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Ask the Captains

Do you have questions about boat handling, communications, and navigating the local Ohio River? Send them in and we'll try to get you a good answer.

Are you on the Forum? Many of these questions came from there, and these are the short answers to the more general questions.

See the PortKY River Forum (link to left) for more information AND many more questions from our members.

Submit your inquiries using the feedback link above. -Eric


Previously submitted questions (listed newest to oldest):

11/12: I have a contract to purchase a slip at (a local marina). It was listed on Port KY. I have never purchased a slip before and was looking for some guidance. I would like to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

For starters, you should find a closing attorney to handle the transaction. As it is deeded property, they can handle the appropriate courthouse paperwork and talk to you about a title search or any outstanding leins. As with a house or other property, they will give you a statement of estimated closing costs and tell you how much you need to bring to the settlement. A few things to consider are settlement fees and any taxes owed. I've found the process to be pretty straight-forward.

07/12: A friend had a window broken on his Carver from the wakes from a commercial vessel in (a small area). What should he do (to seek damages)?

From a good source: Get the vessel name, exact time of the incident, exact location of the incident and any witnesses. Call the Coast Guard on Marine Channel 16. ALL boat operators, private and commercial, are responsible for damages caused by their wakes to persons and property. Most cell phones today have cameras and "a picture is worth a thousand words." The main phone number at Sector Ohio Valley is 502-779-5300.

04/11: (Regarding Thunder) Does the corps reduce the flow at the locks and dam to control the flow during Thunder?

From forum member "Skip":

"No! The Corps does not shut the gates to retard the flow. As an ex-employee I can assure you that that doesn't happen...I was Captain on the Star about five years ago when the dam was 'all out' and the number of boats that fouled anchor lines was amazing!"

Eric adds, click here for more information about interpreting the NOAA hydrographs: link

03/11: Is it safe to swim in the Ohio River?

I grew up swimming in the river, and learned to take some precautions. Specifically, I would not recommend getting in the water within 72 hours of a heavy rainfall or flooding, as these conditions could exceed the capacities of some of the upriver sanitary treatment systems.

Also, take precautions on the shore to prevent cuts or scraps from rusty or abrasive objects that may have washed ashore during high waters.

Unlike some of our large, local lakes that are controlled by flood-control dams, the river is a constantly refreshing system. -Eric



Upon seeing the cows at Grassy Flats (above), a medical professional wrote-in with the point that humans are susceptable to infection from contanimated fresh water sources, through either consumption or contact. These waterborne baterial infections include, but are not limited to, Botulism, Campylobacteriosis, Cholera, E. coli, Dysentery and Salmonellosis. "Don't even get me started on the Protozoals."

03/11: Why do you only emphasize the "captain's" classes, when they aren't for everybody?

Port KY LLC is proud to be the only local group that promotes the OUPV and Masters courses for experienced boaters who want to expand their knowledge and earn a USCG license. Many do it for the same reason that a Private Pilot hones their skills and pursues the Commercial Pilot rating--that would be for the extra knowledge, insurance breaks, personal achievement and the ability to operate for hire.

Having said that, we also work with both the USCG Auxiliary and the Louisville Sail & Power Squadron to promote their classes for the youth and beginning boaters. All boaters between 12-18 need to attend one of these classes or an online course to operate on KY waters. These classes also offer a good review for exerienced boaters, and the LSPS also has advanced courses available.

See the Events link for upcoming classes, which are predominantly in the spring. -Eric

03/11: Can you help me find a slip to purchase or lease?

These questions come in every spring, as people shuffle their boats around or look for a spot for their winter purchase. I would suggest that you look at the "Marinas" link to get a basic idea of what's around.

Next, check with the marina websites or dockmasters to see what they can tell you. A majority of the slips are individually owned, so look for posters at the marinas and ask your friends. You can also check the classifieds.

I have noticed that paid ads in the newspaper are becoming less popular as free services like Craigslist become available. In the past, I tried listing slips on this site, but the workload was too high. I may revisit that in the future. -Eric

03/11: I'm a new boater--What's the "safest" place to hang-out on the river?

