Navigation Safety – Risk Mitigation and Trip Planning in Low Water Conditions

There has been an increase in reported grounding incidents as low water season begins. Areas of particular concern include the Ohio River between Cairo Point, and Olmsted Lock and Dam. Low water conditions may occur unexpectedly anywhere on the river system as the Army Corp of Engineers and Tennessee Valley Authority manage pool depths and water flow as the season progresses. Operators are highly encouraged to closely monitor Notice to Navigation Interests issued by the Army Corps of Engineers as they provide up-to-date information regarding draft restrictions, dredging operations, or unexpected lock closures.

Proactive risk mitigation strategies and future trip planning are key factors in navigating safely in low water conditions. Mariners should closely monitor river gauge readings for safe navigation while departing, arriving and transiting pools and river systems. Owners, operators and port captains preparing barges must be mindful of the clearance, to ensure a safe transit.

When the Cairo Gauge reads 7.5ft and the lower Olmsted Gauge reads 9.0ft Mariners should expect a channel depth of 10.0ft from Lower Olmsted to Cairo Point. Mariners shall check all river gauges prior to transiting.

Coast Guard Sector Ohio Valley encourages all owners, operators, and credentialed mariners to review Title 33, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 164.78 and 46 CFR Part 15. These regulations require operators of towing vessels to understand factors affecting maneuverability in regards to the tow configuration. Additionally, towing vessels require the officer in charge of the watch to conduct a navigational assessment to evaluate the vessels intended route as outlined in 46 CFR Part 140.635. Credentialed mariners must maintain situational awareness, including proper risk mitigation strategies, proactive trip planning, and navigating with due diligence. Operators or credentialed mariners who disregard these prudent steps may be subject to future remedial actions.

Properly positioned Aids to Navigation (ATON) also play a critical role in safe navigation. Mariners, who identify missing or off-station ATON, should immediately contact Sector Ohio Valley Command Center via VHF-FM channel 16 or at 800-253-7465.

The Coast Guard is committed to working with maritime professionals to improve safety, security, and environmental stewardship for all waterway users. For additional information concerning this Marine Safety Information Bulletin, please contact Mr. Nick Frascella at (502) 779-5323.

H.R. Mattern
Captain, U.S. Coast Guard
Officer In Charge-Marine Inspection