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Local Knowledge

The intent of this site is to help make our boaters safer and more knowledgable. While some of this information may seem obvious to anybody who has been on the river for a while, it should benefit visitors and newcomers alike.


Local Tidbits listed below include:

  • Operating near Commercial Activity
  • NEW! Propsed Fleeting Plan at Six Mile Island
  • Cove at Six Mile Island (Utica)
  • Cove at Bethlehem, IN
  • Changing River Levels
  • Six Mile Island and the Federal Mooring Buoys?
  • Commercial Vessels and the Sailing Lines
  • Louisville Waterfront
  • Twelve Mile Island
  • Rope Swings
  • Entrance to Harrods Creek
  • Barges Cutting the Corners
  • Heading South through McAlpine Locks
  • Cincinnati Cruising

Commercial Activity in General:

The intent of this site is to help make our boaters safer and more knowledgable. In the interest of safety, I would recommend that boaters refrain from operating near any commercial activity that could potentially put themselves, their guests and their vessels in jeopardy.

Proposed Fleeting Plan at Six Mile Island

This topic deserves its own page! Click here for more information.

Cove at Six Mile Island (Utica)

This topic deserves its own page! Click here for more information.

Photo courtesy of Capt. Joe Frith

Cove at Bethlehem, IN

This topic deserves its own page, too! Click here for more information.

Changing River Levels

The level of the Ohio River is maintained at navigable depths through the controlled release of water by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If you are heading out for a night at anchor or beached aground, be sure to check this site for information on current river levels (link to left), as provided by the NOAA.

After a good rain to our north, you can expect to see levels increase, sometimes by as much as several feet per day. Conversely, be careful if you beach when the water levels are up, as they may drop and leave you sitting on mud. One boat reportedly spent an entire winter beached at Kentucky Lake for this very reason.

It is worth noting that since the Spring 2009 upgrades to McAlpine Locks, the river levels don't seem to rise as much after a rain. They now have increased throughput, so the current will still increase after a rain, but the levels don't change as frequently as in the past.

Here is a link to a description of how to interpret the NOAA hydrograph information: link

Six Mile Island and the Federal Mooring Buoys?

We received reports from distraught boaters from the weekends of June 28 and July 5th, 2008. Both weekends, commercial barges tied up very close to beached recreational boaters on Six Mile Island. On July 28th, a barge tied to a Federal Mooring Buoy and came within 100 yards of a beached houseboat. July 5th was a little different in that there were approximately eight boats beached along Six Mile Island, and a barge had a houseboat moved. Specifically, the barge was stopping for a crew change and provisioning. The houseboat's crew was in a dinghy, with only passengers on the houseboat. The barge signaled by horn, then, without VHF contact, called the LMPD to remove houseboat. The houseboat's owner was reached by cellphone, then, they returned and moved the boat off the shore and out of the way.

Louisville's recreational boaters have been using Six Mile Island for over thirty years to beach, so you can imagine the surprise from this recent activity. Boaters wrote us asking for opinions on the matter. For starters, here is an excerpt from the January, 2008 Chart #87:

Until this chart revision, these particular moorings were labels "Federal Mooring Buoys for Emergency Use." You may notice that the term "for Emergency Use" has been removed. Either way, according to several sources, these mooring buoys are available for use by commercial traffic at the discretion of their captains. Unlike us, they do not have as many options for stopping.

Some points that were raised, in no particular order:

  • The Federal Mooring System is for the exclusive use of commercial traffic on the waterways.
  • The captain of the (tow) had every right to use those moorings and choose which ones he wanted for whatever reason that he deemed necessary.
  • Could they have picked another mooring buoy? We are reminded that these folks are working, while we are playing.
  • If, however, the commercial operator acted aggressively or in such a manner as to jeopardize the safe departure of the houseboat from the beach, that complaint should go to the Coast Guard or to the Safety Officer for the barge line.
  • McAlpine Lock construction the delays have been more frequent within the last few years. The message to pleasure boaters is very clear: If you to wish to beach on six mile island, you may have to move if a commercial vessel wishes to use the moorings.
  • Monitor VHF ch. 13 for commercial traffic
  • What if the houseboat crew was drinking (somebody asked)? Do we want to go there? Consider keeping at least one person alert, in case of an emergency or a requirement to move the boat.

