By Tom Neale, 11/17/2006
1. Asking for an opening that you don’t need is illegal and people are getting fined for it, particularly in Florida. This means that we have to take down antennae and also other collapsible stuff like fishing gear. Sometimes the bridge tenders will report the boat but the boat owner won’t know he’s been reported until he gets a letter from the government informing him that he owes a hefty sum.
2. I’ve found that usually (note I said “usually”), when a bridge tender is asking me to do something that I shouldn’t do with regard to the operation of my boat, it works to courteously and professionally give him a brief explanation of my maneuvers and to tell him that, despite what it looks like, I won’t unnecessarily delay the opening.
3. Look for hazards around the bridge. These include boat launching ramps that are hidden as you pass through because of the fender system, people fishing in small boats tied to the fenders, and strong eddies around pilings.
4. Vertical clearance of many bridges is noted on a “tide board” on the fenders. While this is very helpful, don’t rely exclusively on it. If there’s any question, ask someone who knows.
5. Even if a bridge has a posted vertical clearance, a low hanging light in the middle or an electric wire or cable that may have blown loose in a storm or other irregularities could decrease the clearance and cause you problems. Always look up before you go under a bridge.
6. If you need a bridge to open for you, always give the appropriate sound signal or preferably call him on the VHF and ask. Do this even if the bridge operates on a schedule and you’ve been sitting there in plain view for a long time. On the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, bridges in VA and NC stand by on 13. Bridges in SC, GA, and FL stand by on 09.
7. Always be prepared for the unexpected. For example, a bridge tender may need to unexpectedly abort an opening for an ambulance or fire truck.
8. If a bridge operator performs his job improperly or creates a hazardous situation, consider reporting the incident, in a letter, addressed to the appropriate authority. Bridge tenders are supposed to tell you the name and address of that authority, but you may have to call the local Coast Guard office to find out. Be factual, objective and fair.
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Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale