Mammoth hazard lurks for those who boat at night

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A terrible fatal boating accident on the Hudson River recently reminded me of the close calls I have had with the dark hulks called barges.

Drunk, under the influence or stone-cold sober, the operators of these commercial barges are dangerous to captains of small craft and extremely so when boating at night near the lights of a city.

On a dark night, the outlines of the sides of the barges being pushed are without lights of any kind.

Often a long string of these darkened barges are pushed by a tow boat whose lights are lost in the distant lights blinking and shifting with traffic on the distant shore.

The sounds of the powerful diesel engines are muffled and drowned out by the engines of the pleasure boat that could drive directly into the side of a barge, moving or stopped,  without any warning of its presence.

The outcome of such collisions are dire and predictable.

The barge captain may hardly notice the bump, but the small craft crumples, and the passengers on board pay a terrible price.

The U.S. Coast Guard requires running lights and anchor lights be operable on small craft operating at night.

These lights are positioned to make the vessel visible at night from any direction.

But no such lighting requirement exists for the most dangerous vessels on our lakes and rivers, the barges.

The answer is obvious — require barges on the outsides of the tow to be lighted along their sides to alert all craft to their presence.

Why this has not been done is beyond my comprehension.

Barges and other commercial vessels have the right of way because they cannot stop quickly to avert a collision, but there is no reason I can think of that keeps them from mounting running lights alongside.

I can think of two instances when the exact scenario I described happened to me.

I was saved by a tow motor’s spotlight on me one time.

A second time it was my innate caution while boating past the bright lights of a city that kept me alive.

It’s always a good idea to use a spotlight to verify what lies ahead.

Sometimes lights burn out or someone forgets the sun has set and it is time to turn lights on.

Boating at night is a supreme pleasure, but it requires the attention of a sober, alert and competent captain at the wheel.                     

B.J. Gillum