Intra Coastal Waterway Bridges

I have heard that the bridge tenders on the ICW are trolls that have moved from under the bridge to ontop of the bridge. "They are mean and cruel, making everyone wait and yelling at everyone around them!" 

While this is a common thing to hear about the bridge tenders, this is certainly not the case. Bridge tenders along the ICW operate and control the swing and draw bridges that cross the waterway. Most of the bridges that cross the waterway are fixed bridges at 65 feet in height, but some of the older bridges have not been replaced and are still the antiquated system. 

Bridge tenders spend their days inside a small room that overlooks the bridge and roadway. On one side, they have the cars, which are filled with people in a rush, crossing the bridge as they go about their lives. On the other side, they have the yachts that are passing through the waterway, heading North or South, depending on the season. The yachts are filled with people who are trying to get somewhere and are probably trying to adhere to a schedule.  

If the bridge is allowing cars to pass, then boaters have to wait. If the bridge is allowing boats to pass, then cars have to wait. It seems there is no possible way to please both cars and boats at the same time! When currents are strong, yachts will radio the bridge complaining about the flow of water and request that the bridge be opened sooner to avoid a problem. Opening the bridge to allow a few boats through means that many, many cars will have to wait as the yachts make their slow transit through the open pass. Then the cars will begin yelling at the bridge tender, giving him grief. 

I really feel bad for the bridge tenders, they try their hardest to make everyone happy, but it seems that everyone is in a rush and mad at them for not letting them cross the bridge. 

While it may seem like a horrible situation where the bridge tender chooses when to let someone cross the bridge, the truth is the bridges operate on a schedule. They open on the hour or half hour, and they will gladly tell you the schedule from far away if you merely ask them via radio (on channel 13).  

To make the bridges simple and easy to navigate, we simply radio the bridge when we are a few miles away.  I introduce myself as "South-bound sailing vessel" and ask what the opening schedule is for the bridge. They will either respond with "top of the hour" meaning they open on the hour (10am, 11am, noon, 1pm, etc.) or "top and bottom of the hour" meaning they open every hour and half hour (10:00am, 10:30am, 11;00am, 11:30am, etc).

With this information, I simply plot the distance on the chart plotter and adjust my speed so that I will arrive merely 10 minutes before the bridge opens. This means that I will only have to wait about 10 minutes, and also ensures that I won't be late and just miss the opening. 

With our electric motor, we can't always go very fast for a long time, so we find that adjusting our speed so that we can run as slow as possible and still make the next opening in time.  This is in contradiction to what we see other yachts doing, where they will pass us at hull speed, and then reach the bridge in a few minutes arguing on the radio with the bridge tender as they ask him to open the bridge early for him.

They must do this at every bridge, but yet they never get a bridge to open early. All they do is anger everyone around them as they try to bully their way through the waterway. The worst victim in the scenario is the lonely bridge tender who has to deal with these kinds of people on a daily basis.  

Many of the bridges are visible from miles away, so it is always nice to let the bridge tender know what time you will be arriving, that way he doesn't think you are trying to make the next opening. One that stood out to us in particular was about 5 miles away, and opened on the hour and half hour. The bridge tender radioed us asking if we would speed up to make the next opening, but we responded with the statement "our engine is small and weak, so we won't be able to make the next opening. We will be arriving in 1.5 hours, so we will see him at the third opening."  

One final thing you can do to be extra nice to the bridge tender is to let them know when you have made it out the other side. Bridge tenders can't always see very well when you have cleared the pass and do not want to hit you with their bridge. Letting them know you are clear of everything will let them start closing the bridge and get the cars flowing again which will make their life easier as fewer people will be yelling at him.

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