The Slow Pass

There are faster boats and slower boats on the ICW and the ICW in most areas is quite narrow. This means boats of both types are in close proximity when the faster boats overtake the slower boats. There is a protocol for handling this procedure. Typically this begins with some discussion on the VHF radio. Boats typically hail each other on Channel 16 and then move to another channel for a more involved discussion. Vessels approaching from the stern will hail the slower forward vessel and indicate they would like to pass on either the port or starboard side. The slower forward vessel will acknowledge and re-state the procedure and confirm that they will support the effort. The slower vessel typically travelling at 6 knots or so will slow down even further. The faster vessel approaches quickly from behind and cuts their speed at the last minute to reduce their wake. Once past, the faster vessel returns to their normal traveling speed – often 10 -20 knots or more.

Executed artfully this procedure minimizes the impact on both vessels. I have observed that 95% of the time the Captains of both vessels work hard to cooperate.

The subject of the slow pass and how artfully (or not) and with what degree of expertise and consideration that a Captain manages the maneuver is the single biggest subject of discussion on the VHF radio. “The slower vessel did not slow down enough..”. “You are aware it is called a slow pass, right?” “I am reporting you to the Coast Guard.” ” I will see to it that you will never get another job as a delivery Captain.” “Thanks for the wake Captain.. you just spilled juice all over my kids.” “That was excellent, Captain.”  “Captain, I am sorry that was not my best work.”  These are just a few of the transmissions I have heard.

There is love, waterway rage, admiration, respect, tension, resolution, and friendship. It is like listening to spoken word poetry at times.

My personal favorite came when observing a white cabin cruiser motor boat named INTERMEZZO approach a beautiful trawler named MUSIC. INTERMEZZO (from New York by the way) clearly had very little experience and was attempting pass in a no wake zone and under a bridge as well.  A double foul. The Captain and crew looked every bit like characters from the Godfather movie. The Captain of MUSIC tried repeatedly to hail INTERMEZZO as had several previous boats. Finally the INTERMEZZO responded with a classic –

“You Talking To Me?” They are probably already in Miami.

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