As the investigation continues into the “Tragedy on the Delaware” where a barge ran over a tour boat it is becoming more and more clear that the addition of a proper lookout could have prevented the situation. Reportedly there were 5 people on the tug that was pushing the barge but no one on the 250′ barge acting as lookout. The way the tow was configured the tug was on the port side of the barge all the way aft. It appears from published photos that the pilot on the tug could not see anything that may have been in close proximity to the front of the barge.
In the Steering and Sailing Section of the Coast Guard Navigation Rules, Rule 5 states that “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.” Simply put, look around and listen for danger in all conditions so you can make good decisions and avoid hitting another boat. This is where in my humble opinion the barge was derelict in not abiding by Rule 5.
Watch Out for Barges and Towboats
Although this accident was between 2 commercial vessels, the tour boat and the barge/tug combination, recreational vessels should be extremely diligent in assigning someone on board to act as lookout at all times.
Towboats and barges are familiar sights on many of our nation’s waterways. Since these vessels operate 24 hours a day and pose a number of safety hazards, recreational boaters should be vigilant when boating in areas with commercial traffic.
Barges can be surprisingly quiet, and the speed of both barges and towboats can be deceiving. These vessels are capable of traveling a mile in seven minutes, but it may take them over a mile to come to a stop. Boaters should steer clear of channel areas with high commercial traffic even after barges have passed since strong wakes can create serious turbulence hundreds of yards behind the towboat.
While towboat operators are generally on the lookout for smaller boats, their visibility is sometimes limited and they may be unable to maneuver quickly enough to avoid a recreational boater… especially one who is not paying attention!
In addition, a towboat without barges in front of it may be towing astern with the towline submerged. Stay Clear! Recreational boaters should always maintain a proper lookout and steer well clear of commercial boat operations. Boat Smart. Boat Safe.