Archive for the ‘local knowledge’ Category

EDIT; Thank you to Carolina Salguero of The Mary Whalen for the head’s up.  The comment period has been extended to December 6th, 2016, the link for comments here.  If you wish to comment, please do so in an effort to clarify the misconceptions of the opposition.  We as an industry need to inform and educate our neighbors and help them understand the facts, and not embrace the hyperbole.

The Hudson River is a beautiful stretch of water.  It reaches from the Battery to Troy Locks in a roughly 130 mile meander that is wide at her lower reaches and narrow and dark in the ”upper end”.  The bridges that cross at various points offer vistas that will take your breath away.  The fact that this river has been a conduit for commerce for a few hundred years should come as no surprise.  It’s the perfect corridor, with limitations.

This post is in reference to the proposal for expanding the availability of anchorages along the river, including my effort to enlighten the less than well informed resistance the proposal has met. I will make an effort to mitigate the criticisms that were based on a lack of facts.  It’s clear to me and many of my colleagues that the resistance came with a flood of ignorance and supposition.  Those who are screaming the loudest are using arguments that clearly demonstrate how little they understand the marine industry, basic safety requirements, and the necessity of these refuges.

NIMBY at its worst.

So in an effort to fill in some blanks and erase some misconceptions I would offer this post as a start.  This is by no means a comprehensive list of concerns, but I sense these are the primary discussions.

As it has in the past, today’s waterborne commerce moves all manner of cargo to and from the ports of call along her banks.  The old brick works, mills, scrap yards, boat landings, and wharves are evidence of commerce past.  Today, this tradition continues on a much larger scale.

In case you didn’t already know;

When I first started working on tugs we had a regular run up to Albany and Rensselaer, with stops in Poughkeepsie, Newburg, Peekskill, Tarrytown, and a half dozen little holes in the wall like Kingston’s Roundout Creek and further up in Athens.  I learned my way up and down the river by sitting for hours on end watching listening and learning from the Old Man, he just so happened to be my father.  An education like this, you can’t buy.

Those who seek to ply this waterway must prove their skill and local knowledge before they are qualified to make a transit.  Piloting the river takes practice and a multitude of trips to get a clear working knowledge of the bends and turns and shallows along the way.  It takes a good long while before any mate gets to stand the “upper end watch” without an experienced eye pointing the way and teaching him what he needs to know, but more about that later.

Fact; All foreign flag vessels carry a pilot that boards in Yonkers and directs the transit to the Port of Albany.  The reverse is also true, from Albany to Yonkers.  The bulk of commerce though (you may have guessed it), is tugboats and barges.  I’d like to add, if you don’t have recency on the river, you take/hire someone who does.

Like any waterway there are anchorages, designated areas to stop and wait for traffic, berths, or just rest.  The anchorages for deep draft vessels are extremely limited and get crowded rather quickly if weather turns ugly or backups at the port of Albany deny berthing for a spell.  The widest and deepest ones being south of Kingston, N.Y.


NOT A FACT; These new anchorages will be used for fleets of barges storing oil long term waiting for the price to improve;

The new proposed anchorages are not going to be long term storage for crude.  The new anchorages are not wide enough nor are they fit to accommodate the scale of storage to be a moneymaker.  The concept of storing oil in ships is not new, and yes it happens but not on the scale these anchorages could accommodate.  The ships that are utilized for this kind of storage are in the 2 million barrel range, they anchor offshore in very deep water with lots of room.  The practice is referred to as “contango”, and it’s costly.  Look it up.

The efforts of the River Keeper’s site and others like it denouncing any accommodation and the USCG’s comment section reflect a dearth of industry knowledge from regular folks fearing the worst without knowing the facts.

Citing the dangers of pollution (noise, light, and cargo) and resisting more anchorages is indeed disingenuous when those anchorages are being proposed to make it safer for vessels to run the river and stop when necessary.  It seems to me that trains running up and down each side of the river many times a day, contribute more noise and exhaust to the general population than what a few aeries of wealth must endure as we pass along the banks of the river.  But I digress.

The marine trade is the easy target, we’re noisy smelly boats that scar the vistas and cast a specter of foreboding on the pristine Hudson Valley.  Except for the fact that the marine industry is the reason you can rely on finding gas stations, airports and fuel deliveries stocked for use by the general public.  It’s why Walmart has those items you seek at a bargain and why your produce shelves are filled with exotic things like bananas in winter.

The industry isn’t being recognized for its expertise and safety record, it’s being denigrated by those who find it a convenient scapegoat.  Attacking the trade on the river is easy, most of the benefits derived are invisible at first glance.

It is also unreasonable to expect the river to cease being a critical artery serving the Northeast market.

