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.