Captain’s Table

Capt. Alan Bernstein When landside events affect navigation

October 9, 2012

There has been several major shore side events held near Cincinnati recently that have had a major affect on commercial marine traffic on the Ohio River.

Many of you might ask why this is such a big deal. For mariners here, it is. Several public events in my area have become so popular that they not only attract large crowds on land, but they have also attracted hundreds of recreational boaters who view the events from their boats anchored in the river. I have no beef with recreational boaters in general — we all have a right to access our nation’s waterways for pleasure and for commerce. But I do have a problem when it comes as a complete surprise to those who must navigate through these areas.

This situation, if left unaddressed, will impede commerce and undermine safety on the water. We need the Coast Guard to get involved when it is clear that a public event will impact navigation on an adjacent body of water.

Last month, an international fireworks competition was held at Cincinnati’s historic Coney Island Park located on the banks of the Ohio River. This event attracted hundreds of boaters, with some anchoring directly in the channel. As I cruised up the river with 225 passengers aboard my vessel, I quickly realized that it was not safe to continue. Similarly, two southbound barge tows and two northbound tows were transiting the area. They also decided to wait until the event was over and the river was clear to get back underway. Prior to decision to stop sailing, there was a great deal of conversation on the marine radio between the commercial mariners who were attempting to sort out the situation. The fireworks event did not take us by surprise, but the recreational boats anchored all over the river did.

I believe there should have been some responsibility on the part of the event organizers and the municipalities that license these events to involve the Coast Guard. This is especially true when a public event has the potential of impacting commercial marine navigation and safety.

In this case, no one was hurt and commercial mariners handled the situation very professionally. But future events must be evaluated for their potential affect on marine navigation. Perhaps a marine permitting process should be instituted.

It is a shame that the professional mariners were left on their own to cope with the fall out from these events. After all, we are committed to providing a high level of safety to our customers, passengers and crew, and we know that we will be held accountable should the unthinkable occur.

Many cities and municipalities do a good job of involving the Coast Guard, law enforcement, the maritime community and others when large events are held in port. But many localities such as mine have a lot of room for improvement.

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