I know that this is not exactly what you wanted to hear; we're just laying out the information we've gathered. Captain George East adds the following:

  • "In my 25 plus years as a professional captain delivering boats all over Western Rivers, the Intercoastal Waterways and most of the major ports and harbors on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, I have found most commercial crews to be courteous and helpful to pleasure boats. Some have done favors for me that go above and beyond the norm. As usual there are always exceptions. Try to keep in mind when you are sharing the waterways with commercial vessels."

Commercial Vessels and the Sailing Lines

Revised October, 2009:

The above river chart segment, reprinted with permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, shows an example of the “Sailing Line.” This line is drawn by the Corps to depict the approximate center of the navigable channel. It will always be inside the channel markers, which are indicated by the red and green markers and buoys.

How do you use this line? Some sources recommend that you adhere to the line for the best protection from obstacles. That stands to reason. Other sources recommend adhering to the line during high water to lessen shore erosion.

We previously reported line represents the area that you can expect to find commercial barge traffic operating. WE WERE WRONG! Tow captains have reported that they operate within the channel and choose their course based upon wind and current conditions. Therefore, they can be anywhere within the channel!

Here is where safety comes to play: Pay attention to approaching towboats and barges. Their size may make them appear slow-moving, but at 10 knots or more, they will be close before you know it. Given that it can take up to a mile for some tows to stop, don’t operate or stop anywhere near their path.

Also, make sure that you have as a minimum a VHF Radio. If you're having a bad day and your engine isn't working, at least you can make a call on Channel 13 or 16, "This is the USS Minnow, we are unable to move under our own power, mile 603, approaching barge please acknowledge..." Tow captains should monitor both, but 13 would be your best bet for bridge-bridge communications.

For more information, visit our "Resources" tab to download river charts.

Louisville Waterfront

The following has been reprinted with permission from the Louisville Waterpark Development Corporation. Click here to for more information and to visit their website.

From June 1 to November 1, boaters may dock at the wharf at their own risk. No alcoholic beverages may be taken from or to a vessel while at the wharf. No rafting may occur to vessels tied to the wharf.

When approaching or leaving the wharf, check that the channel is free of traffic and cross the channel directly, taking the shortest path across. Please look for and stay clear of barge traffic.

The exact location of red markers may vary slightly from the line indicated on this map.

Twelve Mile Island (Revised 02/10)

"Is the area south of 12 Mile Island a No-Wake Zone?"

Because it is outside the main channel, the area makes for a wonderful place to spend a day, evening, or even weekend. Over 15 years ago, an effort was started to officially make the area a no-wake zone. Over the years, many of you have attended meetings, signed petitions and contributed to the "Twelve Mile Island No Wake Association." While the efforts have stalled at the regulatory level, our boating community still supports these efforts.

As a boater who enjoys the calm waters in that area, I do my best to respect other boaters out there. If I want to traverse the area on plane when there are boats there, I stay to the north side of the island, closer to the sailing line. A runabout going through the area can sometimes pass along the KY shore without causing too much wake at the other side. If you anchor to the north of the island, you are close to the sailing line, so don't be too surprised if you are waked by a towboat or don't get the same courtesy over there.

You may be saying to yourself, "OK, I have a PWC so my wake doesn't matter." Even a PWC or small ski boat creates enough wake to create discomfort for other boaters who are trying to relax in the sun, read a book or enjoy a meal. If you're coming through there and see boats at anchor, I would suggest showing respect by yielding a wide distance or slowing to a no-wake speed.

Just a reminder that as a boater, you are responsible for your own wake. The river is a small place where people get to know each other and recognize their boats after a short time, so please be safe and respect your fellow boaters.

February, 2010 Update: PortKY.com is continuing to help collect petitions to help seek the regulatory approval for change. If you haven't already, please complete a petition and send it to us using the instructions on the form: Petition

Please help make this area a permanent Special Anchorage No-Wake Zone!


