If you are boating anywhere in the United States, you have encountered a bridge or two in your nautical career. It’s your “Approach” to them that makes all the difference when it comes to you, your vessel and your passenger’s safety. Just to clarify, each bridge you encounter is different so here we are talking about bridges like the Meadowbrook, Wantagh, Point Pleasant, Manasquan, all the inter-coastal and so many other small to medium bridges all along our east coast region.
The first issue we need to address is speed. You slow down well before you are bouncing off the bridge pilings-If you get my drift. Observe every point of the compass to see what boats are in the area and which ones are also going to use the bridge. Granted, often your vision on the opposite side of the bridge is impaired by structure but at least you are sure of your side of the bridge. I make it a practice not to compete with those captains who insist on overtaking you to get through first, so I try always to let “Captain Aggression” do his testosterone thing. If there is a cross or other incoming channel intersecting, I usually let the boat to the portside go before me as he is more obstructed in my vision so in my case it’s safer. Meanwhile, I am constantly monitoring wind, current and tide.
If I am going against current and tide, I know I will have both more control and resistance to push against. I stay always to my starboard if the bridge accommodates both inflow and outflow of boat traffic. I position my vessel way before I enter so that I have the widest, surest, view of any boats approaching from the other side. If the vessel is gigantic, I abort and let him through first, no matter what Chapman says on who has right of way. As large vessels go through, they have less control. The bigger the boat, the more negative effect currents have on them. Though the correct speed is 5MPH-No Wake-Like everything else in boating, the situation dictates how you handle the situation. A much larger boat will either have to power up to push through an oncoming current or suffer from less control when the current is pushing against his transom, thereby making a sticky situation for a much smaller boat within the confines of the under-bridge passage. There may be spinning eddies around pilings that also affect navigation so be aware of them. When your passage seems clear you go for it, maintain a steady helm, both hands on the wheel, every passenger sitting down with life jackets on. Your stance should be feet apart if you are not sitting. If you still do not have a clear view of the other side due to immovable objects, sound your horn twice to warn vessels on the other side of possible danger. If you are having trouble making way you may throttle up just enough to maintain control of your boat.
Once you are clear of the bridge you can begin to relax and continue in the marked channel constantly following nautical protocols. For those who think it’s better to avoid the center of the bridge channel and scoot around the side pilings because they think they can roar through and save time-Well that is just plain dumb. Untold amounts of accidents happen that way.
One more thing! Very Important! If your boat is higher than the height of the bridge-It is more than strongly advised not to attempt passage. Know the height of your vessel and note that bridge passage heights are noted on your GPS and printed nautical maps. Takedown your outriggers, antennas, etc., long before you are in approach mode. It is also wise to consider the status of the moon’s effect on the tide which is radically higher and lower than usual.
That’s about it. We will cover draw bridges and masted boats in the future. Most of you seasoned boaters deal with bridge issues very professionally, but if you are one of the many new boaters, take this into account again and again. Eventually, it will become second nature.
See you on the water. Stay safe.