Several times a year we go up and down the Ohio River running excursions in other cities. As a result, we see a lot of the river and many commercial and recreational vessels.
In recent years, I have witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of sailboats on the Ohio River. As a rule, sailboats are beautiful and sailing them must be a peaceful and enjoyable experience. I am not a sailor, but I do appreciate the allure and the mystique associated with sailing, which in itself is not the problem.
The problem is that sailboat operators are not always educated in the “rules of the road” on a narrow river channel or waterway. They often operate their vessel as if they are out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico with no other marine traffic around.
Those of us who regularly operate on the rivers know that the rules of the road for the inland waters are different than the rules for international waters. The rule for narrow channels is unique.
Once while on one of our dinner cruises here in Cincinnati, I was at the helm of my passenger vessel going northbound through the city’s bridges with 600 passengers. I received a radio transmission on channel 13 from a sailboat saying that they were under sail and have the right of way. The sailboat asked me to stop and allow him to cross in front because they were tacking. I answered very politely that this was the Belle of Cincinnati and that I could not stop in the bridges because there was a towboat coming down the river. I added that this is definitely not the place to stop. The sailboat insisted that they had the right of way, and I attempted to explain why they did not. Finally, the Coast Guard came on channel 13 and explained that the sailboat had no right of way and it must allow me to continue upriver.
The lesson here is that knowledge of the basic “rules of the road” is essential for all operators. To allow vessel operators to operate on navigable waters without basic knowledge is a major mistake.