Archive for the ‘local knowledge’ Category


I would like to offer my condolences on both sides of this incident, no one wants to see this happen.

I have commented on this in the past discussing the lack of communication between recreational vessels and kayaks specifically.



I’ve had an ongoing discussion in my comment section as a result of my post regarding the same.  Let’s take a moment to clear up a few things I’m seeing in the comment sections of the many posts floating around trying to assess blame, cause, and right of way.

The rules are specific and if followed, the thinking is (theoretically) that a collision should never occur.  Real world, not so much.


Rule 9 – Narrow Channels Return to the top of the page

(a) (i) A vessel proceeding along the course of a narrow channel or fairway shall keep as near to the outer limit of the channel or fairway which lies on her starboard side as is safe and practicable.

International Inland
(ii) Notwithstanding Rule 9(a)(i) and Rule 14(a), a power-driven vessel operating in narrow channel or fairway on the Great LakesWestern Rivers, or waters specified by the Secretary, and proceeding downbound with a following current shall have theright-of-way over an upbound vessel, shall propose the manner and place of passage, and shall initiate the maneuvering signals prescribed by Rule 34(a)(i), as appropriate. The vessel proceeding upbound against the current shall hold as necessary to permit safe passing.

(b) A vessel of less than 20 meters in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of a vessel [ which | that ] can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway.

(c) A vessel engaged in fishing shall not impede the passage of any other vessel navigating within a narrow channel or fairway.

(d) A vessel [ shall | must ] not cross a narrow channel or fairway if such crossing impedes the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within that channel or fairway. The latter vessel [ may | must ] use the signal prescribed in Rule 34(d) if in doubt as to the intention of the crossing vessel.


(i)  In a narrow channel or fairway when overtaking [can take place only if the vessel to be overtaken has to take action to permit safe passing, the vessel intending to overtake |  the, power-driven vessel intending to overtake another power-driven vessel] shall indicate her intention by sounding the appropriate signal prescribed in [Rule 34(c)(i) | Rule 34(c)] [and take steps to permit safe passing]. The [power-driven] vessel [to be |being] overtaken, if in agreement, [shall] sound the [appropriate | same] signal [prescribed inRule 34(c)(ii)] and [may, if specifically agreed to,] take steps to permit safe passing. If in doubt she [may | shall] sound the signals prescribed in Rule 34(d).

(ii) This rule does not relieve the overtaking vessel of her obligation under Rule 13.

(f) A vessel nearing a bend or an area of a narrow channel or fairway where other vessels may be obscured by an intervening obstruction shall navigate with particular alertness and caution and shall sound the appropriate signal prescribed in Rule 34(e).

(g) Any vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid anchoring in a narrow channel.

My view, find the kayaks.  Get it?

5 31 10 bbrucato  DSCF0174r

And here is an example of what the prospective traffic can be..

It has been cited that rule 9c applies, in this case it does not.

It has been claimed this was a narrow channel, it is not.

It has been stated the “rule of tonnage” should have applied.  There is no such rule.  It is a construct of common sense similar to “let the big boat go first”, it is not a rule, reg, or statute.  It is a common sense admonition for small craft surviving encounters with large vessels in close quarters.

So far as I know, what has been reported is that the ferry was leaving his berth and turned into the sun for his westbound crossing and met with a flotilla of kayaks that were following the pier-heads close in.  Was there any communication from the kayaks? So far, unknown.  Did the ferry sound signals properly? Too early in the investigation and no one has said that he didn’t.  Were the kayaks being led by a club or organization?  Was there notice given to VTSNY (USCG Vessel Traffic Service)?  All this and more will come out in due course.  It is cold comfort that no one died, I take no pleasure in my prediction that this was a matter of “when ” as opposed to “if” it might happen.

For those of you who follow this blog, I ask that we all make an effort to educate those recreational boaters of their need to understand the dynamics of sharing the waterways in a safe manner and comply with the rules.

I see quite a few professionals misquoting the rules as well, this is not acceptable.

As professionals we are held to the higher standard and will suffer as well as impose suffering on others for our ignorance.  The hearing will not be pretty when it becomes apparent that our industry isn’t upholding the standard that sets us apart.

We must do better.


Read and understand the “Rules”


, it’s clear there is a need to post this again.

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A line tow ready to head upriver, his length overall is about 1,500 feet and maybe 120′ wide.

I have to admit I’m a bit of a tourist these days.  My latest assignment has my boat trading between New Orleans and Florida.  As I write this we’re waiting to get a loading berth in the NORCO terminal just above the Crescent City.

