Staying Safe Near Barges

Navigating around barges calls for extra caution as they can carry loads equal to 900 tractor-trailers and need up to a mile and a half to stop. Here’s how to play it safe near these slow-moving giants.

Recreational boaters need to exercise extreme caution when operating near commercial traffic on the Tennessee River. Commercial traffic consists of strings of barges pushed by towboats. This configuration is commonly known as a “tow.” Typically, commercial tows on the Tennessee River average about 15 barges.

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 move 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 your boat 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 barge.
  • Stay out of the turbulent waters behind the towboat created 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 navigations lights on the front and rear of a barge can be as far as a quarter mile apart.
  • Know the danger signal: five or more short whistle blasts indicate that you are in immediate danger.
  • Avoid excessive speed.
  • Always wear a personal floatation device.