Coast Guard: Hazardous Aids to Navigation Removed From Intracoastal Waterway Off LBI

Project Completed Sooner Than Expected
By Gina G. Scala | Jul 24, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Long Beach Island, NJ — In spite of unsafe conditions created by speeding boaters, the U.S. Coast Guard removed and replaced more than 10 broken channel markers in the Intracoastal Waterway off Long Beach Island in 55 hours over a five-day period this month. The work is expected to continue this week in Atlantic City before wrapping up in Cape May sometime later this month.

Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate Elijah Reynolds, who spearheaded the effort for his Aids to Navigation team and the East Coast dive locker team to undertake the work, said the biggest challenge was getting boaters to recognize the dangers associated with the project.

“The work area was marked by two diver flags and ball-diamond-ball, the international day signal for restriction in ability to maneuver due to the nature of work,” Reynolds said Monday night after the work in local waters was completed. “The threat to overall safety is twofold. It’s a speed threat because it provides less time to react, and a wake threat because it can cause injury to a person or damage a boat.”

In addition to the visual aids, Reynolds’ team also used sirens to alert boaters their wake was creating a hazardous environment for his team and the dive locker team as they worked to remove and replace broken channel markers many believe were responsible for two separate boating accidents in the ICW earlier this summer. The ICW is the 3,000-mile inland waterway running from Boston south along the Atlantic seaboard, around the southern tip of Florida and around the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas. It runs through bay areas west of LBI.

Before the project began July 15, well north of Barnegat Light, the Coast Guard issued a plea to boaters to use extreme caution while operating in the vicinity of dive operations. On July 17, three days into the project off the coast of LBI, two boats coming at each other from opposite directions created enough wake to rock the 49-foot buoy utility stern loading boat being used as the dive platform. The BUSL, which draws about 5 or 6 feet of water, depending on the weight load it’s carrying, can safely transport up to 16,000 pounds.

That close call prompted Reynolds to use the trailerable aids to navigation boat, tied up to the BUSL, when it was not in use for the project, to patrol the work area to improve safe working conditions for his crew and the divers. At any given moment, two members of the dive locker team were in the water during the removal of the broken aids to navigation structure. One of them was using an underwater torch, which reaches 10,000 degrees to cut through the steel pole so the hazard can be removed. Even in a rubber wetsuit, the diver is shocked.

“When in doubt, slow down,” Reynolds said, urging boaters to operate safely based on environmental and boat-specific conditions.

He said boaters should always operate at safe speed, stay within the confines of the channel, and if they see something, they should say something. He can be reached directly at 609-898-6427 or boaters can call the local Coast Guard station to report a discrepancy with any aids to navigation.

“We can only correct what we know isn’t functioning properly,” Reynolds said.

Prior to the two boating accidents Memorial Day weekend, there had been rumblings for some time about broken channel markers in local waters. Weekly, every Wednesday, the Fifth Coast Guard District releases a local notice to mariners listing any and all discrepancies for aids to navigation from the Shrewsbury River in Monmouth County south to Little River in South Carolina. When issues arise after the notice to mariners is released, a voice message goes out over the radio alerting mariners to those discrepancies.

The Project. In June, the Aids to Navigation team, stationed in Cape May, implemented a pilot program for temporary fixes for the broken channel markers. It consisted of placing new foam buoys over the broken markers to further identify them to boaters as well as, in some cases, new steel poles to keep them from drifting.  Two of the 11 temporary fixes had been struck at some point since they were put into play, Reynolds said.

The steel pole of the temporary fix at channel marker 53, off Harvey Cedars, was bent 45 degrees when the Coast Guard teams arrived in the area July 16. From what Reynolds could ascertain, the temporary fix had been struck, most likely over the previous weekend, despite the large foam buoy affixed to the pole. It took about two hours to remove the hazard from the water and for his team to replace it with a seasonal buoy before the two teams moved south toward the Causeway, he said.

On July 22, the dive team removed the remnants of marker 94, which had also been struck, according to Reynolds. It was the last channel marker in local waters to be replaced with a seasonal buoy – at least for now. The foam section of the seasonal buoy is designed to last 10 years on the water, he said. The chain and sinker are checked, at a minimum, every two years.

“If it needs to be removed, the foam buoy, chain and sinker will come out,” Reynolds said, noting the current project is a continuation of a smaller one undertaken by his team and the East Coast dive locker team late last year. Three channel markers (46, 101, and 102) were removed and replaced with seasonal buoys.

The Aids to Navigation team is responsible for ensuring more than 364 structures, including channel markers and buoys, are up to date and functional. Roughly 75 percent are located in the ICW in New Jersey, and a majority of those markers are located in the local waters. A majority of the hazardous channel markers are also located in local waters, he said.

Due to the age of the aids to navigation off LBI, some are likely to fail in the future, and replacing them with a seasonal buoy, as of now, is the most feasible solution, Reynolds said.

“There’s definitely talks at a higher level to develop a more comprehensive plan to address aging aids to navigation,” he said.

The Divers. From the beginning, Reynolds has said one of the challenges to getting the project underway sooner was the availability of the East Coast dive locker. And while a mid-July time frame wasn’t ideal to undertake a project in the ICW in New Jersey, it was when all the pieces aligned.

Five of the seven divers assigned to the project are stationed in Virginia, with one coming from the West Coast dive locker and the final from the Hawaii dive locker, according to Loren Powers, senior chief diver.

“Geographically, the ICW is different in New Jersey; there’s an older infrastructure and a lot of people,” he said. “But our training is the same.”

— Gina G. Scala

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