While I’ve been around tugs and tows my entire career I’ve never had the experience of seeing a Mississippi river tow built and then sailed by the massive towboats that navigate the lifeline of the mid-west.  It’s busy work and takes a lot of blood and sweat to put together.  It can take a day or two to build a “line tow” by small workhorse towboats that are in constant motion picking up, shifting and rafting up a fleet of 28 or more barges carrying anything from coal to grain to whatever.  The towboats that move the finished tow are huge and wide with a good amount of horsepower in the engine room and the pilothouse.

Listening to these boats receiving their marching orders is interesting, the numbers and types of barges vary from boxes to rakes and keeping track of where they are placed and how they are delivered is complex but well understood.  It reminds me of how my Dad used to get his orders moving railroad floats for the New York Central when I was a boy just riding along.  The numbers of each unit are conveyed in a boatman’s shorthand, concise and exact.

The volume of traffic here is amazing. Ships, sea-going and river tows are everywhere.  Huge cranes off-loading dry cargo, flotillas of barges are almost everywhere along the riverbank.  The anchorages are along the river and tightly packed.  Our anchorage here in Ama one of many.   We set our anchor within a few dozen yards of the unit ahead of us and settle back.  The river current is constant so we lay parallel with the bank.  It’s a bit unsettling to be this close to the guy ahead of us and the one behind us, but the anchor holds and it’s kinda cozy.

The radio chatter is flavored with a bit of a patois and it’s amusing to hear some of the exchanges between the pilots and operators of the boats working here.  Courteous and occasionally colorful these fellows use phrases that catch your attention.  In a conversation between a couple of units this morning the dialog went something like this;”I’m up-bound approaching the turn, what would you like?” If you could hold up there I’ll be around here shortly”, “No problem cap, I can do anything but disappear.”  You can be sure I’ll be using that one someday.

It’s not news to anyone that’s the least bit familiar with the western rivers that the “line tows” are massive floating collections of cargo larger and longer than any ship afloat.  To listen to these units making their way is a study in “cool and calm”.  When I encountered my first big guy, I was impressed  with the way he seemed to manage his charges so effortlessly.  I quickly recognized that these men were supremely gifted boat handlers and to underestimate them would be foolish.

For the time being, I’m going to enjoy the experience and absorb as much as I can from the mariners that work in this corner of the country.  These people have a skill set that rivals any you might find in the Northeast.

During my first voyage here one of our river pilots came aboard to relieve his colleague who had met us at the entrance to the river eight hours earlier.  As we shook hands and in a big voice he said “Cap, your day just got better”, better indeed.

More to come.

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My last piece was generated from a rant I expressed in my pilothouse on my last trip down the East River heading for an anchorage in New York’s Bay Ridge Anchorage 21B.  Generally, my postings originate as rants that are rendered raw and then tempered with a good bit of editing for language and content.  I don’t just go off and shoot from the lip. Usually.

Of course, my professional perspective is what I draw on and my opinion is given full sway, it’s my blog after all.  But since my last post I’ve had some feedback that puts a neat spin on the ultimate aim of the article.  Education, for me as well as others.

A rather brave young woman decided to upbraid me for what she believed were insults to the Kayaking Community.  She was right on the money on some points and I give credit where it’s due.  She provided a couple of links I had not previously seen and found them to be really thoughtful and comprehensive in their advice on mixing recreational traffic with commercial vessels here in New York.

So in the interest of passing along the lesson of “you’re never too old to learn”, I wanted to recognize these organizations for working to make everyone safer in the pursuit of their particular vision of happiness.

The first one I’d like to share is one that includes enough information to rate as a must read for any recreational boater seeking to play on the waters of New York Harbor, or any busy waterway for that matter.

I Boat NY Harbor  The content of this site warms this lil’ old  tugboatman’s heart.  It’s comprehensive, articulate and clear and I ‘m glad someone has thought to do such a thorough job.  Kudos.

Safe Harbor.US Listing educational videos and notices of the events taking place in the harbor and good concise articles relating to interacting and avoiding close encounters with the behemoths that ply the waters of N.Y. Harbor.  The video catalog alone is worth a click.

I think it bears mentioning that the State of New York doesn’t recognize paddled craft as “vessels” subject to the rules as we understand them, that’s a big WTF as far as I’m concerned. This story just boggles the mind.

Everyone on the water has to have an understanding as to their responsibility when they take to the water for any reason.

And for now I’ll close with a thank you for the comments I’ve received.  Be safe.

