Notice to mariners — Part II

Sure, recreational craft operators (and all mariners) should religiously read and make sure they understand the weekly USCG Local Notice to Mariners. But very few do.

So how does one avoid having their equipment run into by speeding small craft in the dark? It doesn’t really matter whether or not a big percentage of recreational boaters have a tendency to drink and drive (they do), or whether they’re competent to operate their boats at high speeds in the dark, sober or not (most aren’t). This isn’t about avoiding the blame. It’s more about avoiding the situation in the first place. But it helps if you can show that you made a sensible good-faith effort that goes beyond the minimum regulatory requirements that don’t adequately cover all situations.

The lighting requirements for moored barges can be found in 33 CFR – Part 88.13 in the Code of Federal Regulations. It states that the white lights be “of an intensity to be visible for at least one nautical mile.” That might sound like a lot to a layperson or people in the industry that have never spent any time out on the water at night, but working mariners know that the one-mile visibility range really isn’t that much. When work barges are moored in areas where it’s mainly dark and other lights don’t compete for a boater’s attention, then one nautical mile may be OK. But when there is significant traffic and numerous other lights around, especially much brighter ones, then the use of more and higher intensity lights on moored barges is the logical answer.

In this particular case, the July 26 fatal Hudson River allision at the construction site of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, exactly those kinds of conditions existed. A quick analysis (go to the area at night and check it out from different locations and angles) would have revealed several other significant sources of light, including extremely bright lighting from ballfields along the shoreline. 

With the lights of the Tappan Zee Bridge and all other lighting from that densely-populated area, the relatively weak lights typically used on moored construction equipment wouldn’t amount to much. After the accident, however, the moored barges were lit up like midtown Manhattan.

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