Speaking Up

By Tom Neale, 7/22/2010


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

Far too often, laws and regulations are passed which adversely affect boating. Far too often, these affect not just the pleasurable aspects of boating, but the safety of boating. I don’t know about you, but if I were sitting on some board or in some legislature making laws about mountain climbing, I’d make a mess of things and a complete fool of myself. This wouldn’t be because I would be ill intentioned; it would be because I know very little about mountain climbing. The same is true of the vast majority of law makers regulating boating.

Socastee Bridge and High-rise

The US Coast Guard is one entity that, among the overwhelming huge tasks it’s been assigned, tries, while doing everything else, to protect and look out for boaters. This is part of their mission. But they can’t be everywhere all the time and know the import of everything that’s happening unless boaters report significant developments to them. Repeatedly they ask for public comment during rule making processes and at other times. These notices are available to boaters. We convey many in East Coast Alerts, to which you have free access. But very seldom do boaters comment. We as a group are often like ostriches with our heads in the sand thinking everything’s going to be all right, just enjoying life until we get kicked in the butt again.

Please read the letter below. It was from us about a proposed change in a bridge opening schedule on the ICW. Sound innocuous? It was very serious, involving serious safety issues which weren’t readily apparent in a seemingly innocuous request to change an opening schedule. This sort of scenario is more typical than you might realize. The issues and facts are in the letter. I hope others commented also. The schedule change did not get approved by the USCG Bridge Office. The community bridge administrator who had made the request responded to the letter saying, among other things, that “We have taken your concerns into consideration and have tried to meet the needs of the boating community.” I feel certain that the people in that community are good people, many of whom are also boaters, who simply didn’t understand the full import of their proposal. They didn’t understand it because they boat locally and don’t regularly travel the long route that the change would affect. If boaters hadn’t commented, the problems noted in our letter below and probably others would have occurred.

The Coast Guard agencies want to hear from boaters. They appreciate it. It helps them do their job. They may not always be able to agree with our position, but they need our input and they do pay attention if we input courteously with careful and informed attention to facts and issues.

Congestion at Surf City Bridge, NC

Almost daily, other issues surface. One such example is the fact that there is now a proposal to add a third bridge very near the ancient, constantly failing Socastee Swing Bridge (AICW Mile 371) in South Carolina. This would be three bridges within 1.3 miles, one of which is a swing bridge which must be opened. When they added the first high rise there a few years ago, they were supposed to discontinue the Socastee Swing bridge. But it’s still there, often obstruction boating traffic. (Could this be the result of pork barreling?) If they add this second high rise bridge almost in the same spot and then continue to use the ancient swing bridge, shouldn’t boaters comment?

I’ve emphasized bridge schedules here, but only by way of example. There are many other types of issues that deserve your comment. We as boaters are a small minority among a general public which has little or no understanding of maritime issues. I suspect that we have a much higher percentage of tax payers and voters in our group than in the general public. Even so, if we don’t speak up when needed, our collective butts are going to continue to get kicked until we start wishing we lived with those ostriches.

October 14, 2009

Mr. David Kellam
Figure “Eight” Beach Homeowners’ Association, Inc
15 Bridge Road
Wilmington, North Carolina 28411

Re: Public Comments on Proposed Schedule Change-Figure Eight Bridge

Dear Mr. Kellam:

Thank you for copying me with your comments regarding the above.

The following is my response, which I am sending to the 5th Coast Guard District Bridge Office and requesting that it be considered as part of the record.

A local homeowners’ association is requesting additional restriction to movement of vessels on navigable waters which are part of an interstate waterway system. The request is made because the members feel that such would be more convenient to them as they travel in motor vehicles on a local road.

This added convenience for the homeowners would pose safety issues for boaters for the following reasons. The request should not be granted and the Figure Eight schedule should remain as it is, unless it is ordered to open more frequently than it does now.

1. In the 80 mile stretch of ICW between Beaufort and Wrightsville Beach there are four restricted draw bridges and there is a firing range that often closes the ICW. Two of the bridges (Surf City and Wrightsville) already open only on the hour, and two (Figure Eight and Onslow Beach) open twice an hour on the hour and half hour. Distances involved mean that displacement hull boats (usually traveling at between five and ten miles per hour) already have a difficult time transiting this stretch in daylight hours. There are few marinas and only one questionable anchorage along that stretch, and no adequate transient marinas or anchorages for the last 38 miles southbound in which three of the restricted bridges are located. Increasing restriction to passage on this route will make safe transit even more difficult.

