The Tidal Delaware River presents a host of safety challenges for motor, sail, and paddling craft.
Be alert for big, fast ships especially in the shipping lane and anchorages. Large commercial boats traverse the shipping lane that runs the length of the tidal river (lane marked by green and red buoys). An unmarked shipping lane exists between the Walt Whitman and Ben Franklin bridges. These ships can be fast moving and cannot stop or slow down easily. Kayakers can paddle the main stem Tidal Delaware, but a high level of expertise is required to negotiate wakes, including those churned up by maneuvering tug boats. Small boats and paddlers crossing the river should know where the shipping lanes are, monitor ship traffic to be sure the lane is clear, and cross directly and expeditiously.
Ships and the tugs accompanying commercial boats generate large wakes. Paddlers should paddle head-on into wakes, not take them on the broadside.
Be aware of the changing tide; the river reverses its flow direction four times daily. Check tide charts when planning your trip. Paddlers should plan to paddle with the tide in one direction, and then paddle back to the starting point after the tidal current has switched direction. A high level of caution, planning, and experience is required to be sure that the tidal current is traveling with you from start to finish. Before you get on the river make sure you have clearly identified rest stops and emergency bailout locations along the way.
Look out for floating debris especially after heavy rain- trash, trees, etc. Boaters should stay out of the river during a big rain or thaw that raises water volumes and river debris such as logs and ice. Water quality may also be poor or even hazardous near combined stormwater-sewer overflow discharge points (large sewer pipes) after rainfall events.
Ports and Infrastructure
Much of the river is urbanized with ports and industry. River walls, piers, and bridge abutments may present obstacles.
Boaters negotiating powerful tides and currents may also face stiff headwinds that can both tire and chill.
Distance Restrictions and Homeland Security
Homeland security is an issue around bridges, ports, pipelines, and other facilities. Keep clear of security risk areas, and be prepared to communicate with Coast Guard, marine police, and other security personnel. Additional Coast Guard regulations restrict boaters from operating within prescribed distances from certain vessels. Maintain at least 500 yards distance from larger vessels, and get permission to come within 100 yards of naval vessels and escorted ships. In addition, boating is restricted on certain sections of the river during events such as firework displays, regattas, and specific work projects. Boaters are encouraged to carry marine radios and monitor VHF Channel 16.
Do not anchor in the shipping lane, at designated commercial anchorages, or under bridges. Other places to avoid include active port, industrial, and pipeline facilities. It is recommended that you maintain a 25 to 50 foot distance from such areas; do not tie into private piers.