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Old 10-04-2021, 20:41   #1
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Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

Been sailing circles around the Upper Galveston Bay for over a year. Im ready to spread my wings and motor the Houston Ship Channel from Kemah to Gaveston and back.

Im guessing I just stay right outside the channel markers. Is this tributary area as confusing as it looks? I will probably go to this white area on the east side of the channel and turn around.
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Old 11-04-2021, 12:06   #2
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Re: Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

I’ve never hit the bottom, but I’ve been told the edges of the channel are significantly shallower than further outside the channel because dredging builds up the edges. When I’ve gone down/up the channel, I’ve stayed outside the channel on the west side as long as possible. This removes the need to dodge in and out of the channel when a ship passes you. Naturally always be aware that the ships are going much faster than you are. Keep a keen eye out.
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Old 11-04-2021, 14:02   #3
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Re: Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

When we sailed the area we pretty much stayed out of the channel except to cross (at right angles) as needed. Coming from Kemah run down the west side of the bay and cross to the east when you get a good gap in the traffic. Plenty of depth outside the channel (except for marked tailing areas) and local charts are accurate.

There are frequent ferries between Bolivar and Galveston, as well as the steady stream of ICW traffic that you need to watch for as well.

The area to the southeast is the roadstead anchorage for Houston, Galveston and Texas City so there will often be anchored ships.

Cutting across and sailing north of Bolivar/Goat Island is another option.

Dan
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Old 11-04-2021, 14:58   #4
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Talking Re: Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

When the HSC was dredged and deepened many years ago they made a lane outside the east and west channel markers that is 200 yards wide and 12 feet deep for the entire length of the channel.

My approach when transiting the HSC is to stay somewhat outside the daymarks unless crossing. This will keep you out of the barge and large ship traffic.

Honestly, there is no reasonable excuse for a small pleasure boat to be inside the channel markers unless crossing the channel.

Question? What is the foamy stuff in the bow wave of a moving barge? Ground up boat fiberglass from some guy that did not make it!
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Old 11-04-2021, 15:26   #5
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Re: Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

It has been nearly 20 years since I navigated the Houston Ship Channel so please check your depth sounder to see if what I state herein is still true. The Houston Ship channel was dredged to be 560’ wide and 46’ deep so that two large ships could pass each other. On both of the “shoulders” of this deep channel are barge lanes that are dredged to a depth of 12 feet and are an additional 200 feet wide. The barges move at about 5 knots and should be easy enough to avoid for a sailboat that is motoring. If you stay in the 12 foot depth barge lanes, the “big boys” cannot run you over - they will go aground first. The main risk to sailboats are the bloody shrimpers who fish the barge lanes and run shallow enough to come at you from any direction. They have been known to claim that you damaged their nets whilst they had “right of way” and they were in the process of fishing when they dropped their tackle 12 feet off your bow.
Ed
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Old 11-04-2021, 17:46   #6
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Re: Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

edmundsteele is probably correct about the 200 feet wide shoulder. My memory is that this is outside the channel daymarks. Whatever the actual depths and where they are, a recreational boater will have sufficient water navigating inside, but near, these daymarks.

The barges appear slow, and compared to the freighters, they are, but one should not try to cross closely in front of them.

The shallows adjacent to the ship channel as shown on the charts can be areas where large breaking waves occur during the transit of the large ships.

Rockinar, go out and stay near the daymarks and you will be fine.

Give the shrimp boats the right of way and plenty of room.
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Old 11-04-2021, 19:21   #7
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Re: Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

Hello everyone-
First post on the forum for me!
We took the ASA 104 by traveling down to Galveston from Kemah and back again.
The channel itself is relatively easy to navigate North and South, as I remember. The largest concerned is timing to cut across when needed. Keeping an eye coming from and back into Kemah area before and after being in the channel seemed to be littered with obstructions, at least that it what is remember and/or drilled into us by the instructors. Confirming your bearing position on the chart frequently was required.

Without hijacking the thread…I have reserved a vessel in Kemah at the end of the month to sail around the area for a few days. Will follow this tread and appreciate any tips picked up or offered.
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Old 12-04-2021, 08:57   #8
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Re: Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

The 200ft barge lanes are definitely inside the channel markers. See here for more info. As stated above, if you stay in these shallower lanes and hug the markers, you don't have to worry about the big guys, and it's fairly easy to stay out of the way of any barges/tugs, although you might wind up crossing back and forth a few times if it's a busy day.

Another option is to use "west pass", just S. of Redfish Island (circled). Location and depths here are accurate as charted, and there is a daymark on a piling marking the shoal. Go slow, and pass just west of the piling, and you'll be fine. From there on, there's plenty of water to run all the way down the west side, keeping out of the HSC. There are a few stakes and (charted) wrecks to avoid on the way down, but it's a bit more relaxing than running the ship channel.
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Old 12-04-2021, 09:00   #9
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Re: Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

My trips on the Houston ship channel has been somewhat varied. It varies from relatively light traffic to ships coming into the port lined up as far as you could see. It's pretty intimidating when you are in a small sailboat doing 6 knots and the ships are doing 3x that speed. I've never seen a lot of the long barge traffic except on the ICW between Galveston and Corpus Christi.

I found the channel wide enough to stay out of their way but the wake they create is difficult to manage in a small boat and you can't get far enough from the channel to let it subside to something comfortable (in a small sail boat). My last trip was a series of S turns through the wake of the passing ships (for 2 hours) until I got to my destination turn leaving the ship channel headed for Clear Lake.

Not a comfortable situation but doable.
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Old 12-04-2021, 11:46   #10
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Re: Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

Redfish Island used to be a popular spot to anchor. It blocks the wakes of shipping in the channel but be careful around its edges as the wakes can build to big heights when the ships come through. You could make it to Galveston and return for a nice anchor if weather permits. You are correct to stay clear of the ships but generally follow the channel out.
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Old 13-04-2021, 22:50   #11
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Re: Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jetx View Post
Another option is to use "west pass", just S. of Redfish Island (circled). Location and depths here are accurate as charted, and there is a daymark on a piling marking the shoal. Go slow, and pass just west of the piling, and you'll be fine.

That looks sketchy. LOL....
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Old 24-04-2021, 08:59   #12
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Re: Navigating Houston Ship Channel from Kemah

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rockinar View Post
That looks sketchy. LOL....
Not all that bad if you time it right to catch another passing boat to cause a swell or you can open it up and get up on plane.
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