High water on the river

I have worked on the Ohio River and its tributaries since 1970. I have seen many ups and downs of the river stage and am amazed at how Mother Nature works on the rivers. Each year can be very different.

Early this month, BB Riverboats offices, my company, were evacuated due to the Ohio River being over flood stage. The normal pool is 26 feet and flood stage is 52 feet. On Feb. 20, the river stage in Cincinnati was 55.5 feet.

So what does high water mean? According to my company’s high water plan, it means that we have to move the Belle of Cincinnati from our dock in Kentucky to the Cincinnati Public Landing where there are dead men to secure the vessel until the river gets back below flood stage. This is a difficult but necessary process. It requires 24-hour manning on the vessel as well as our dock, but is by far the best and safest alternative.

This year, when we moved over to the landing, high water had already covered all the dead men so that we could not tie up and secure the vessel properly. So we reverted to the old steamboat days and tied securely to some of the old trees that have been there for many years. This practice was common in the steamboat era when trees, in many cases, were the only things boats could tie to. Fortunately, this practice worked well and our vessel and crew were safe and secure.

High water should not be taken lightly and should not be ignored. It is inherently dangerous for those who do not understand the river. It is very difficult to know how deep the water really is unless you know what you are dealing with. The current water temperature is 42° and the river is running at around 5.5 mph. Your chances of surviving in this water are not very good.

All precautions should be taken to their fullest in these conditions. I am hopeful that the waters will soon recede. After all, they always do. I hope that all of you who are now dealing with the flooding will stay safe.

About the author

Capt. Alan Bernstein

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or abernstein@bbriverboats.com.

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