DC Fireworks Debacle

This report comes in from Chris Rock, a long time boater on the Potomac River:

While the Potomac River in DC is known for its great fireworks display, it is also viewed by many as the most dangerous time of the year to operate a boat. Many avoid the area during the July 4 celebration with safety concerns due to the volume of boats and the risk that some operators may be intoxicated.

Like most places, Washington, D.C. has laws prohibiting the operation of a watercraft while “impaired” or “under the influence” of alcohol, however it is permissible to consume alcohol while anchored or moored. This typically allows hundreds of boaters with accommodations to remain safe by remaining moored or anchored out until the morning of July 5.

This year, around 10PM on the night of July 4, either the Washington Metropolitan Police Department and/or the US Coast Guard Mid-Atlantic region made the decision to put thousands at risk by issuing an order that no boat shall be allowed to remain moored or anchored overnight. It is unclear at what level the decision was made, or how far in advance the law enforcement agencies knew about this, but officers were more than willing to issue citations to anyone who refused to comply.

One captain asked if Safe Harbor, a legal provision that provides protection from legal liability or other penalties when certain criteria is met, would be issued to complying vessels which had no persons under the legal limit of .08 BAC. The response received from both the USCG and MPD vessels in the area was, “We are all adults. Just find someone sober who can more your vessel to either Three Sisters or to the Washington Channel.” Both of these options require operators to move around 2-3 miles, or 20-30 minutes around dozens of other vessels in complete darkness, in a very narrow channel before they can drop anchor again.

For as long as anyone can remember, the anchorage zones between the Arlington Memorial Bridge and the 14th Street Bridge have been a safe place to anchor. In the past several years, well defined zones have been established to ensure Fire, Police, and Coast Guard vessels can provide the quickest responses to emergencies, and this year was no different. A review of the official regulations posted on their website makes no mention that boaters should be required to relocate after the fireworks show, so the big question is:

How or why was this decision made?

While the mass relocation seems to have occurred with no serious incidents, it is yet to be understood WHY the decision was made, placing all attendees in serious danger, especially considering the fact that anchoring there is legal 365 days a year.

If you were involved in this debacle, you may want to lodge a complaint. Send your email to BNM@USCG.MIL. Feel free to mention your personal safety issues that this ill-conceived and unpublished policy caused. These emails are parsed and tracked, so they can’t just sweep it under the rug. This must be addressed so that it never happens again.