New York mariners, recreational boaters discuss harbor safety

Communication, common sense and education were the watchwords at Shared Harbor Day on Saturday when 140 mariners — from kayakers to ship pilots — gathered in New York City to discuss and debate the best ways to keep everyone safe on the waterways of the third busiest port in the U.S.

“We are here today to talk about sharing this most wonderful asset — our harbor and waterways,” said Ed Kelley, executive director of the Maritime Association of the Port of NY/NJ, noting that fast ferries, small powerboats, fishing vessels, sailboats, kayaks, paddle boards and even swimmers now share the commercial port.

“Everybody should and could get out on the water,” he said, emphasizing that safety is a priority and a shared responsibility. “How do sailboats interface with containerships? How do human powered vessels interface with motor vessels? What are the things that different classes of boaters and users think is important to them, and what don’t they know about what other classes of boaters are doing?”

The conference, held aboard the Hornblower Hybrid, a 168’x38’4”x6’2” harbor cruise and event vessel at East River Pier 15, was organized by the education subcommittee of the NY/NJ Harbor Safety, Navigation and Operations Committee (Harbor Ops) and sponsored by Hornblower Cruises and Events. Capt. Margaret Flanagan, director of education and outreach at the Waterfront Alliance and acting chair of the Harbor Ops education subcommittee, moderated the morning panel discussion.

Paddler Margo Pellegrino speaks at the New York Shared Harbor conference March 24. Betsy Frawley Haggerty photo.

Paddler Margo Pellegrino speaks at the New York Shared Harbor conference on March 24. Betsy Frawley Haggerty photo.

Representatives of sailing, kayaking and powerboat groups, ferry operators and the Sandy Hook Pilots gave short presentations followed by a lively, sometimes heated, Q&A session, with each constituency group voicing concerns.

“I’d appreciate it if when we kayaks hailed a commercial vessel that you replied to us rather than calling us speed bumps,” one woman said. “I’ve heard that,” she added, as some people looked askance. Her comment came as paddlers asked ferry and other operators to use horn signals and radio calls in advance of movements so paddlers can get out of the way in time.

“There is nothing we can do about the fact that you can’t see us, and we can’t see you, but if we hear you, we can get out of the way,” another participant said.

While some paddlers said it was unsafe for them to stop paddling to make radio calls, others said it was essential to do so.

“Communication is critical, even if I have to stop paddling. It’s communicate or die,” said Margo Pellegrino, a veteran paddler from Medford Lakes, N.J., who kayaked down the Mississippi River last summer and paddles in New York Harbor and other busy waterways.

“The onus is on the paddler to figure out who is backing up. This is not a road. This is a waterway. Listen to the horns, look, pay attention and take those boating safety courses,” said Pellegrino. “You will know these big guys have no control if they are going with the wind, with the current. As a paddler, you have more control.”

Commercial operators complained about what they saw as a lack of awareness on the part of some kayakers and pleasure boaters when they pass close to active piers, or don’t give wide berth to maneuvering tugs and barges.

“When we are towing a barge with current pushing us, we can’t stop,” said Capt. Mark Reynolds, who ran McAllister Towing and Transportation Co. Inc. tugs for several years and is now director of maritime and government relations for Hornblower. “Near misses put a heavy strain on the operator.”

Sailors asked that ferry, tour boat and tug captains be aware that they are at the mercy of the wind.

“I understand sailboats are a pain in the butt,” said Capt. David Caporale who takes passengers out on his 35-foot classic sailboat. “We are going by the wind, and we don’t have that much maneuverability. Please go behind me, not five feet in front of me.”

Capt. Brook Aquilino, a sailing instructor and chairman of the board of Hudson River Community Sailing, a nonprofit organization that runs extensive youth programs, asked operators to be aware of sailing constraints. “If you see us out there, we hope you will cut us a little slack because we do good work, and have kids on board.”

Sailor Eric Russell, center, consults a rulebook during a tabletop exercise at the New York Shared Harbor conference March 24. Betsy Frawley Haggerty photo.

Sailor Eric Russell, center, consults a rulebook during a tabletop exercise at the New York Shared Harbor conference March 24. Betsy Frawley Haggerty photo.

The morning session ended with representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron pitching boating safety courses. Afternoon breakout sessions offered wheelhouse tours, VHF and technology sessions and trip planning.

In one table top exercise, participants used charts, navigation rules and case facts to analyze a maritime collision and learn who was at fault — both parties, it turned out.

Asked later about the value of the conference, the Maritime Association’s Ed Kelley said, “When you get a roomful of recreational boaters and commercial mariners talking about their concerns, everyone will come away knowing more than they did when they came in. If everyone knows and obeys the rules, we’ll have a safer harbor, and that’s everybody’s goal.”

 

About the author

Betsy Frawley Haggerty

Betsy Frawley Haggerty, a USCG licensed captain, has been a maritime journalist for more than 30 years. Her work has appeared in Offshore (where she was editor for seven years), Soundings, Professional Mariner and Workboat, among other publications.

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    Words like “cut us some slack” do not belong in a conversation like this. We have had basic navigational rules for a very long time and they apply to a kayak today no different than they did to a clinker built rowing skiff 100 years ago. Read the rules, know the rules and follow the rules. An ego on the water can get you or someone else killed.

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