Barges in the Delta! Yikes!

Several boaters have had encounters of the close kind with tugboats maneuvering large barges around Woodward Island recently.

In August I posted an Urgent Warning for South Delta Boaters after a friend of mine had “too close” of an encounter with a tug pushing a barge on Twin Sloughs. (The locals call the parallel sloughs named North Victoria Canal and Woodward Canal “Twin Sloughs.” These are high populated recreational lanes for skiers and wakeboarder near Discovery Bay.)

He slowed down but the tug’s powerful props were pulling his Mastercraft towards the barges, twisting it in the water. He said it was very difficult to control.

The barge work since moved to Old River on the west side of Woodward Island. There are several huge barges rafted together there. Old River is much wider, so not as much impact to boaters . . . usually.

What ere they doing? They are doing levee work. The dirt is being dumped behind the levee to widen and strengthen it. They are going in a clockwise direction. When they finished along the south side of Woodward Island (Twin Sloughs), they moved to the west side (Old River). They aren’t doing the north side (the slough along the Santa Fe Railroad trestle) but will do along the east (Middle River).

New Concerns!

We’ve gotten multiple reports from boaters of large power boats having issues with these barges over the past few weeks.

Our friends in a power boat encountered a tug trying to maneuver a barge under the Orwood RR Bridge. Our friend had called Channel 16 for the bridge opening and the tug boat operator, who was also on Channel 16, warned the power boat to stay back. He was having trouble getting his big barge through the bridge opening. Our friend did, and then when clear followed the barge through the bridge.

He slowly followed the barge until it pulled over to the side to tie up with the other barges. Then then passed, but noticed a strong pull from the tug’s powerful engines.

More disconcerting were two DBYC boaters heading north a few weeks ago when they encountered a large barge being pushed by a tug in the center of Old River. It was our President Karen Mann who was single-handing her power boat, following Charlie Weever in his power boat. They debated what to do as the tug and barge filled up most of Old River. Eventually, they had room (barely) to pass the tug and barge. But it was a harrowing experience. They had the depth to pass, but had to watch the rocks on the levee and watch the barge activity. Like other boaters have reported, Karen said it was all she could do to keep her 20,000 pound power boat from being twisted by the tug’s powerful engines. Worse, the tug honked at them. She and I talked about the situation and both wondered, what is the right protocol? Are we supposed to not pass tugs pushing barges? They go very slow. We don’t know where they are heading. What are the rules?

Other Discovery Bay boaters have reported having scary times passing the tugboats maneuvering barges in Old River.

So I did some research and here’s what I’ve found. If anyone has more to add, let me know and I’ll update this blog. But yes, it apparently is allowed to pass tugs pushing barges. But we do need to be cautious.

  • The speed of a ship, towboat or tugboat can be deceptive. A tow can travel one mile in seven minutes — a ship even faster — and it generally takes 0.75 to 1.5 miles to stop. If a water skier falls 1,000 feet in front of a moving tug or tow, the skier has less than one minute to get out of the way. Yikes. Take note!!!
  • Large vessels must maintain speed to steer, and they must stay in the channel.
  • A pilot’s “blind spot” can extend for hundreds of feet in front of tugboats.
  • In narrow channels, a tug’s or tow’s powerful engines can cause a smaller vessel to be pulled toward the tow when passing alongside.
  • “Wheel wash” is a strong current caused by towboat or ship engines that can result in severe turbulence hundreds of yards abaft a large vessel. This is the scary phenomena both our Mastercraft ski boat friend felt but also Karen with her 20,000 lb. vessel.
  • Sailing on inland rivers can be hazardous, and sailors (boardsailors, too) should know that a tow or tug can “steal your wind,” so you won’t have the same wind you started with when executing a maneuver near a commercial vessel.
  • Ships, towboats and tugboats use VHF channels 13 and 16. If you are unsure of situation or their intentions, contact them. Remember, you are sharing the waterways with vessels operated by highly trained and conscientious professionals. If you have a true emergency or need information, they can and will help if properly contacted.

The above was from From:
Original Source:

That last item was of particular interest to me. I didn’t know we could contact the tug boat operators on channel 13 or 16 and ask them to advise us.



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