My Thoughts on the East River Ferry as a Human Powered Boater

    The 2011 warm-weather paddling season is drawing to an end. It was a challenging year for recreational boaters on the Hudson & East Rivers alike. Massive sewage discharges, Superfund sites (Newtown Creek & Gowanus Canal), launch site restrictions, and, for the brave souls who regularly paddle the East River — the East River Ferry. Early in the season I made the decision to refrain from publically voicing my concerns over the new ferry service. After-all, with any new service there are bound to be some growing pains. I’ve given the East River Ferry service several months to get their operations sorted out and I’m ready to publicly voice my opinion; the East River Ferry service presents a very real and serious threat to human powered boaters on the East River. Below is a list of observations and concerns I have with regard to the East River Ferry service and it’s impact on human powered boating (in my opinion of course). East River Ferry has been abbreviated ERF.

    • The ERF rarely, if ever, sounds a horn when departing docks.
    • The ERF captains do not decrease throttle when passing near human powered craft. Nearly all other high-speed commercial passenger lines such as the Seastreak and Water Taxi slow their vessels until they have passed human powered boaters. Most dinner cruises and commercial cargo vessels do not travel fast enough to create dangerous wakes. The wake from the ERF has resulted in several near capsizes and I fear could result in far worse as a capsized paddler may not be visible in the extreme conditions the ERF creates.
    • The ERF has, on several occasions, passed through groups of paddlers who were slightly separated due to severe conditions created through numerous high-speed passes by ERF routes.
    • The ERF routinely takes the “shortest path” between the North Brooklyn docks as opposed to maneuvering into the shipping lanes between docks. The majority of commercial vessels prefer that human powered boaters stay away from the Manhattan side of the East River because the shipping lanes extend very close to the Manhattan seawall. Obviously we can’t (and shouldn’t) be within the shipping lanes. East River paddlers gladly accepted the fact that we would paddle down the Brooklyn shoreline just outside existing docks. The ERF’s decision to take the shortest path between the North Brooklyn docks puts the ferries squarely within the waters previously considered safe for human powered boaters and their speed & frequency has left human powered boaters with no where to go when navigating this section of the river.
    • The ERF regularly passes human powered craft by pulling into the mouth of the Newtown Creek as opposed to passing via the shipping lanes. This often leaves human powered vessels trapped between the ERF & larger vessels in the shipping lane. Furthermore this is done without a security call and could result in a collision with barges who frequently depart Newtown Creek.
    • The ERF routinely passes within a close proximity to human powered boaters at a high speed.
    • The ERF captains rarely respond to radio calls. Passing busy docks such as those in North Brooklyn can be difficult as there is no communication signalling intentions. It leaves human powered boaters with no ability to communicate their intentions, whether it be holding their position, moving closer to shore, further away, etc. and no method to obtain a ferry captains intentions. The lack of horn use (mentioned above) leaves paddlers with no idea as to when the ferry is departing.

    I think most East River boaters understand that these ferries are a natural progression as the city deindustrializes the waterfront and creates parks and greenways on the land where industry once flourished. So why am I voicing these concerns? I would like to see East River Ferries and human powered boaters reach a point of mutual respect for one another — maintaining an open line of communication and establishing official channels to voice concerns. Most importantly, I hope to prevent a loss of life or any major incident from occurring. All too often meaningful actions are delayed until a death occurs. Lets not let that happen on the East River. Have something you’d like to contribute on this subject? Sound off in the comments!

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    3 Responses to My Thoughts on the East River Ferry as a Human Powered Boater

    1. Chris
      I signed up for mail a couple of years ago but never received any in inbox. That is not the reason for my mailing you.
      NYC Dept of Parks is asking me to find out the current name of the club that stored kayaks on the PLAXALL dock next to the 44 Dr pier. Is that your group?

      Burr Evans