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  • Maggie Tate

Q&A About Boating

I've had several friends ask some really good questions! I thought I'd share the questions and answers here. Feel free to ask other questions!


Q. What's the river protocol for passing other vessels?

A. It all depends on the navigation line - especially for towboats and barges. We yield to commercial traffic. We radio the boat on the vhf channel 16 to see what side they want us on. In the situation today, the barges were headed into the lock we just came through which was on the west side of the river, so we passed them on the east side. Other times, if we need to over take a vessel and pass it, both vessels will agree to a slow pass, both vessels slow down so the wakes are easier to manage. The way the boats talk about what side to pass is interesting - one whistle (port/left) or two whistles (starbord/right.) And then sometimes there are bassholes. (Did I just say that? I'll let you draw your own conclusions....)


Q. How do you know how to contact a barge in the distance?

A. The barges/towboats have something called AIS and we have a receiver that shows them on our GPS charts with their vessel names. We hail them on channel 16 and ask where they'd like us to be. Sometimes there's just not a lot of room and we just pull out of the channel and hold still to let them go by. Yesterday we had to skirt the edge of a channel into 7 feet of water while a towboat and barges came out of a lock. A typical conversation might go


"Gretchen V Cooper, this is pleasure craft Currently. Is a one-whistle pass OK for you?"


"Currently, that would be fine"


"I'm clear of your stern. Safe travels!"


"You as well."


Q. What's the process of locking like?

A. We have to call the lock master either on the phone or via vhf channel 16. They then tell us what other vhf channel to use, usually 12 or 14 on the Tennessee River or the TennTom. Channel 16 is the basic channel for emergencies and safety communications. It's monitored by all the locks for initial contact and then the conversation moves to the lock's preferred channel. If the lock is ready, there will be a green light on the side (looks like a traffic light) and the lock master will sound a horn so we know we can go in. If it's not ready (the water isn't up or there's commercial traffic that needs come up or down) we have to wait. This looks like puttering around at the top, but not too close to the lock or dam. The wait can be a few minutes or a few hours. Bruce puts the fenders on the side of the boat to keep it off the lock wall. He then waits on the bow while I drive into the lock giving me info on how close I am to the bollard he'll need to loop with a line (rope) to keep the boat stable while in the lock. Once we are secure, we turn off the engine and radio the lock master letting him know we are all set. Bruce stays on the bow by the bollard holding the line while we descend in the lock. Once we are down, the lock gates start to open and the lock master sounds the horn that lets us know we can head out.


Q. How much do you have to be out in the elements?

A. Bruce has been a hero and goes outside on the bow of the boat while I stay warm in the cabin and drive the boat into the lock. This means that recently he's been out in below freezing temps for about 30 minutes at a time - yesterday he did it 4 times! We let the dog out on shore at marinas - which sometimes can be quite a hike to the designated dog spots (one marina's preferred spot was nearly 1/2 a mile from the transient docks.) We also schlep our laundry to and from marina laundry facilities - sometimes close, sometimes far! Most of the day we are inside the cabin and warm thanks to then engine heater. On sunny, warmer days we are looking forward to being in the cockpit (back deck) or on the bow (front).








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