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Old 18-06-2014, 12:30   #1
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Drawbridge Tender Authority

I was passing under Davie Blvd Bridge on the Ft Lauderdale New River recently and the tender starts screaming over the loud speaker to slow down. I did not request or need an opening and the bridge was not open. I actually did not think he was talking to me as I was just a few hundred RPMs above idle fighting a 4 to 6 KT outgoing current (if you Navigate the New River in Ft Lauderdale, you know what I am talking about) and making 3.5 kt headway on my GPS. My wake in the slow speed zone was maybe 8 to 10 inches and I feel I was operating perfectly for my conditions.

I slowed down a little under the bridge enough to maintain minimum steerage. I answered him on channel 9 politely and indicated I had slowed down to minimum steerage. He literally screamed at me on the radio, "I can see your controls and you are almost on plane!!!!"

You should know I am in a 36ft 1973 Pacemaker with a semi displacement hull. The boat doesn't plane and if I was opened up I would throw a 3 foot wake. And how would he know my controls proper positions anyway? So it was a little funny and I think he got upset because he could see me and my friend laugh. We both had 100 ton licenses in the past and he is a retired 30 year coast guard Capt.

We Kept going and I called to him on Channel 9 to calm down and he started yelling out my boats name and spelling it out saying I would hear from him soon.

My friend was ready to send a letter to DOT, but told him not to as I stated, "Iím not an a$$hole, but there is a lot of evidence out there to support that theory." Meaning, this guy could have just caught his wife cheating and was having a horrible day and although he came across as a total a$$hole, he may be ok and why get someone fired over something silly.

So all that for the question:
What authority do Bridge Tenders have over how you handle your vessel especially when you do not need a bridge opening? I know if I follow his direction, slow, loose control an crash...it is my fault and not his.

My friend said he had no authority at all and should use his communications for bridge tender operations only; however, my friend has been retired for 20 years and is just ticked off at this point.

So what do you say to an out of control bridge tender? Anyone ever run into this?

OceanLife281
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Old 18-06-2014, 13:05   #2
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Re: drawbridge tender authority

Florida bridge tenders are the worst in the country (well the Gulf and East Coast, never been under a West Coast bridge). They are encouraged by the state DOT to limit openings and will sometimes make you lower antennas to get through without an opening (OK) and sometimes try to make you lower your bimini (not OK).

They probably are encouraged by their bosses to do what you experienced. Just ignore them.

David
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Old 18-06-2014, 13:51   #3
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

In general, the "owner" of the bridge (usually a city, county, or the state) is responsible for its operation, including the hiring of tenders. In Florida, a company called Florida Drawbridge contracts with the state, and various counties and cities, to provide much of the maintenance and operation of bridges. So, bottom line is that the bridge tender is not any kind of law officer, nor do they have any authorization from the Coast Guard. They're just an employee--either of some municipality, or of a company that the municipality has hired to operate their bridges.

Of course, the bridge operation is required to adhere to Coast Guard regulations.

In Florida, the state DOT sets specific opening times for many of the bridges. Those of us who have to drive across those bridges at times, appreciate this a great deal. Given the level of both car and boat traffic around here, it would be an absolute nightmare if all of the bridges operated "on demand."

So, no, the DOT does not "encourage" bridge tenders to limit openings. They require it for some bridges and do not for others. Which bridges have limited opening times, and what those times are, are published and readily available to the public.

As far as what you may, or may not, have to lower when going under a bridge, the Coast Guard regulations state:

No vessel owner or operator shall--
(a) Signal a drawbridge to open if the vertical clearance is sufficient to allow the vessel, after all lowerable nonstructural vessel appurtenances that are not essential to navigation have been lowered, to safely pass under the drawbridge in the closed position;

I'd say that makes it pretty clear that, if your bimini is the type that can be lowered, and if lowering it would allow you to pass under the bridge without opening it, then you MUST lower the bimini. Seems pretty "OK" to me.
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Old 18-06-2014, 14:02   #4
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

I personnally would have sent out a nicely worded email of the incident to the proper authority and leave it at that, most likely this was more then a bad day and when there is enough complaints they would investigate and find this fellow a less stressful location.
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Old 18-06-2014, 14:12   #5
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Re: drawbridge tender authority

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Originally Posted by djmarchand View Post
Florida bridge tenders are the worst in the country ................
There are approximately 15 bridges that would likely require opening by a sailboat on the ICW from the Chesapeake to the Florida State Line. Compared to this there are approximately 60 bridges on Florida's East Coast ICW & adjacent rivers like the New River in Fort Lauderdale. If you add the bridges on Florida's Gulf Coast and the Panhandle the numbers make it difficult to compare states by the demeanor of their bridge tenders.

With the new 65' fixed bridge at Sidaway Narrows the State of Georgia will have one opening bridge. South Carolina has about 6 and North Carolina has about 8.

Just by shear numbers Florida probably has the worst, most polite, tallest, best looking, meanest and most ethnically diverse bridge tenders!

I've had bridge tenders that have assumed authority beyond their position, such as telling which vessels to pass first under the bridge against the standard rules of navigation dictated by the current. I usually take it upon myself to speak directly with meeting traffic at a bridge if it is needed.

