ICW Bridge Etiquette

While transiting the ICW, you will encounter many bridges that need to open for you to pass. The bridge is controlled by a single person who has to operate the entire bridge and manage the flow of cars and yachts through this transportation intersection.

Bridges monitor VHF channel 13, and will always respond when called upon.  It is a good idea to call the bridge when you are several miles away that way you can adjust your speed to arrive at the next opening and reduce the amount of time you need to hover at the opening while you wait for the bridge to open.

When calling a bridge, they don't care what your boats name is, so don't bother telling it to them. Simply identify yourself as "North-bound or South-bound" and "Motor or Sailing Vessel". So if you are on a powerboat heading North, you would be "North-bound motor vessel" and if you are on a sailboat heading South, you would be "South-bound sailing vessel." 

When you call the bridge, call them by their name, and the name is written on charts. 

Calling the bridge is simple, you simply get on VHF Channel 13 and say "This is South-bound sailing vessel calling Surf City Swing Bridge." Then you wait for them to answer "This is Surf City Swing Bridge, go ahead." 

At this point, you can ask them what their opening schedule is. "What is your opening schedule." And to this, they will respond with the times they open "We open at the top of the hour" meaning that they open at 10am, 11am, noon, etc. 

With this information, you can simply set the bridge as the destination on your chart plotter and adjust your speed so that you will arrive about 10 minutes before the bridge opens.  

At this point, you can radio the bridge back and let them know what time they can expect to see you. Sometimes, you might not be able to make the next opening and letting the bridge tender know this will be helpful since they won't hold the bridge open for longer trying to let you pass through and hold up traffic only to find out that you are not even able to make the bridge in time.

When you get to the bridge, radio the tender and ask if you are close enough or if they want you to wait even closer. This lets them know that you are there and ready, and they will usually radio you again right before they open it so you can get into position. 

Once you have made it through the bridge, radio the tender to let them know you have cleared the bridge and thank them for opening the bridge for you.  

Above all else, remember that the bridge tender is a person and they are a kind person. If you are unsure about protocol, just ask! They appreciate honesty and kindness over tempers and egos. Don't be afraid to ask a question you have, and always be nice to them so they will be nice to you too!