An attorney and boating friend said it best: "Tied to your dock." We're not trying to be sarcastic, but rather are trying to point out that you should educate yourself as to the risks and nuances associated with different areas of the river.

For example, when you master anchoring and learn how to avoid commercial traffic, you be able to enjoy a much safer boating experience. You can start by visiting the "Local Knowledge" section by and taking a safe boating course.

Also, ask your neighbors and peers where they like to go. The answer will vary based on the size and type of boat. The "Port KY River Forum" is another good place to ask people for more specific information. -Eric

03/11: Some guy was selling pizzas at 18 Mile Island. Can you legally make pizzas on a little boat for profit?

No, you can't make and sell pizzas on a boat without a permit. You're referring to Bob Conrad from River's Edge Marina (a Port KY sponsor, by the way). They have a fully functioning kitchen at the marina that has been approved by the local health department. The delivery is only that, a delivery. So, enjoy the pizza! -Eric

02/11: Why don't you feature more things south of Louisville?

Frankly, the majority of the local boaters stay north of McAlpine Locks and Dam. It's fun exploring new territory, so I'd recommend that you consult the charts if you're heading down that way. There are a few "Featured Articles" with pics using the menu link to the left. -Eric

10/10: What's this? Spotted by "iflyboeing" north of Grassy Flats:

The majority votes that it is a duck blind, installed by some hunters.

Be careful making duck sounds as you pass! -Eric


09/10: When should I winterize?

Depends on where you keep your boat and how you use it. I winterize my small boat as soon as it gets too cold to enjoy it. I keep my cruiser going until early December, as it sits in warm water and I like having it ready for the occasional nice day out. Late Fall, with less precipitation, offers some of the best river conditions of the season. As I type this, I just returned from a cruise in 45 degree weather, where we enjoyed no wind and the warmth of the sun under the bridge enclosure.

Visit the forum for many other discussions and tips on winterizing, including how to do it and who provides shrinkwrap services. -Eric



08/10: [At a restaurant] Why do I need my captain's license? I've been on the river for 30 years now and never needed one.

Well then, respectfully, I'm not sure if I can help you. In all seriousness, I encourage everybody to keep learning and broaden their skills. You will become a safer and more aware boater in ways you never imagined. Who knows--one day you may decide to use your license to earn a secondary income. -Eric


08/10: Why don't you have more pictures and information about parties on the water?

I decided early-on to focus on safety, education and information for the Louisville river boater. I'm a family man and don't have time to do everything.

Here are some links to a few of the local social organizations:

Also, see the Links/Resouces tab to the left for a few more sailing groups. -Eric


08/10: Capt. Eric, what type of boat do you have?

We have a cruiser that we keep in a local marina and a '90 Wahoo 1850. I use the Wahoo, affectionately known as the "Pod Racer," for most of the zipping around required by the maintenance and picture-gathering for this site.

Above is a picture of the "Pod Racer," . If you see it, feel free to stop by and introduce yourself.


08/10: [Forum] We were thinking about putting in at Cox’s Park and going down to catch Waterfront Wednesdays. Does anybody have any information about docking/anchoring during this event.

From "iflyboeing": I have been many times. If your boat is trailerable, then you're in the size range where you can shoe horn in somwhere. (ie, you should be able to get a spot). Biggest issue is that you'll be heading back after dark. Pay very close attention to the presence of commercial traffic. You will be passing the Louisville Marine Terminal where there are often fleeting operations going on. Just maintain good situational awareness. Make sure you have a VHF radio as well.

From Eric: See the "Events" link for more information on Waterfront Wednesdays.


08/10: [Forum] Does anyone know how much they charge to launch a jetski right there in (Harrods) creek?

Eric: That is a private operation. Visit: link


08/10: "Do I need a VHF Radio on the Ohio River?" (Overheard this question at a boat store)

That's an emphatic "Yes." See "Featured Articles" under "Operating Your Boat" for a detailed explanation of why. -Eric


08/10: Can I park my boat overnight downtown?

The answer is a qualified "yes." See the "Marinas & Fuel" link to the left for more information. -Eric


08/10: How far is it to Madison?

