East Coast Alerts

By Mel Neale

The AIS (Automatic Identification System) is an important navigational tool for large vessels to help avoid collisions with each other and with us. Smaller vessels like ours can pay thousands of dollars for the hardware and nav programs to receive AIS information. It is supposed to keep us safe from the big guys because we can know specifically and in detail who and what is coming around corners or out of the fog and where they are heading. It’s pretty scary to me that with all these advances, there is still an issue with lack of due diligence and improperly working equipment.

The following announcement has been in the past few USCG Local Notices to Mariners from all the East Coast Districts:

The Coast Guard has noticed that many Automatic Identification System (AIS) users are not updating their unit to accurately reflect voyage related information-navigation status, static draft, destination, ETA, etc. Further, the Coast Guard has encountered AIS units that either do not transmit at all or improperly transmit the vessel’s dynamic data-position, course, speed, heading, etc. The former problem requires due diligence on behalf of the user, the latter is most likely due to the improper installation or operation of external sensors-gyro or heading device and vessel GPS system-inputted into the AIS. AIS users are compelled to properly operate their AIS at all times (33 CFR § 164.46). They should pay close attention to these matters, and are encouraged to make each other aware of AIS discrepancies they come upon. Improper operation of AIS could subject the user to civil penalties not to exceed $25,000. Note, AIS data can be invaluable, however, as with any source of navigation information, it should not be solely relied upon in making navigational and collision-avoidance decisions. Further, while AIS allows for safety related ship-to-ship text messaging to communicate with others and make passing arrangements, these communications do not meet the requirements of the Vessel Bridge-to-Bridge Radiotelephone Act (33 U.S.C. 1201 et seq.) for broadcasts on the designated bridge-to-bridge channel, nor do they relieve a vessel operator from the Navigation Rules requirement to sound whistle signals or display lights and shapes. To report an AIS problem, or for further information regarding AIS, including our plans to extend carriage requirements.

Rock Hall, MD Shoaling:
District 5 Local Notice to Mariners #48 warns that shoaling has been reported to a depth of 4 feet MLW in the vicinity of Rock Hall Harbor Light 4 (LLNR 26895) and Rock Hall Harbor Light 5 (LLNR 26900) and extending southwesterly for approximately 150 yards in the northwest portion of the channel.

Salt Ponds, Hampton, VA Update:
The same 5th District LNM reports that the Salt Ponds Inlet at Hampton, Virginia has been reported to have shoaling to a depth of less than 4 feet MLW at various locations inside the inlet. The groin repair was scheduled to be completed by November 30, 2005.

We have had a report from a local boater that 6 ft or greater is now the controlling depth in Salt Ponds Inlet. See posting by “Doghouse” on the BoatUS Message Board, November 18, 2005 East Coast Alerts, http://my.boatus.com/forum/. It is still advisable to call one of the marinas inside for the latest information before entering the inlet as conditions can change.

Dredging in Roanoke Sound, NC:
Also announced in the same LNM: The Dredge MARION will be conducting dredging operations in Roanoke Sound in the vicinity of Roanoke Sound Channel Daybeacon “24A” and Roanoke Sound Channel Daybeacon “34” between November 30, 2005 and March 31, 2006. The dredge can be contacted on VHF-FM channels 13 and 16. Mariners are requested to stay clear of the dredge, floating and submerged pipelines, buoys and wires. Mariners are requested to exercise extreme caution and no wake when approaching, passing and leaving a dredge operation location and to strictly comply with the Inland Rules of the Road.

Further Observations from Chez Nous’ Trip South, Atlantic ICW:
After negotiating the shallows of the North Carolina ICW, Chez Nous has passed through South Carolina, Georgia and North Florida. We are currently tied up at one of our favorite places, Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor, St. Augustine, FL. The ICW had a few surprises for us, and some of the old familiar challenges.

This is a reminder to all from the USCG 7 District: Due to the limited commercial use of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway between Port Royal Sound, South Carolina (Mile 552) and Cumberland Sound, Georgia (Mile 713), the Savannah District (of the US Army Corps of Engineers) will not receive funds to maintain the waterway to the authorized depths. The District will monitor the conditions of the waterway and publish quarterly condition reports. Mariners are to use extreme caution when transiting the waterway until further notice. This notice has been announced weekly for the past two years. The saving grace in cruising this area is the tidal range of 7 to 8 feet. There is some very shallow water.

Following are some observations from the helm of Chez Nous.

Sunset Beach Pontoon Bridge, NC, Mile 337.9:
We passed through two hours before low tide and had no trouble. However, it did not open for two hours on two afternoons during a spring low tide while we were in the area. The pontoons lodge in the muddy bottom at extreme low tides and the bridge will not budge.

We were amused to hear a USCG Local Broadcast to Mariners regarding one of the closures: “Mariners are advised that the Sunset Beach Pontoon Bridge is closed due to a mean low tide.”

Barefoot Landing Bridge, Mile 353.3:
While this bridge is supposed to open on signal, the tender on duty when we passed through told the captain on the next boat after us that he would have to wait for 15 to 20 minutes because the City of North Myrtle Beach did not want vehicular traffic to be slowed down and that he couldn’t open any more frequently.

