Tramping on the inland rivers


I am writing this column in the pilothouse of the Belle of Cincinnati as we are “tramping” on the inland river system. During our three-week trip, we will visit several cities and towns and will carry hundreds of passengers aboard the Belle

Tramping was a term used by the early steamboat operators as they traveled from town to town on the river system taking passengers on entertainment-filled excursions. The vessels would typically announce their arrival by playing a calliope. Residents would race to the shoreline to greet the boats, looking forward to an opportunity to ride and enjoy the recreation provided aboard these magnificent vessels.

Those certainly were simpler times, and I can’t help but reflect on how much things have changed since then. Steamboat captains would simply pull into the bank at their destination, wherever it made sense from a navigational and business standpoint. There was no red tape to deal with.

Today, vessel operators must meet layers of regulations on the federal, state and local levels before a cruise can begin. Permission must be obtained from local authorities to dock and to load and unload passengers, stores and fuel at every port of call on our three-week journey.

Federal vessel security plans and facility security plans must be in place prior to our voyage. Dock fees, taxes, and surcharges are levied up and down the river, and we interact with a myriad of law enforcement and fire and rescue authorities and a host of Coast Guard personnel and inspectors all along the way.

Recently, I was talking to other operators about the onslaught of new and far-reaching government regulations affecting passenger vessel operators around the U.S. It is staggering.

We counted off an endless list of regulations that included passenger weight changes, electronic charts, environmental wastewater discharge permits, non-tank vessel response plans, automated identification systems, safety management systems, out-of-water survival craft, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, fixed fire-extinguishing systems, and engine emission standards. 

We turned next to state and local rules, fees and licenses. There seems to be no end in sight to the regulation. My company is small, with approximately 100 employees. Many are part time, many are college students, and some depend solely on us to make a living. I am very concerned about the future for this small company and the individuals it employs if regulations continue to multiply at the current pace.



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