Short answer--downtown Madison is Mile 558, roughly 45 miles from Louisville. I would suggest that you consult one of our "PortKY River Cards" for a quick view, and don't forget to take along a set off USACE Ohio River Navigation Charts. -Eric

Contributor Capt. Steve adds: "Charts can be downloaded and printed at USACE Navigation Data Center. The nice thing is you can print off just the pages you need." See the Resources link to the left for the place to download the charts.


07/10: Why can't I get an offer on my boat (for sale)?

Short answer is 1) Repo'd boats are flooding certain markets, 2) credit is harder to come by, 3) buyers are having a harder time using home equity for purchases, 4) banks are requiring more of a down payment, 5) with fewer buyers and a depressed market, boats are being valued lower, 6) many otherwise qualified buyers are sitting on the sidelines.

There is a bright side in that people are still buying, and those on the sidelines will usher in the recovery when their confidence returns. I would suggest making your boat the nicest out there to grab the attention of buyers. If you're moving up, I'd say take the loss on the smaller boat and take advantage of the prices on the bigger ones. New boats are still expensive because production was slowed and supply was reduced over the past few years. You'll also notice less floor-planning.

Talk to your broker for more information. -Eric


07/10: Where can I get a copy of the "PortKY River Cards?"

These cards are produced as supplies run low and are distributed to several local marine stores. Grab one for you and another for your friends. If you find them useful, I would ask that you make a small donation to the site to offset the costs (see cards or the "Feedback" link above for the address). -Eric


07/10: Sometimes, when I am the sole boater around (say, next to one of the islands), huge swells appear seemingly out of nowhere. I have guessed that these are due to locks releasing water. Is this correct?

My first guess would be wakes and propwash from barges. These tend to trail some barges for over a mile. -Eric

To your wakes and propwash, I would add wave reflectivity. Often the waves will reflect from the banks (especially where there is a vertical surface like barge or sea walls, and will actually increase in size as the waves pile up on top of each other. My oberservations from the commercial tows have been the propwash and the standing wave they create run parallel with the river banks, and can also be additive with other barge traffic. Since they are traveling with the path of the river, that could account the the "appear seemingly out of nowhere" as described in your question. I was caught between two tows going opposite directions...the bottom of the standing wave was so deep I lost sight of the horizon! -PH, Engineer & Boater

Most likely those wakes were caused by a fast moving boat that was gone before the wake broke at the shoreline. -George


07/10: I am planning a surprise 40th birthday party for a friend of mine, and I’m trying to find someone with a cabin cruiser who I could pay to pick us up at Tumbleweed...

That sounds like a commercial operation, so make sure you find a licensed captain who meets the USCG requirements to ensure the safety of you and your guests. With a licensed captain, you get somebody who's been trained in not just the navigation rules, but also deck safety and first aid. They've also been enrolled in a random drug-testing program and had were also subjected to felony background checks.

I can recommend a few local services who do exactly what you're asking for. -Eric


06/10: Do you know what is going on with the barges at the end of 12 mile? It looks as if they are removing them. That would be fantastic! I can’t find anything about it, so I would really like to know. Thanks!

Those are being removed for scrap. Boaters should exercise caution in that area, as there may be submerged metal and sharp edges in that area. -Eric


05/10: This (the newsletter) is awesome! How can I get on the e-mail list for the website?

The e-mails are sent out as news accumulates, which can be every month in the summer or sporadically in the winter. All you have to do is register for the forum and you'll be on the list.

Also, thanks for the compliment!-Eric


01/10: Where can I list a slip for sale?

We have disabled that feature on the site. Besides checking for ads at the marinas, I would suggest you check with the newspaper classifieds or Craigslist.org. -Eric


01/10: Who are the local brokers (and marine businesses)?

For starters, I would suggest that you check the "Services" link to the left for a comprehensive listing of local businesses.

Business who contribute to this site are also listed on the "Sponsors" page. Please support them and thank them for helping the PortKY site. -Eric (updated 10/10)


01/10: I have a handheld Garmin GpsMap 60csx. I was curious about buying some more in depth software for marine use. anyone have any experience with the Garmin inland lakes software?

