Non-Emergency Use of VHF Radio

I have a VHF radio for use in coastal Maine, and it provides an important safety device in case of an emergency. But I’ve been finding it useful for one recurring non-emergency use as well. I often pass under a small lift-bridge in South Bristol. The passage through “The Gut” is only about 25 feet wide with high concrete walls, and a blind dogleg turn on the approach from each side. So, you can’t see if traffic is coming the other way until you’re under the bridge.

If the bridge is up, you know it’s up for somebody bigger than a kayak (the operator opens on-demand) and you need to stay clear. But when it’s down, I call the bridge operator and ask them to check for traffic coming the other way. One day, the operator came outside and said hello, and also said she wished all kayaks had radios and would check like I did. Another time, the operator gave me the all-clear, but then called at the last minute telling me to stop because someone in a Boston Whaler had just decided to come under and was moving fast. She may have saved me from being smacked that day.

Here’s an aerial view:


I haven’t kayaked under it but its a narrow enough opening that radioing is a good idea. We like that bridge

Here is a more from the water view

Speed limit in NY of 5 mph at all bridges 100 yards off.

Wolf used it to check when I and another pnetter paddled with him last month. I have poked thru the passage under the South Bristol bridge with my husband a couple of times in years past, but in very tight spaces like this it is an excellent idea. Wherever you are. Otherwise you are trusting all motor boaters to behave correctly in tight spaces. Locally we have bridges like the one crossing Saratoga Lake at the entrance to Fish Creek where even with a marina and lots of signage you should expect someone to speed under the bridge if you want to be safe.

For anyone paddling that spot, they have also greatly improved the adjacent South Bristol launch area since I had last paid attention. So likely more paddlers, though per usual in that part of the bay we saw more cars than the boats that had come on the cars.


Good info on the launch area. We used to launch out of Gamage Shipyard when it was just the two of us (Family). We usually paddle in larger groups than just us these days, which would be exploiting their favor to us, so knowing that the public launch is improved is great.

We were bad kids, and just scooted under the bridge once or twice. I should have called on the radio. Bad me.

Don’t let it ruin your life if you feel that way. :joy:

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A VHF is also handy if you are paddling around larger docked vessels like tour boats and ferries that have their engines running and you are not sure when they are launching. . They should announce launching by horn and often VHF on channel 16 but do not always do so nor do they always see small boats like kayaks.

Some people will also use a VHF to announce when they are crossing a busy channel, especially if in a group.

In industrial harbors like Baltimore it’s useful to know if a ship is going to go by or suddenly maneuver to enter a dock. They can more relatively quickly compared to a kayak, swing vey wide, and will not maneuver to avoid a kayak. Being restricted in maneuverability, they have absolute right of way over most other smaller boats.

nothing to do with feel. Headway speed is all that is permitted but it matters not if you are in a kayak and are smacked by a large fishing boat because they could not see you Mass always wins

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Boats are responsible to see you and operate safely. Mass doesn’t always win, especially in court.

Another problem at the narrow passage in South Bristol is that the tidal current can run fast and it swirls around the abutments. A small vessel, kayak, skiff, whatever will have reduced ability to stop or maneuver to avoid a collision. As I mentioned before, the bridge will open for a bigger boat like a lobster boat, and a wise kayaker will hide well out of the way until the bridge goes back down.

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As long as you are alive to bring the case…


They were in the NY Ferry case 5+ years ago.

I have a long to time friend/acquaintance who did not survive the situation about a decade ago. I am probably not the only one who could say this.
I am being extraordinarily restrained to say that your comeback is in seriously crappy taste.


Crappy? It’s the truth.

I’ll paddle away but court is another situation of last resort.

is it possible not to mix the fruits?

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That is another good idea as the bridge tender will not lower the bridge to raise it three minutes later.

Feel free to argue with an ocean going freighter in a restricted channel.