Barging Through the Harbor With Right of Way

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I receive numerous emails with questions from my loyal readers of this column and from the listeners to my radio show, and I do try to personally answer all legitimate emails. Some emails will slip through the dock plank cracks or end up in my spam filter, which is set to high level.

Mostly, I receive boating-related questions; however, I do get my fair share of bizarre questions. There is one question that has been a regular since the Back Bay dredging started years ago and now with the dredging continuing in the Rhine Channel.

Now, I understand that Newport Harbor is not a large commercial port with large container ships, tankers, tugs and barges, warships and submarines transiting the channels. So, many local boaters may rarely or never encounter these right-of-way situations, but one email poses this question: “Who has the right-of-way in Newport Harbor, me or the tugboat with the barge that is going between the Rhine Channel and the ocean?”

Again, I would think that boaters in the harbor would be accustomed by now to the tugs with barges working the dredging projects, but maybe these are summertime boaters who only get on the water a weekend or two in a year.

Comin’ through: One of dredging barges in the Rhine Channel. — Photo by Pete Bechtol

Boaters need to know the basic right-of-way rules, and everyone is in luck as there are many online basic boating study courses. Ray Tsuneyoshi who is the former director of the California Boating and Waterways Department and currently national program director for the U.S. Power Squadron told me about the Power Squadron’s America’s Boating Course that is a complete home study program covering the basics of recreational boating.

The course is designed for the recreational boater, and you will learn topics such as general information about boats, maintenance, how to boat safe, and boating regulations. Additionally, the program is recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard and has the approval of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. I encourage boaters to check out and sign up for the boating course if you have not taken a boating class in the past, or maybe you need a refresher.

I digress, and I should return to the emailer’s question about who has the right-of-way. Of course, the tug with the barge is the “Stand On” vessel with the general right-of-way, and as such, other vessels should steer clear and give plenty of sea room. Furthermore, recreational boaters need to make their maneuvers early so that the tug’s Captain will see and know the intentions of the recreational skipper.

I do have a follow up question; Does a tug towing or pushing a barge always have the right-of-way in every situation? I will answer in a future column, so as we say on the radio – stay tuned.

Tip of the week is Tony Melum, former director of the city’s Harbor Resources Department, reminded me about the American Legion Yacht Club’s 3rd Annual Wooden Boat Festival on the weekend of Sept. 17. This festival is great and once again there will be classic boats in the water at the club’s docks, and dozens of wood boats on display in the parking lot at the American Legion Post 291 along with other booths.

This year for the first time off of our coast will be the twin brigantine schooners Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson racing each other that you can watch from the Balboa Pier on Sunday, Sept. 18.

Additionally on Saturday, there will be shuttle boats from the American Legion to one of the anchored brigantines for the public to visit. Keep in mind that the shoreside festival will have food, cocktails, and music, so go to for more information. We usually broadcast the radio live from the event on Saturday at noon and we welcome you to visit the ALYC on the bay at 15th Street and Balboa Boulevard on the Balboa Peninsula. Support our Veterans.

And don’t forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead’s Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon, Pacific Time and replayed on Sunday at 10 am Pacific. Join Chandler Bell and me as we talk about “all things boating.” You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and now available are apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, Blackberry, iTouch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at or

Until next week, Safe Voyages!

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