A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Heads up for safe boating: As season looms, Ohio River boating requires extra care around tow boats

Recreational boating on the Ohio River can be great fun for the family, but as National Safe Boating Week approaches, Coast Guard experts say river boaters must take extra care because they share these waters with up to 1200-foot towboats and with passenger cruise vessels.

Recreational boaters need to take all boating safety seriously and that means:

• Life jackets save lives – Wear it!
• Sober boating saves lives – Avoid alcohol and other drugs while on or near the water.
• Safe boats save lives – Get a free Vessel Safety Check.
• Boater education saves lives – Take a boating safety education course.

For Ohio River boaters, educating yourself means understanding the risks of boating on a busy commercial waterway, said Chief Petty Officer William Harris, who commands Coast Guard boat operations in the Cincinnati area.

Stay well clear of these vessels, he said, there are blind spots all around these towboats where the pilot cannot see you.

“If you can’t see the pilothouse windows, the pilot simply cannot see you,” Chief Harris said, “And if he cannot see you, he may not know you are there.”

These are some of the longest vessels anywhere on the water, larger even than an aircraft carrier and it can take as much as 1½ miles to stop. The combination of a large blind spot and a towboat’s inability to stop or maneuver quickly makes the area in front of a moving towboat especially dangerous, he said.

“If a water skier falls 1000 feet in front of a moving tow,” Chief Harris warns, “the skier has about one minute to get back up and get out of the way. Recreational boaters need to know that and stay well clear, not only of the front of a towboat, but all around it.”

The official danger signal as required by federal law is five short, rapid blasts on a vessel’s horn. If you hear that signal, the captain is not being friendly, he is warning you that danger is imminent and you need to take quick action, Chief Harris said.

We all have a right to be on the water, Chief Harris said, but with that right comes the responsibility to understand the limitations of these huge vessels and to understand our responsibility to stay out of their way. In fact, the law requires that we give due regard to those limitations and act with prudence and caution when operating around vessels which cannot quickly stop or turn.

National Safe Boating Week, May 19-25, launches the 2018 Safe Boating Campaign. This year-long campaign promotes the message of boating safety and especially the importance of always wearing a life jacket each time a boater is on the water.

For more information on National Safe Boating Week please visit: www.safeboatingcampaign.com.

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