Safe Passage

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The waters of Penobscot Bay host a diverse range of mariners on a year-round basis. With its myriad harbors and islands, many consider the bay to be the premier cruising destination on the New England coast for both power and sailboats. These same features make the bay equally popular with an increasing number of sea kayakers. Penobscot bay is home to one of the most valuable lobster fisheries on the North American coast. As such, there is a vibrant and sizeable fishing community extending throughout its length and breadth. Annually, over 200 commercial deep-draft vessels, including tankers, freighters, and tug and barge combinations call upon the ports of Searsport, Bucksport, Rockland, Brewer, and Bangor. The Penobscot bay Recommended Route for Deep-Draft Vessels illustrated on NOAA charts and in this pamphlet, was created to help reduce conflicts and enhance safety as an increasing number of mariners pursue work and recreation on the bay.

Common Sense – The Most important rule to follow

Often, the pilots navigating the large ships transiting Penobscot Bay have to take into consideration the nearby presence of other vessels that may not be seen from a small boat. Further, these large ships, while power driven, are less maneuverable than smaller recreational and fishing vessels are, and may be drawing as much as 38 feet of draft. The pilots always try to adhere to the Coast Guard designated deep-draft route. These considerations and more can contribute to the “special circumstances” mentioned in rule #2. Remember, nothing in the Rules of the Road prevents you from practicing common sense: Keep clear of large commercial vessels. Always try and cross well astern of ship and barge traffic, and make a course or speed change to do so as early as practicable. If you hear a ship or tug sound the “danger signal” (at least five short and rapid blasts), you may not be taking sufficient action to avoid collision.

VHF Radio – There’s more than meets the eye. 

Commercial vessels use an established security call system on VHF channels 16 and 13 during transits in Penobscot Bay and the Penobscot River. This system was developed to inform mariners in the area of the name and location of inbound and outbound commercial traffic and their destination. Do not hesitate to call these vessels on VHF channel 13 if you are uncertain of their intentions or location. If your vessel isn’t fitted with a VHF radio, consider the purchase of a hand held model. A VHF radio is not a luxury, it is a lifesaving tool. Proper communication between vessels alone can prevent a close quarters situation from developing.

You know more than they do.

The chartlet included in this brochure represents the route followed by commercial vessels bound to and from ports in the Penobscot Bay and the Penobscot River. It is along this route where you can expect to encounter deep-raft vessels and tug/barge combinations. With this information, a private boat captain now enjoys a distinct advantage: you can predict the location and probable track of each commercial vessel you encounter. A pilot never knows what action a small vessel will take as it approaches. A recreational boater can change course and speed quickly and effectively to avoid commercial vessels. Often times this is just what larger vessel can not easily do.

Lobster Boats – Not a tourist attraction. 

Lobster boats are among the real work boat of the Maine coast. Their crews work long hours and have very ambitious schedules. They often travel in very erratic courses while working their gear and the captain’s attention may be focused on the next buoy rather than the presence of approaching traffic. Photographing or observing these boats from a distance is normally accepted, but, in general keep your distance. And, never, absolutely never, be tempted to haul a fisherman’s traps.

Tugs and Tows – Danger Lurks 

Each year recreational boaters are killed trying to pass between tugboats and the barges these vessel are towing. When you see a tugboat, especially at night or in fog, always assume the vessel is towing a barge connected by a hawser or wire. Eventually, the tug will let the barge go and maneuver to the stern of the barge to push the unit into its berth. Obviously, this maneuver is the time when there is the least amount of control over the barge. Stay Clear. Do not hesitate to contact these vessels on VHF channel 13 if you need more information.

Ferry Boats – The most important cargo of all.

The Maine State Ferry Service operates vessels that shuttle residents and visitors from the mainland berths in Rockland and Lincolnville to the Penobscot Bay Islands of North Haven, Vinalhaven, Matinicus, and Islesboro. Although this service is provided year-round, the demand is greater in the summer months and these vessels operate continuously during daylight hours. As power driven vessels they enjoy no special privileges; however, these vessels maintain very strict schedules and are carrying the most important cargo of all – people. Common sense dictates that you stay clear of these vessels. As always, if you are uncertain of any vessel’s intentions contact them on VHF 16 or 13.