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How to improve safety on the Cuyahoga River? Require certification, restrict paddlecraft and more suggestions in Coast Guard report

December 17, 2018 GMT

How to improve safety on the Cuyahoga River? Require certification, restrict paddlecraft and more suggestions in Coast Guard report

CLEVELAND, Ohio – On warm summer days, the Cuyahoga River is packed with boats: power pleasure boats and Jet Skis, freighters and afternoon cruises, rowing shells and kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.

The river can be a dangerous free-for-all. Which is why the U.S. Coast Guard organized the first Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment, released Friday. Participants met in August to suggest how to relieve congestion and improve safety on the river.


Among the suggestions, none of which have been officially recommended:

Install multiple LED signs along the river banks, to display the status of commercial vessel movements. Add a countdown clock on both sides of the Norfolk Southern Bridge, estimating when the bridge will lift to let boats through. Remove mooring cleats along the safety zone located on the Flats East Bank (near Alley Cat Oyster Bar)Implement a mandatory small craft licensing and certification program that outlines the dangers of operating small craft on the Cuyahoga River. Require classroom attendance and an on water practical demonstration as part of the certification process. Require businesses that rent small craft, including paddleboards and kayaks, to provide basic boating safety training.Make some areas off-limits to paddleboards and kayaks.

Boats already cannot dock on 10 safety zones in the Cuyahoga, since it’s a federal navigation channel with 2,300 commercial vessel movements each year. To enforce the rules, Cleveland in May painted the zone bulkheads red and bolted NO DOCKING signs on them.

The city this year printed 500 pamphlets explaining how to stay safe on the river, including to stay away from bow thrusters on the freighters, which can suck water in or capsize paddleboards. The Cuyahoga River Safety Task Force worked with the Norfolk-Southern Railroad, which committed to decreasing delays on the bridge, which can act as a blockade between the river and Lake Erie. And Davis Aerospace and Marine High School students implemented safety patrols on the river.

The goal behind all these ideas: to increase safety.

“When freighters come through, they create a pinch point that can kill people,” said onetime Nautica Queen captain Jim Dale said last year about the river.

The Safety Assessment released Friday is the result of 30 people who met for two days in August. The suggestions were all made to mitigate risk, without considering cost or feasibility, said Coast Guard Lt. Ryan Junod. That comes next.


The end report is meant to serve as a baseline for more discussion, starting with a River Safety Task Force meeting Jan. 29.

“When you look at that report, my hope is the group comes together,” Junod said. “Hopefully someone comes to the table with idea of how to implement it.”

Read the whole report here.

Want to voice your opinion? Email Junod at ryan.s.junod@uscg.mil.

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