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TVA River Neighbors

Safe boating in barge traffic

Recreational boaters on the Tennessee River need to exercise extreme caution when operating near barge traffic.

A fully loaded 15-barge tow can carry the same weight as about 900 tractor-trailers, with all the obvious problems of maneuverability. For this reason, commercial tows have the right-of-way in the main channel of the river. It is important to give them lots of room since they cannot get out of the channel to steer around you and may need up to one and a half miles to stop. A person falling from a personal watercraft about 1,000 feet in front of a tow has less than a minute to get out of the way.

Follow these rules when boating in barge traffic:

  • Do not anchor in the channel, and never tie off to a navigation buoy.
  • Beware of the blind spot that can extend for several hundred feet in front of and to the sides of barges.

diagram of barge

  • Stay away from the turbulent waters created behind a towboat by the propellers.
  • When you cross the main channel of the river, always proceed in high-visibility areas.
  • Take extra care when boating at night. The navigation lights on the front and rear of a tow can be as much as a quarter-mile apart.
  • Know the danger signal. Five or more short whistle blasts indicate immediate danger. Make sure they are not directed at you.
  • Sailboaters and windsurfers beware: large tows can “steal” your wind.
  • Avoid excessive speed.

Excerpted from “Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers: A boater’s guide to safe travel,” produced by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District, and TVA.    

More tips for safe boating

photo of kids boatingHere are some simple “dos and don’ts” for a safe summer on the water:

  • Make sure everyone on board wears a lifejacket that fits properly.
  • Avoid alcohol while boating.
  • Keep a constant eye out for other boats, especially personal watercraft which are easy to miss because of their low profile and quick acceleration.
  • Move around carefully; most small boats capsize because of sudden weight shifts.
  • Make sure you have the right-of-way and hold your course and speed when being passed.
  • Maintain a safe distance from swimmers and skiers.
  • Avoid overloading your boat.
  • Never smoke when fueling.
  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll return.
  • Check the weather forecast before getting underway.
  • Take a boating safety course.

TVA’s Recreation page contains links to additional information on hazardous areas near dams, locking through, and right-of-way rules on the water.

More boating safety information is available from the U. S. Coast Guard and National Safe Boating Council.

Attention: Nickajack and Chickamauga boaters

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is restricting recreational boating in the vicinity of the construction immediately downstream of Chickamauga Lock until further notice.

According to a bulletin issued by the Corps on April 8, recreational boats requesting a northbound lockage are required to remain downstream of the lower mooring cell below the railroad bridge until permission is granted by the Lockmaster to navigate through the construction area and enter the lock. The Lockmaster or Lock Operator on duty should be contacted on Marine Channel 16 or by calling 423-875-6230 to request permission to lock and receive locking instructions. Recreational boats not requesting lockage are required to remain outside of the white and orange “restricted access buoys” marking the construction area.

The restrictions are the result of work to replace the existing lock at Chickamauga Dam, which has structural problems caused by concrete growth. Workers are currently constructing a cofferdam, a temporary, watertight enclosure which will allow future construction in an area normally under water.

The new 110-foot by 600-foot lock will cut the average lockage time for a 15-barge commercial tow from 16 hours to 2-1/2 hours. The current schedule calls for the lock to be in service by 2013, but the completion date will depend on annual Congressional funding.










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