Anyone, wether they are a bridge tender, boater or home owner has the opportunity or authority to report dangerous or damaging wakes. I agree with the choice of the OP not to pursue complaint. I, too, tend to deal with enraged people calmly and politely. .....'and "let it go"!
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Old 18-06-2014, 21:40   #6
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

Interestingly, I think the Florida bridge tenders have improved greatly in quality over the years.

About 35 years ago +/- I was driving a 6 pack boat out of the St. Augustine City Marina. In those days the Bridge of Lions was not equipped with a vhf radio, and responded only to horn signals. No, it was not steam powered lol.
Anyway, one day I was signalling for an opening with a charter aboard and not having any success.

My boss drove up to the control tower of the bridge, parked her car, and began yelling, beating, and kicking on the bridgetenders door to get his attention. He finally agreed to open the bridge but first he had to put down his bottle of booze and get his girlfriend off his lap.

The younger generation of captains doesn't know how good they have it.
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Old 18-06-2014, 22:19   #7
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

I went from Clearwater to Charlotte Harbor last fall on the Gulf ICW and returned in March. Went through 18 bridges that had to open each way, total of 36. All the operators were very courteous and in many cases timed the bridge opening to hit my arrival. I couldn't have asked for a more courteous group and I had absolutely zero complaints.
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Old 18-06-2014, 22:43   #8
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

The Mare Island Causeway Bridge operators are cooperative and professional.

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Old 19-06-2014, 04:41   #9
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

I've had no negative experiences with bridge tenders thus far in 100s of openings here on the East Coast through Florida. Of course, since I always require an opening, I'm just as courteous as can be...I am at their mercy, regardless of they're rules and regs. (But I've never been asked to slow down either – at "full-bore" my cruising cat can only muster a few inches of wake!)
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Old 19-06-2014, 04:58   #10
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

The 99% of the bridge tender action is routine, but they are 100% responsible for moving massive structures while surrounded by idiots, in all operating conditions.

There have been bridge fatalities where people were not observed, possibly due to poor visibility.

My experience is the tenders for fixed bridges are the worst. They never respond on the VHF and getting an opening is near impossible.
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Old 19-06-2014, 05:32   #11
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

I have been piloting vessels for over 20 years both sail and motor and I will say this is the first time I ever experienced a problem......and I didn't even need an opening!!! The real question is what authority does a bridge tender have now?

I don't think they have any and at the very least should be polite with giving suggestions; especially when the vessel does not need an opening.
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Old 19-06-2014, 05:53   #12
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

I once performed a delivery from the west coast of FL to the east coast, going through the Okeechobee waterway, and they had swing bridges and you would sound your horn and after awhile an old guy would come trudging out with a long pole over his shoulder and put it in a socket at the center of the bridge and then walk around in a circle pushing the pole and the bridge would swing sideways, we would go through smile and wave. I thought it was really cool.
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Old 19-06-2014, 05:56   #13
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

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Originally Posted by oceanlife281 View Post
The real question is what authority does a bridge tender have now? I don't think they have any...
Officially and legally, you're right. They don't have any authority. Of course, they have the ipso facto authority that comes from having their hand on the switch. They can open or close the bridge, or not, whenever they feel like it. They may get in trouble later if they ignore the rules, but in the moment they can do whatever they want.

But if you don't need to have the bridge opened, then you don't need to worry much about them. The worst thing that they could do to you is file a report with the Coast Guard about whatever they think you might have done wrong. If one bridge tender is constantly filing reports then I expect the CG will clue in to the fact that he is just a malcontent and start ignoring those reports. On the other side of the coin, if multiple bridge tenders report your vessel for going too fast, or whatever, then eventually the CG will see the pattern and start keeping an eye out for you.
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Old 19-06-2014, 07:07   #14
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

If the speeds are as you suggest, you were probably borderline not complying with no wake speeds. Dropping from 7.5-9.5kts back to 6kts, shouldn't create any significant controll issues for a properly functioning vessel and would significantly reduce your wake.

While there are coast guard approved opening schedules (coast guard controls them not the road agency), they definetly try to limit openings when they can.

Oddly, my experience with Florida bridges is the exact opposite. When we slowly cruise thru the bridge at 4-5kts, we would get yelled at to pick up the pace.

While they technically don't have authority, if they are familiar with the water based authorities, they can probably make your life difficult.

Odds are, he was just having a bad day.
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Old 21-06-2014, 07:17   #15
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Re: Drawbridge Tender Authority

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If the speeds are as you suggest, you were probably borderline not complying with no wake speeds. Dropping from 7.5-9.5kts back to 6kts, shouldn't create any significant controll issues for a properly functioning vessel and would significantly reduce your wake.
.
Never had any problems with the bridge operators, but got yelled at by some geezer in a "Sheriff" whaler, about "going too fast, this is a no-wake zone, that applies to you too."

At the time, we were making 5.5-6 over the ground, but that was with a 2 kt current, so only about 4 thru the water, in a big, heavy full keel sailboat, so needing to keep rudder authority to manage the eddies around the bridge. Maybe 3 inch wake. Yelled back that I was going slower than the other boats. He shifted target to the console boat coming the other way and started yelling at him. Total knob!

So what is the speed limit? Is there a magic number? 'Bare steerageway' is a rather individual assessment that is subject to any number of factors.
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