You just bought that brand new 40′ boat and are ready to hit the water. You are anxious to take her out on the ICW and run her south. This has been your vision and it is finally coming true. You have already invested some time studying your new boat, her mechanical systems, her plumbing, her electronics; you feel you have it all covered. And what about cruising in the ICW? That 25 foot sport fishing boat you upgraded from to your new trawler gave you enough practice, didn’t it?
Many of you new to boating may or may not know there are certain regulations to understand when approaching a bridge. Even as many of the older draw bridges have been replaced with higher draw bridges of sixty-five feet, there are still a number of lower bridges to contend with on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Some of these draw bridges are as low as eight feet. Before you get going, there are, nonetheless, a few items to take into account. On that twenty-five foot vessel, bridges weren’t a concern; you weren’t high enough to matter. But this 40 foot boat will require draw bridges to go up permitting you to go by beneath.
So what are the rules when you are approaching a draw bridge? To begin with, look on your chart to see what the vertical height is of the bridge. You should be familiar with the height of your trawler too. You can also read one of the cruising manuals where they give bridge information. As you come up to the draw bridge, you need to look for the tide board on the right side of the draw bridge at the water line to validate if your trawler or motor yacht can safely clear the bridge at the middle without having it open. If you are able to, proceed at slow speed and go through the middle of the span. Please be aware that you are obligated to drop antennas and outriggers if that will let you to safely go under the bridge without an opening; numerous draw bridge tenders will refuse to open if you have them up.
If you are not able to safely pass under the bridge without an opening, you need to then check to see if it will open on demand or if there is a an established timetable. A good number of draw bridges have the timetable posted if they have one. If there is an established schedule, you must sit and wait. You can find this information in the Dozier’s Waterway Guide as well. You don’t want to linger until the last minute to make your plan so I would recommend reading the waterway guidebook in advance. This will allow you to time your arrival at the bridge at the scheduled opening time.
If it opens on request, call the draw bridge tender on your VHF radio. Bridges in many states monitor VHF channel 13 while bridges in South Carolina and Georgia monitor channel 9 and bridges in Florida monitor both channel 16 and 9. Only call the tender when you can see the bridge as he is not going to do anything until he verifies you will be present for the opening. The tender will also delay in opening a bridge if there are a few vessels cruising all together; he will wait until every one of the vessels is prepared to pass by directly. As soon as the draw bridge is wide open, go forward at a no-wake speed. If you are cruising beneath the bridge with additional vessels, make certain to stay a safe distance from them; there are currents and turbulence near bridge pilings. Keep a no-wake speed until you have passed signs advising you to resume normal safe operation.
It is customary to call and show appreciation to the draw bridge tender on the VHF for his aid; some simply wave as they pass.