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Due to their size, commercial ships are allowed only in the deep-draft navigational channel. Consequently, these vessels always have the right-of-way. Their size also makes it difficult for them to slow down or maneuver quickly. Recreational watercraft and sailboarders can share the water safely by observing the following:

Avoid commercial traffic
  • Boat on the starboard (right) side of the channel.
  • Be visible and vigilant. If it is dark or foggy, carry a radar reflector as high on the boat as possible. Make sure your navigation lights are bright and not obscured by anything.
  • Keep a close watch.
  • Monitor ship lights. Pay attention to the sidelights rather than the masthead lights. If you see both sidelights, you are dead ahead—move out fast!
  • Don't pass too closely behind a tugboat. You may encounter tow cables and log rafts low in the water.
  • Know whistle signals. Five or more short blasts on the whistle mean "DANGER." Check; and if the signal is for you, give way quickly.
  • Use safe anchorages, not buoys. U.S. Coast Guard buoys mark where you must pass. It is illegal and unsafe to tie up to these buoys.
  • Never anchor in a shipping lane. Beach your boat as high as possible along the shore. Avoid mooring to pile dikes and jetties. Large vessel movements create a suction or undertow effect along the shore.
  • Steer clear of large vessels. Don't jump wakes, ride close alongside, or cut under the bow or stern.
  • Realize that a large vessel can "steal your wind." Don't expect to have the same wind you started with when executing a sailing maneuver near a ship or tugboat. That includes sailboards as well as boats.
  • Beware when fishing. If you are fishing in the channel, you MUST move when a barge or large ship approaches. You will be cited for blocking the channel—and you endanger yourself—if you don't move.