Bridge tenders do not have the authority to hold up vessel traffic in this manner without approval from appropriate government (including Federal) authorities. Changes in opening restrictions on bridges are permitted by the USCG only after periods of announcement of a proposed change, tests of schedules, public comments and issuance of a final rule. This process takes many months, sometimes years. It is up to boaters to report problems of this nature to the USCG or other authorities. This bridge is under the jurisdiction of the 7th District USCG, 909 S.E. First Avenue, Suite 406, Brickell Plaza Federal Building, Miami, FL 33131, phone: 305 415 6683.

This bridge was built privately by Barefoot Resorts, with operation turned over to the SCDOT upon completion. There was opposition to its being built as an opening bridge because of its proximity to the Rock Pile, a very narrow and potentially dangerous passage of the ICW where there is strong current and no space for boaters to maneuver in waiting for bridge openings.

Barefoot Landing Dockage:
The free dock adjacent to the shopping center on the ocean side of the ICW appeared to be unchanged, as of late November, 2005. There is an ad published in a 2006 guidebook saying that it is now “Barefoot Landing Marina”, offering water, restrooms, cable and electricity, 50 slips, new and renovated 1200’ floating docks. Call first to check its status if you plan to stop there (843 663 9838). The new Barefoot Resort Yacht Club across the ICW appeared to be completed, but there were no boats there yet. The long awaited Marina at Grande Dunes is finally open.

McClellanville, SC, Mile 430, to Charleston:
Yes, there has been dredging. The previously shallow stretch below McClellanville, with around 6 ft controlling depth, now has a controlling depth of around 12 ft according to what we saw.

Asheepoo-Coosaw Cutoff, SC, Mile 518:
Our depth sounder showed around 6 ft of water between R “184” and G “185”, mid tide. G “185 appeared to be off-station. This spot has been a problem on every trip we have ever made in the ICW for the past 22 years. Sometimes there are more markers, sometimes fewer. We follow the magenta line, but it never seems to work right. This is a place to pass at mid to high tide (rising) and very carefully.

Fields Cut, SC, Mile 574:
The usually shallow place just inside the northern entrance to Fields Cut showed 12.5 ft at high tide on our depth sounder. There is around 8 ft tidal range here.

Elba Island Cut, GA, Mile 576.2:

The shallow area of the channel between R “2” and R “4” is now marked with a nun “2A”. The least depth we saw here was 13.2 ft., off R “4”, at high tide.

Georgia Bridges Stand-by VHF Channel Changes:
The two opening bridges on the Georgia ICW, Causton Bluff Bridge, Mile 579.9 and the Skidaway Bridge, Mile 592.8 both now stand by for traffic on VHF Channel 09, rather than 13. The purpose for this is to not interfere with VHF ships’ bridge-to-bridge traffic on the busy Savannah River.

Hell Gate, GA, Mile 602:
The back range is still missing. Least depth that we observed in this passage was 8.6 ft at mid tide.

St. Catherines Sound, GA, Mile 618.5:
R “112” and R “114” which mark shoals that must be cleared in the sound have both been replaced with tiny red nuns that are very difficult to see.

Sapelo Sound, GA 632.5:
R “136” is missing, R “136A” is in place, and R “138” is replaced with a small red nun, difficult to see.

Jekyll Creek, GA, Mile 682:
Two hours after low tide (there was a very strong westerly wind to blow water out of the creek and sounds) we saw 6 ft. of depth on our depth sounder for a long stretch. The banks on the sides of the creek were bare.

St. Andrew Sound, GA, Mile 690:
The shoal just north of the turn at R “32” is apparently building southward toward the channel. It is marked by a small green “31”, very close to “32”. We were down to 9.5 ft. showing on our depth sounder in the channel between “31” and “32”, at which point we became very alarmed and sharply turned to follow the magenta line which is now drawn on the wrong side of “32”. We went inside of “32” (west of it), where the depth immediately went down to more than 60 ft as indicated on our depth sounder. We have found that usually when the magenta line crosses on the wrong side of a marker, either it or the marker is in the wrong place on the chart. The wind was blowing 35 knots at the time, so we didn’t hang around to investigate. This is an area to approach with extreme caution.

Cumberland River, GA, Mile 703.8:
In the area between R “60” and “62” there is a red nun “60A” which must be honored. This is another place where the charted magenta line crosses on the wrong side of a marker on our chart. In this case, honor the markers.

Palm Valley, FL, Mile 760, Dredging:
There is currently a dredge working about a mile south of the Palm Valley Bridge. The passage through is narrow and not very deep. It’s the dredge “Enterprise”, standing by on VHF 16. The stretch through Palm Valley has been around 6 ft deep for years. It’ll be good to have it deeper.

Key West, FL Proposed Changes:
The 7th District USCG LNM #48 announces that the following changes have been proposed for the aids to navigation system in Key West Northwest Channel.

KEY WEST NORTHWEST CHANNEL ENTRANCE RANGE FRONT LIGHT 6 (LLNR 15165) will be changed to LIGHT 6. The range boards will be permanently removed.

KEY WEST NORTHWEST CHANNEL ENTRANCE RANGE REAR LIGHT (LLNR 15170) will be permanently discontinued.

All comments should be addressed to Commander, Seventh Coast Guard District, 909 S.E. First Avenue, Suite 406, Brickell Plaza Federal Building, Miami, FL 33131. Comments must be received by February 1, 2006.

This information is not to be used for navigation. Consult the latest charts and Local Notices to Mariners and use prudent seamanship. Any person or entity that uses this information in any way, as a condition of that use, agrees to waive and does waive any and all claims which may arise from that use.

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale