lenge, especially when the bridge tenders are
reluctant to help determine whether there’s
clearance for your boat. With a larger boat,
it’s worth planning on shorter days of travel,
booking marinas ahead, and having a backup
plan. That wasn’t something we knew in
2002 when we approached Fort Lauderdale
during the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in
early November. We started looking for dockage in North Palm Beach, some 50-plus miles
away, and found nothing until we stopped
at a gas dock to fill up (in the dark, I might
add) far south of Fort Lauderdale. The kind
gas dock owners delayed their closing and let
us spend the night at their dock, as long as
we left by 6 a.m.
We docked at Miami Bayside the next day
and flew home to work for several weeks. A
month later on my birthday and our 20th
wedding anniversary, we flew back to celebrate on the boat. The flight was delayed
several hours and we didn’t get to the boat
until after all the restaurants and local stores
had closed. The long-awaited birthday and
anniversary celebrations turned into a meal
of crackers and boxed macaroni and cheese,
with aging Girl Scout cookies for dessert. But
we accompanied it with a bottle of vintage
Bordeaux from the year of our marriage that
we’d brought down on the boat, and toasted
ourselves on the flybridge under a canopy
of stars and a gorgeous full moon in balmy
Miami. It was just one more great memory
of cruising the ICW.
Lori Ross is a marketing and PR executive, and
a food writer for various magazines. She and her
husband have owned several boats. They currently own a Fleming 55.
KNOW THE NAME OF THE BRIDGE before you arrive and always communicate with
the bridge tender. Try to time your arrival at bridges with scheduled openings, so you
don’t have to sit and circle with lots of other boats. It can get crowded while boats
are waiting for the bridge, and you may need to contend with strong currents. Pick
a spot fairly close, but not too close, to the bridge, and try to hold your position by
facing into the current and using the throttle at the same speed as it’s moving. Boats
with the current get to pass under the bridge first after it’s fully opened.
CHANNEL 13 IS FOR NAVIGATIONAL USE BETWEEN VESSELS. It is on this channel that large vessels in close proximity announce their intentions to one another,
and it’s also the primary channel used at bridges and locks. Use this channel to
announce your arrival to a bridge or lock tender, or to communicate with a nearby
ship or other large vessel. You do not need to call on Channel 16 first; Channel 13
serves both as a hailing and working channel. Transmission power on this channel
is restricted to 1 watt, so be sure to switch your radio to low power.
Channels 6 and 22A are also important to pleasure boaters. Channel 6 is
reserved for inter-ship safety use, primarily during search-and-rescue operations.
Channel 22A is reserved for communications with the Coast Guard. By the way, it’s
illegal to contact the Coast Guard for a radio check. Call TowBoatU.S. instead.
— Don Casey
When navigating the narrow channels of the ICW, tugs and barges will signal their
intentions using sound signals. Under inland rules, which apply in most of the
ICW, you need to respond with the same signal, and use the signals yourself when
approaching other vessels to let them know what you are going to do. Here’s what
the barge’s horn is telling you:
■ One short blast: “I intend to leave you on my port side.”
■ Two short blasts: “I intend to leave you on my starboard side.”
■ Three short blasts: “I am operating astern propulsion.”
■ Five short blasts: Doubt or danger signal if the signal has not been
understood or the proposed action may not be safe.
To be comfortable with the inland rules and understand
how they differ from the international regulations,
carry a copy of the rules for navigation aboard and
brush up on them before you go. For more, see this
story online. www.BoatUS.com/Magazine
For the latest Coast Guard and U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers updates on
the ICW, sign up for our BoatU.S. East
Coast Alerts, published every two
weeks by long-term liveaboard cruisers
and ICW experts Tom and Mel Neale.