Also at Twelve Mile Island:

Boaters should exercise caution at the north end of the island, as the barges that were there since the 1997 flood have been removed for scrap. There may still be some sharp metal and debris submerged in that area!

Above, the scrap operation at the north end of Twelve Mile Island, Summer 2010.

Rope Swings at Twelve and Eighteen Mile Islands

Above, the swing at Twelve Mile Island

What's the story with the rope swings at Twelve and Eighteen Mile Islands? Specifically, these have been hoisted by local boaters for recreation. I, myself, have been known in the past to race to the swing to be the first one there with the kids on a nice morning.

As it turns out , there have been numerous injuries associated with these swings, the most recent being on a weekend in late July, 2010 at Eighteen Mile Island. Unfortunately, any time you mix shallow water with a swing, you've got a set-up for an accident. It seems that the swings also re-appear every time they are taken down. Compounding matters, rescue services are not as readily available on the water when compared to your back yard.

Here is a link to an article prepared by Don Dahl, Assistant Chief, North Oldham Fire Dept. 18swing.pdf (184K). Hopefully you will strongly consider the hazards associated with these swings.

Entrance to Harrod's Creek

If you're unfamiliar with Harrods Creek, stay close to the Captain's Quarters docks as you enter the creek. At normal pool, you should see this sign sticking up on the upriver side. You can also note that the water color changes there, indicating shallow conditions.

Tows Cutting the Corners

Heading down the river from 18 Mile Island, there have been a few times where I found myself head-on with an upbound tow near the KY side in the area of Mile 587. This area features a rather large bend in the river. On more than one occasion, including a few night runs, I found myself altering course to the KY side, far from the Sailing Line, only to get squeezed along the KY shore by the tow.

Looking at "the big picture" (above), it's easy to see why a commercial operator would want to cut the corner and save some time and fuel. As we mentioned above, the sailing line only approximates the middle of the navigable channel, and you'll find commercial traffic anywhere within that channel.

If you have any doubt as to a towboat's intentions in a narrow channel, keep in mind that you can call the tow captain on Ch. 13 to let him know you're there and coordinate side you'll be passing on (the "one" or the "two"). More importantly, a radio call eliminates any question on his part whether you are situationally aware of his position and direction.

Heading South through McAlpine Locks

Just a reminder to thoroughly review the river chart before heading south through McAlpine Locks. It is a trip worth checking out. See "Featured Articles" for information on the trip and another article on "Locking Through").

Note that just past downtown, the channel becomes vary narrow under the bridge prior to entering the Portland Channel. Consult the USACE charts for more detail.

Below, the view from the Portland Channel looking upriver toward downtown. Review USCG Rules of the Road for operations in a small channel. Specifically, I would recommend that you give the barges room and coordinate your passing on VHF ch. 13.

Heading North past River's Edge (Charlestown)

Above, a picture and a plea from River's Edge Marina. They have been doing well thanks to good customer service and a good product, and appreciate our business.

Bob Conrad asked me to pass along that boaters passing by, especially in larger cruisers and houseboats, should consider their wakes, even from the other side of the river. Their structure is a pontoon arrangement mounted to vertical pilings, and it gets beat up pretty badly by passing boats, often dumping merchandise from their store shelves.

The large piling to the right in the above picture was new and completely round last year. You can see the dents and damage caused by wakes of passing boats. If you want to experience the rocking and rolling for yourself, I'd suggest having a lunch or dinner at their picnic tables on a weekend--you'll witness the power of wakes first hand.

Cincinnati Cruising

If you happen to visit Cincinnati, be aware that unlike KY rules that state you should be at no-wake speeds within 100' of the shoreline, the Ohio rule is 300'. This is being enforced in the "bridges" area of downtown Cincinnati. This area is narrow, and it's easy to get dinged by the authorities there.

If you visit a large event in Cincinnati such as RiverBend, be aware that they sometimes establish a no-wake zone as long as 18 miles. Check with local sources for more information.


Check back for future updates...

-Capt. Eric



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