The PC software is called "MapSource BlueChart". The CD is "BlueChart Americas". The region to unlock is "US (including Alaska & Hawaii)">>"US INLAND RIVERS" Region US036-Inland Rivers, Jul 08.

Once you buy the disk, you can go online to "unlock" a portion of the disk, which was Inland Rivers if I remember correctly. Next, I was able to copy that part of the CD to the PC. From there, you can use it on the PC and upload to your GPS unit. They have a newer software version out now called BlueChart G2, but I think you'd be fine with the old one on your 60cx.

Having said all that, I'm not sure if you need GPS charting capability on the river unless you plan to travel. -Eric


01/10: Where can I attend a safe boating course?

The United States Power Squadron is America's largest non-profit boating organization dedicated to safe boating through education. The Louisville Sail and Power Squadron was chartered in 1959 as a unit of the United States Power Squadron. LSPS promotes safe boating through education, civic service and fraternal activities. For more information about classes, activities, or membership call visit our website (link) . -LSPS


12/09: Does anyone know of a good site that contains water temperatures.

We have a link on the "Weather" page on the site, but I have thought about moving it to "River Conditions Here are the links I use: -Eric


11/09: Can you get an inspection sticker from the Police, Sheriff's dept, or someone else? I'd like to have the peace of mind that I have passed the safety inspection, and avoid the hassle of being stopped on a nice afternoon for a routine safety inspection.

The USCG Aux conducts checks and issues the stickers at Cox Park several times a year. We have the Louisville Sail and Power Squadron (LSPS) here as well. That sticker indicates that you took the time to demonstrate voluntary compliance, and I'm convinced it made the difference in not getting boarded a few times. BTW, there is an article on the VSCs under "Featured Articles."

In addition to the USCG/USCG Aux/LSPS Vessel Safety Checks, the LMPD provides voluntary inspections and can give you an LMPD sticker.- Eric


09/09: What are some good day trips in the area?

See Featured Articles (link at left) for some suggestions. -Eric

09/09: If people cause damage from their wake they are liable?

from "Ms. Mymoney": "If they cause an inconvenience - no. If they cause damage - yes. If they cause an inconvenience I still exercise my right to get loose on them though." Couldn’t have said it better myself- Eric

09/09: I've had difficulty finding pumpout locations. Also, Captains Quarter's requires that you bring your own adapter to screw into the pumpout port and clamp onto their hose. Is this normal practice in this area?

We’re going to add pumpouts to the site in the future. For now, you’ve got Tartan’s Landing, Captain Quarters, a few more up Harrod’s Creek, and one by Tumbleweed at the police docks.
-as for the adapters, that is the exception, but not the rule. -Eric

08/09: What would you all think about starting a voluntary directory of MMSI numbers with members' names, info, etc.? That way we could enter those into our DSC radios and unclutter channel 16. Plus it would be good practice in getting us all more friendly and competent with the DSC feature of our VHFs.

Good idea. Search the forum for the thread with MMSI. -Eric

06/09: Where can I find a beaching ladder for the bow of my boat?

Wesbar used to manufacture them, but that is no longer the case. Your best bet it to check e-Bay for occasional listings.

2010 Update: One of our sponsors now sells them--check the "Sponsors" link to the left. -Eric

06/09: I have the Garmin data card for my chartplotter...From what I gather, running the Ohio may be simpler, i.e., "just stay in the middle" for a 3ft draft boat, less confusing nav aids, etc. If so, I see no need to buy a set of Corps paper charts. Any opinions on this?

I would recommend you have a set on board as a backup. It also makes planning easier. If you have an insurance claim, they can ask you if you have current charts and know how to read them. -Eric


4/09: What is the status of the docks at Buckhead's?

They were badly damaged from Ike's winds in September. Update: as of 2010, there is no indication that those docks will be reinstalled. -Eric


10/08: What is the Kentucky State Law as it pertains to "Bow Riding"? Do you have to have a manufacturer's built in seat to ride on the front of the boat? What about a 40' Cruiser or Express where someone is laying on the front of the boat but against the upper deck which is a good 10 to 15 feet away from the bow or bow pulpit? Is this considered bow riding?

Above, a vessel with bowriders gets a friendly nod from authorities in the Thunder no-wake zone.

