Bridge Avoidance

Tips to skim under bridges scot-free.

For some, bridges are romantic; for others they are troll homes to avoid…

Making contact with a bridge is not a positive event, but for some darned reason nearly every boat has at least one near miss — even if it’s just whacking the structure with the VHF antenna. We’ve seen it done, done it ourselves and paid the price. At best, it’ll be two or three C-notes to replace an antenna. At worst, well, we’ve seen the worst. Here are some tips to skim under bridges scot-free.

If you’ve never hit a bridge, you may not have to — if you follow these tips:


-Know your bridge clearance. Add the height of any antennae or radar on top, plus one foot for safety. A suspicious eye will keep you out of trouble. No matter how tall the bridge, get in the habit of eyeing them as if there were trolls underneath.

-Bridge clearance is usually posted or painted on the pilings in bold characters. Compare the number to your known clearance.

-Bridge clearances are posted on the charts. Study them before you enter unfamiliar waters.


-In tidal areas, be aware of changing bridge clearances. A rising tide may float all boats, but not bridges.

-Chat with the neighbors or the marina, and ask them about tricky spots — not just bridges, but perhaps unexpected shallow areas as well.

-Watch for following currents — they can drag you under a bridge if you try to creep under at slow speeds.


-When approaching a low bridge, post a lookout as far aft as safely practical and approach slowly, while he “eyeballs” the clearance.

-When returning, remember the tides — clearance can change hour by hour.

-In many states, idle speed is the law under bridges. Even if it is not, it’s prudent. Many an accident has occurred when a boater struck an angler anchored behind a bridge.


-Drawbridges need advance notice. Bridge tenders monitor VHF channel 9 in most waters. The correct channel is always posted clearly on the bridge. Try to give the tender as much warning of your approach as possible.

-Take turns passing through narrow bridge aprons. Its tricky enough getting under; don’t compound the problem by trying to squeeze through side by side with an oncoming boater.

-If you do bump a bridge, make sure your boat and passengers are secure. Report the incident to the local marine patrol or Coast Guard.


Email Newsletters and Special Offers

Sign up for Boating emails to receive features on travel destinations, event listings and product reviews as well as special offers on behalf of Boating’s partners.

By signing up you agree to receive communications from Boating and select partners in accordance with our Privacy Policy. You may opt out of email messages/withdraw consent at any time.