In August, Cincinnati hosted a major Red Bull Flugtag event on its riverfront. The event attracted more than 30,000 people to an already busy Ohio River and riverfront, where participants flew off a ramp into the river in a variety of “handcrafted flying machines.” 

A gallery of recreational boats, kayaks and rafts were scattered around the river and cheered for the flyers as each jettisoned down the ramp. 

While all of this sounds generally benign and fun, a great deal of work and planning was required behind the scenes to avert potential marine casualties. After all, the Ohio River is an active federal waterway with passenger vessels, tug and towboats, and recreational vessel traffic. Add a marine event of this size and the possibilities for marine accidents are endless.

Unfortunately, there have been some serious problems in the past on other waterways where these types of events got out of hand and recreational vessels and other craft literally blocked the passage of commercial vessels, putting passengers and crew in unsafe situations. These conditions were unfortunately caused by a breakdown in the Coast Guard’s event permitting process and poor overall communications with and between waterways users.   

Planning for such an event typically begins with an application to the Coast Guard by the event organizer to hold the event. This application for an event permit must be submitted 135 days before the start of the proposed event. Recognizing the importance of improving the functioning of the Coast Guard’s Marine Event Permitting process, the Passenger Vessel Association has been working closely with key Coast Guard staff in Washington D.C. to stress the need for rigor in the application process and open communications with and between all affected stakeholders. 

While I was extremely nervous going into the Cincinnati Flugtag event, I was pleased with the outcome and feel that the event was well organized. I attribute this success to improvements that the Coast Guard has made thus far in its Event Permitting process. While this is one success story, I urge PVA to continue its work with the Coast Guard to ensure that this process continues to improve.

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 [email protected].