  • From Eric: We've all seen it out there, and there have also been countless warnings and citations issued. For the textbook answer, I would suggest starting with the following links as a primer: "Prohibited Riding" is described at this KY link (5c.2). Additionally, here is a USCG link describing "Negligent Operation." Specifically, the USCG prohibites: "Bowriding, also riding on seatback, gunwale, or transom." Here is what KY currently defines as "Prohibited Riding":
    • If a vessel is operating faster than at idle speed, a person shall not ride:
      • (a) On an enclosed bow;
      • (b) Outside the protective railing of a pontoon boat or houseboat;
      • (c) On a seat which extends six (6) inches above the plane of the gunwales;
      • (d) On the sides, back, engine cover, seat back; or
      • (e) In an obviously dangerous position which could lead to falling overboard
  • From George, regarding larger vessels:
    • "It is always at the very least imprudent, and in most states illlegal, for passengers to have their legs hanging off of any part of a vessel when it is underway. There our countless incidents involving death and serious injury that resulted from setting on the back of seats or dangling feet from a boat underway so the ruling is sound.
    • However, it has been my observation that the KY Fish and Wildlife officers can be a bit overzealous in enforcement of these regs when it comes to larger vessels that are designed for coastal or near coastal waters when these vessels are being operated safely and responsibly on inland rivers and lakes.
    • Concerning enforcement, a prolonged or heated confrontation would probably be ill advised. If cited for an alledged violation, I would think that pictures of the vessel and design criteria presented to the court would provide a defense that would be recognized.
  • And finally, from Eric: How's that for a half answer? Have fun, be safe, and if you let your friends ride out front (at idle, of course), be aware of those twin 26" meat grinders down there.

So What about this one? Snap-on sunpad not quite as legal. I can guarantee you from talks with the authorities that they will stop you if they see this.


9/08: (After the 75 mph winds from Ike in September...) I drove down to the river last night to check on my boat and when I drove by the area of the Louisville Boat Club, I noticed that several boats sunk while tied up. Any idea what happened?

Several boats were swamped from the waves generated by the winds, which were in excess of 40 kts. steady gusting to over 50 kts. for several hours. There is a point where the bilge pumps just couldn't keep up, and those unfortunate boats sank.


8/08: I know sailboats have the right of way under sail, but what do you think about a sailboat that takes a wide-open river and does a quick tack putting himself on a collision course with you right off your port front? I had a guy do it to me yesterday, so I sped up to avoid a collision. I waked him, but it was my best option rather than stopping or turning.

Initial Response:

From George: The sailboat that you had the encounter with was within his rights according to the USCG Rules Of the Road. Your response was correct to avoid him (Was it the best option?). You are only respsonsible for "damage" from your wake, not discomfort.

From Eric: "While the Sailing Vessel had the Right of Way according to the rules, he also has a responsibility per the Rules of the Road to avoid collision. When he turned in front of you, you should have sounded the Danger/Doubt Signal consisting of Five Short Blasts. It is entirely possible that he pushed his Right-of-Way a little too far by causing uncertaincy and a risk of collision."


08/11 Update: Upon reading this, a local sailor provided an afternoon cruise on his sailboat to offer another perspective. I learned that sailboats sometimes have no choice but to zig-zag up or down the river (tacking). Powerboaters should give enough space as they close on a sailboat to allow for such a maneuver.

Additionally, it is worth noting that a sailboat with the engine running is treated the same as a power-driven vessel under the Nav Rules, even if the sails are flying. It is highly unusual around here, however, to see a sailboat, or any other boat for that matter, displaying proper day-shapes. -Eric


8/08: I'd like more information on getting a safety check?

From Eric: See "Featured Articles" for a summary from Rick Schal on Vessel Safety Checks. Also, there are some links provided under "Links/Resources."


I noticed that the charts say all vessels must contact Vessel Traffic Services between Twelve Mile Island and downtown Louisville when the McAlpine Upper is greater than 13'. Does this include me pulling out of the Louisville Yacht Club?

From George: I believe that is for commercial traffic. However, if you were to lock through you would need to contact them. I did a high water rescue once for a disabled houseboat, and they fouled props down around the Kingfish, and I was talking to Louisville traffic on that one.


