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River Navigation

Unlike open water or coastal navigation, rivers have a nearby shoreline all the time. Local lore often outweighs good piloting since the rivers beds and edges are constantly changing.

Most rivers have very easily identifiable marks and landmarks, so knowing where you are is not all that difficult. The big problem is avoiding hazards.


Water Level changes quite often in rivers – spring waters are usually much higher while summer and fall waters become low. Also, in the spring you need to be aware of flooded areas and debris that runoff waters brings to the river.

The US Coast Guard maintains Aids to Navigation in most rivers. They use lights, buoys, daybeacons and ranges to keep you in deeper water.

Right and Left Banks of a River are designated as such by a downstream direction. So, left or port is determined by your downstream direction. Still facing the direction of the stream, the right side is the starboard side. The exception is the New York State Canal System where the sides are determined when you are heading west.

Mileage Markers are shown in many of the rivers and are very helpful in determining where you are. Unlike coastal navigation, usually the mile markers are in statute miles.

The big thing to watch for is Floating Debris. If you are traveling at high speed a lot of damage can be done when you hit a floating refrigerator (and it has happened).

Generally, when a River Bends, the outside of the bend is usually deeper water, while the inside of the turn will be shallower water.

This helpful boating pointer is provided by Catamaran Sailors Magazine, http://www.catsailor.com/.These tips are useful to boaters of all types. ABA assumes no responsibility or liability for events that occur due to actions you or others on your behalf take based on the information given. You are proceeding at your own risk.


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