These anchorages have been represented as a threat and that they will be full of vessels scarring the bottom and putting the river at a greater risk.  Again, anchorages constantly being filled to capacity, especially some of these smaller ones, is unlikely except for an event involving safe haven needs in the case of a hurricane.  During hurricane Sandy, the ATB unit I work on was anchored off Port Ewen for the duration of the storm along with a couple of other units.  Should we have been forced to go to sea?

Fact, the risk of a spill is unacceptable;

We feel the same way.  And we’re under a lot of scrutiny to make sure it doesn’t happen.  The oil transporters are vetted to a degree that most people never imagined.  The responsibility for cleanup falls directly on the owners of the cargo.

Transporters working for oil charterers are subject to what’s known as ship inspection reporting (S.I.R.E.) .

A group known as O.C.I.M.F. created a checklist of inspection points that transporters must submit to that covers everything. See the form here.  Rather comprehensive I’d say.

NOT A FACT The boats are old and poorly maintained;


Every boat is subject to regular maintenance and scheduled dry dockings to ensure their seaworthiness and operational reliability.  Yes some of the tugs are over 25 years old, and their upkeep is a large part of their operating cost, second only to insurance coverage.  Engine hours (hours of use) are tracked and specific replacement regimens are required to keep the boat operating in top form and fuel efficiency.  Filters, bearings, seals all have a lifespan and are changed out based on their expected service life.  Maintenance is a constant.  A long awaited “inspection requirement” has finally been implemented.  It’s known as Subchapter “M”, follow this link to see what the rule has set in place.

The rule that all vessels carrying petroleum must be double hulled was dictated by OPA 90, legislation directly following the Exxon Valdez grounding and spill in Prince William Sound in 1989.  Every barge moving oil on the inland waters of the United States is to be double hulled, every single one.  In the event of grounding the outer hull protects the inner hull and has proven its ability time and again to mitigate a cargo spill.

Rules for drug and alcohol testing, physicals, re-certification, formal radar training, all followed over the years.  Like so many safety regulations, they came on the heels of a major incident and investigation. The marine industry currently has more stringent training standards than most industries except for the airline industry.

Today’s mariner is safer, better equipped and more skilled than ever before.

Now for the bit about “recency” and what it means.

When someone operates in the same geographic area for a length of time, it becomes familiar.  The same way you know your way to and from work each day.  Whether you walk, drive, ride a train or take a bike you know the route “like the back of your hand”.

For transits on the river, tug mates train to know and remember each turn and landmark along the way.  They are keenly aware of tidal current and levels, the amount of water under the keel. They learn where to slow down to minimize bottom suction, bank suction, bank cushion and any number of physical effects the vessel might encounter.  And one of the most important things is where to stop if things get crazy.  If the visibility diminishes, if the wind is getting a little too strong, or if there is a mechanical issue that will impede the boat’s ability to continue safely the primary answer to this is an anchorage.   And right now, adding more will promote safe navigation rather than make it more dangerous to the river’s ecology.

It has become customary to avoid night transits in the “upper end” for more than a few years now.  It was ushered in at first for winter transits with deep draft barges when ice would overrun and drag channel markers to hell and gone.  Anyone who has spent any time running the river in icy conditions knows this situation well.  This is another good reason to know the route like the “back of your hand”.

It is now policy for most of the big transporters.  Insurance underwriters and charterers had a lot to do with insisting on daylight-only becoming a year-round practice.  This is the primary reason Kingston sees vessels anchored up off Port Ewen.  Deep draft and darkness don’t mix these days.

My case for the anchorages;

Denying additional anchorages is tantamount to closing the shoulder on the thruway, it’s the same as denying an aircraft an emergency landing field.  And in fact makes things worse instead of better, forcing a vessel that is blinded by a weather event, or hobbled with a mechanical difficulty to continue its voyage is madness.

The frequent complaints I’m reading concern shale oil and the hazard it presents to the river.  The safety record of transits made  by commercial vessels on the river is unmatched by any other mode of surface transportation.

The vessels carrying this product and many others, are manned by professionals with decades of experience moving cargo up and down the river in vessels with crews that have met the strictest vetting standards to date.  It’s too easy to lose sight of the fact that gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil, and household goods all move on the river.  Presently the shale oil market is slow, but the thirst for heating oil and gasoline, and jet fuel continues unabated.   If the Riverkeepers and their supporters are really serious about safety I recommend learning more about the industry you seek to encumber and try talking to us rather than promoting  a stance based on limited knowledge.

The new proposed anchorages are necessary avoid a catastrophe, not create one.  The industry issues regarding trade and global markets are not my concern here.  I am concerned with offering some background and information on how inaccurately my job and expertise is being portrayed.

As far as the USCG is concerned they will render a decision based in some part on the comments received and the safety of vessels moving cargo on the river.  I’m happy to see the comment period has been extended.  

I look forward to reading the final decisions and what the Coast Guard will decide.  You can be sure everyone isn’t going to be happy, but in my experience the decisions are well reasoned and consider all valid concerns.






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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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