and normal harbor operations resumed with Pasha and Matson container ships leading the vessels back into Honolulu Harbor.

A key strategy in ensuring that cargo movement can resume as quickly as possible following the passing of storm conditions is the minimization of potential damage to harbor facilities.

Prior to hurricane season and before Hurricane Lane, HDOT staff communicated with its harbor users and made clear additional HDOT requirements to evacuate ports or submit a “Request to Remain in Port” application prior to Port Condition Zulu being set. These requirements, which include submission and HDOT approval of a heavy weather plan and confirmation of a tug assist for each vessel remaining in port, were reiterated to HDOT harbor users the week before the approach of Tropical Cyclone Olivia.

Several vessels submitted requests to remain in port and provided heavy weather plans showing specifics on how they would secure their vessels and staff mooring lines during the storm. However, there were several vessels deemed unresponsive during Tropical Storm Olivia and will be subject to fines and possible cancellation of their revocable permits.