Tampa Bay Estuary Program Tampa Bay Estuary Program


Boating in Tampa Bay

Enjoy Boating in Tampa Bay

Pleasure boats share bay waters with modern ships that haul cargo from all over the world. Awareness of the constraints under which these vessels operate is the best protection against dangerous encounters. From the cockpit of an open boat, Tampa Bay looks almost endless, but looks can be deceiving. While quite large in terms of the square miles it covers, the bay is also very shallow, which restricts navigation for larger vessels. The average ship that calls on Tampa Bay is longer than two football fields. A ship this size crosses vast oceans with ease, but its ability to maneuver and stop is severely reduced upon entering the narrow confines of harbors such as Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay is home to several ports; one of these, the Port of Tampa, consistently ranks among the nation's 10 largest in terms of trade activity. On an average day, more than 14 million gallons of petroleum products and many other hazardous materials pass in and out of Tampa Bay on ships as large as 48,000 tons. Some of the vessels carrying these products clear the bottom by as little as four feet and may be restricted to channels as narrow as 200 feet. Most require a mile or more to come to a complete stop. The pilots that guide these vessels in Tampa Bay need your cooperation:

  • Stay clear of the main ship channel when large ships are approaching. Views from large ships may be obstructed up to three-fourths of a mile away.
  • Use VHF Channel 13 for bridge-to-bridge communication with commercial ships in case of emergency. Keep transmissions short and simple, and never tie up the frequency.
  • Exercise caution when boating around ships or tugs involved in docking. Their prop-wash can easily capsize small vessels or send them into the path of oncoming traffic.
  • Be sure that your boat is visible at night and in poor weather conditions.
  • Main ship channels appear in blue on the chart of Tampa Bay.

YOU CAN HELP! To keep boating safe and enjoyable:

  • Learn and observe the rules of the waterway
  • Wear your life jacket
  • Stay sober
  • Know how to swim
  • Know the limits of your boat and your boating abilities
  • Keep your boat in good repair
  • Tell others where you are going
  • Be aware of changing weather conditions
  • Respect the rights of others
  • Check all your equipment before each trip

DID YOU KNOW?: The Coast Guard Auxiliary offers a free boat inspection to advise boaters of state and federal safety requirements. Violations found during these courtesy exams will not be reported to authorities.

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