Tom’s Tips About Speaking Up

1. Look for announcements of problem issues in East Coast Alerts (https://www.boatus.com/cruising/

2. Keep up with governmental issues at the News/Gov’t Affairs tab at the upper left hand menu on the BoatUS.com home page.

Click Here for More Tips

2. Most of the ICW in this area, including the ICW just to the north and south of the Figure Eight Bridge, has a narrow channel, strong current, is subject to periods of strong wind (being close to the ocean), has poor holding for anchoring of boats of moderate to larger size and there is no space to anchor except in the channel. When a displacement hull vessel is trapped at a bridge it is often very difficult to hold in place and wait. The difficulty is increased with single screw vessels, of which there are many, including all sailboats.

3. If a car or truck must wait for a bridge opening, it waits only a few minutes and it can simply stop. Wind won’t blow it into harm’s way, the road won’t move it into a tree or bank, and weather or nightfall is largely irrelevant. When a boat waits, it may wait at least as much as a half hour (now you propose the possibility of up to an hour at this bridge), it may miss openings ahead and have to wait up to an hour at these bridges. While waiting, wind can blow it ashore or into other waiting boats, the current can push it into the bridge or other boats and it is very vulnerable to bad weather and nightfall.

4. You suggest that the issue is only that of the time required for boats to traverse southward from Figure Eight to the Wrightsville Bridge. There is also a serious problem involving northbound boats passing through the Figure Eight Bridge after the Wrightsville Bridge opening. Frequently, if they can’t get through the Figure Eight Bridge in a half hour from the opening of the Wrightsville Bridge it is very difficult, if not impossible, for the displacement hull or slower boat to reach the bridges further north in time for their scheduled openings, resulting in traveling in the dark or anchoring in bad spots. (Faster boats have fewer problems, but many of these can pass under Figure Eight without an opening.) Planning for this passage is often very difficult because boats will cover distance at different rates depending upon currents which change frequently on this route. Creating less flexibility as to when boats can pass through Figure Eight significantly creates more difficulties in making the passage north of Figure Eight.

5. The public ramp immediately to the north of the Wrightsville Bridge further exacerbates the problems. A large number of boaters using this ramp do not exercise prudent seamanship or common sense safe operations. They regularly dart out into the channel in front of larger less maneuverable boats making passage on the ICW. They regularly sit in the middle of that narrow channel, blocking it, as they wait for the ramp to clear. A boat passing northbound through the Wrightsville Bridge can’t see the ramp and boats around it until clearing the bridge. All of this means that boats, going north or south, must exercise extreme caution to the north of the bridge, often reducing their speed to dead in the water. Further restricting the times at which a boat can get through Figure Eight Bridge (only five miles north of the ramp) adds to these problems.

6. Apparently you’ve submitted no standardized independent studies or surveys as to the number of vehicles using Figure Eight Bridge and the times of such usage. It has been our repeated observation over many years that the bridge is lightly used.

7. Even though bridge tenders may in theory have some discretion in delaying an opening for a few minutes, I’ve seen only one in the area occasionally do this. That has been one of the tenders at the Surf City Bridge. Most insist to boaters that they have no discretion.

8. The Figure Eight Bridge has not had the stellar record to which you allude. See, for example, attached Exhibit A. I never received a reply to this.

9. More flexibility, not less, is needed for safe passage for boats along this stretch of the navigable waterway.

This is to request that the Figure Eight schedule remain unchanged or that it be required to open more often. We appreciate the opportunity to submit our comments regarding the broader implications of this request by your home owners association for additional convenience to local highway traffic.


Tom and Mel Neale

CC: Waverly W. Gregory, Jr
      Gary S. Heyer


Boating and water sports involve risk.  Any comments herein should be followed at your own risk.  You assume all responsibility for risk or injury to yourself or others.  Any person or entity that uses this information in any way, as a condition of that use, agrees to waive and does waive and also hold authors harmless from any and all claims which may arise from or be related to that use.

See www.tomneale.com

Copyright 2004-2010 Tom Neale