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photo by capt. jim brucato

I recently posted a time-lapse video of a Cape Cod Canal Transit which was pretty well received by the boys at the Canal’s A.C.O.E. Office.  It was the 1st of March and the opportunity couldn’t be ignored.  With the opening seconds of the video showing us entering the East End in a pronounced slide and set toward the south breakwater, the canal is entered with the music of one of my favorite Santana tracks kicking in at just the right moment as we shot into the entrance.

The question from Ryan is; How would you compare a Hell’s Gate transit to a Cape Cod Canal transit?

Okay, since you ask……

One thing right off the bat, they are similar but different transits.  The Gate presents its challenge once we commit for the eastbound transit at the lower end of the Poorhouse Flats range.  After that (if you’re in the flood current) you are going through the Gate, stopping is not an option.  Thirty or so minutes later, the “deed is done”.  The Canal is a committed transit after passing Hog Island just west of the Maritime Academy.

Hell Gate is a tight and rocky estuary that doesn’t allow for a lot of leeway, it is an intense affair with two big turns.  Once you clear the railroad bridge it becomes kind of anti-climactic.  This time of year both waterways have the added challenge of dealing with large numbers of recreational vessels.

The Canal is a fifteen mile transit from Cleveland Ledge to the East End, the last twelve or so being the very definition of commitment.  Once you’ve sailed past Mass Maritime and the A.C.O.E. West End Station there isn’t any room to turn around or places to stop.

On average the canal transit lasts from 1 to 2 hours depending on the current and traffic.

The Canal is similar to Hell Gate as it requires focus and timing to approach and negotiate.  The primary difference is the amount of time you need to spend doing it.

Turns must be set up well in advance for large units since a fair current will introduce a respectable slide toward the down-current side of the channel.  Bottom clearance is a consideration as well.  Although the canal has a decent depth, there are some shallow spots that develop from time to time that will create enough suction that can make handling a deeply loaded unit a struggle in the turns.  With a head current (going against the flow) it’s almost like pushing a pencil by its sharpened tip across a table.  A balancing act that lasts for the entire transit until the east end breakwaters are in the rearview mirror.

Hell Gate has numerous eddies to contend with but they are fairly predictable for an experienced pilot.  The Canal has a strong current that follows the trend of the ditch without too many cross-current issues (except perhaps near the academy and east entrance breakwaters).  The east end can be challenging once it is approached since (as evidenced in the video) the bay influences the entrance with waves, weather and wind.  There is also a railroad bridge at the West End Station that closes the waterway from time to time.  Traffic is advised well in advance by the A.C.O.E. Controllers and the bridge never has an unannounced closing.

Should there be a strong northerly or easterly component to the wind and seas at the eastern end, many conventional tug and barge units delay their transit until the conditions abate since exiting the canal in push gear is something we’d want to do without a heavy swell surging the gear.  Tugs towing light barges negotiate the canal at nearly any stage of the current without too much difficulty, but those towing a loaded unit “short” (close to the tug) through this waterway experience a delicate affair that is generally timed to coincide with the slack rather than max current.  Tail boats are often used to help keep the tow under control as well.

from the web, 4/11/83 the morton bouchard

Like Hell Gate, the canal can be an unforgiving stretch of water.  More than one unit has had a bad day in the canal when things went sour.  It only takes a few seconds of inattention to get in trouble; it gets ugly in a hurry.

Hell Gate is scenic and cool for its views of the Manhattan skyline and its Upper East Side until we reach the Astoria side of the railroad bridge, then it’s industrial chic for the ride past the Bronx.  It gets pretty again when you reach the Whitestone Bridge and head under the Throg’s Neck bridge for the Sound.

The Canal is lovely and quintessentially New England, with wide walking and bike paths on both sides.  Folks fishing in crystal aqua green water enjoying the parade of vessels large and small.  It’s a beautiful ride any time of the year.

Sea level canal transits (like the Cape Cod Canal and Chesapeake and Delaware) are challenging and interesting.  You are on your toes for the entire trip since a fair current will boost your speed over the bottom dramatically and a head current will make for a long trip.  It’s about focus and forethought.  My Dad used to say that a boat handler should be thinking a mile or so ahead of his boat to be ready for what’s next.

I’ve got to say that I like both transits.  The Canal is pretty, but at the end of the day they both offer something that is challenging and interesting.

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A steamy Hell Gate Transit late in the afternoon. Most of the recreational boaters have headed home for the work week and we have the Gate to ourselves….more or less.

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