You mentioned in your "Running the Boat at Night" article that your radar should be on from the time you leave the dock. Is this a requirement for recreational boats or just commercial operators?

From George: It is a USCG requirement that radar equipped vessels are required to have their unit on and a radar watch posted when they are underway. It is not normally enforced on recreational vessels but I put that bit in there to convince folks to use the radar evry time they use the boat day and night. That's the only way to learn how to use it and to ensure that it will work when you need it. Besides they already paid for it and doesn't cost any more to use it.

Reply: Does this mean a boat with radar needs two people at the helm?

  • From George: The rule (inland) is not interpreted that way. The helmsman can be the entire watch section except when entering a lock (the Master must be on the bridge) or during high water when the Coast Guard requires Louisville Traffic to communicate with all vessels up and down bound in this area.


We had a problem on Six Mile Island with a barge getting too close and mooring at the "Federal Mooring Bouys for Emergency Use Only." Can they do that?

Long answer. See the "Local Knowledge" link to the left...


What is the story with "Party Cove" located behind Six Mile Island?

Long answer. See the "Local Knowledge" link to the left...



What equipment do you use to maintain the website?

Besides the "Pod Racer," which comes in handy for getting around on the river, here is the computer set-up:

  • Canon Powershot SX-110 digital camera
  • iMac Core i3, Intel 3.2 GHz processor
  • Adobe Dreamweaver CS5 web-authoring software
  • MacBook with a VPN, for secure updates on the road

What type of expenses do you have to run a site like Port KY?

Here's a quick run-down of the obvious and not-so obvious expenses:

  • River Cards (Biggest Expense)
  • Annual KY LLC Filing Fee
  • Tax Preparation
  • P.O. Box
  • Envelopes, stationery and stamps
  • Business Cards
  • Web-authoring software upgrades
  • VPN annual fee

Eric, Are you going to retire from the website?

Reminds me of an author I met at River's Edge one day. I asked him how much he was compensated for writing about places to stop on the river, and he said it was more like, "How much will it cost me to write this article?"

Again, I am grateful for our sponsors, who keep me slightly above the waterline!


We'd like to introduce our panel:


Eric Grubb
Founder, Port KY
Licensed Master

Eric grew up around boats, trading summers on board his parents' Sea Rays for many man-hours of swabbing the decks. He grew up by the little town of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, overlooking the the Dashields Locks and Dam. He has traveled the Great Lakes, Lake Huron's North Channel, Gulf of Mexico and several rivers to include the Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela, Kanawha, Mohawk (Erie Canal), Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Mobile Rivers.

As a commercial pilot, Eric flies jets and is a flight instructor. He has owned recreational boats ranging from PWCs to most recently, a flybridge convertible that he keeps in a Louisville marina (MM 590). You can also find him with his family on the "Escape Pod," an 18' fishing boat. His most memorable journey was aboard the J. S. Lewis, a 155' towboat in service since 1931.

Eric is a USCG Licensed Master with a Commerical Tow Assistance rating, and is a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Riverman and the Louisville Sail and Power Squadron. After moving to Louisville, he conceived the idea for Louisville's Port KY website while searching for information to help him become a safer and more knowledgable local boater. He has worked hard over the years to educate other boaters by promoting safety classes through Port KY and by hosting captain's classes and related events.


Capt. George East

George East has been boating since he was seventeen, has had other interests including flying (FAA licensed pilot) car racing, and snow skiing, but he has always remained an ardent boater. After earning a USCG captain's license some 25 years ago, George spent time as a delivery and demonstration captain for one of the major motoryacht manufacturers.

During this same period, while he was building a successful construction and ready mix concrete company, George still found time to own and operate several boats including two Chris-Crafts, a Gulfstar, and two Hatterases.

Fast forward to the present to find George retired from his businesses, devoting all of his energy to boats and the boating industry. George currently holds a 100 Ton USCG Master's license. His specialties are classic Chris-Craft and Hatteras yachts. George instructed with the U.S. Power Squadron for 15 years, and is now a broker with Paradigm Yacht Sales in Louisville, Kentucky and Cape Coral, Florida.

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