Boaters beware: Winter storms and ice have re-sculpted the seabed of the Indian River Bay. That means the U.S. Coast Guard has significantly changed the buoy configuration for boaters approaching the Indian River Inlet.
“It is a new traffic separation scheme. It’s nothing like the old one was,” said Tyler Pickrell, USCG operations officer, who is trying to educate the public because coastal Delaware has a significant part-time population.
Previously, when boaters entered the inlet from the Atlantic Ocean, they entered an S turn, which curved northward toward Massey Ditch and Rehoboth Bay, then curved southward again before straightening out to continue west toward the Indian River.
“Now you come in, you head directly south and you take what we’re calling ‘the ditch’ because there’s more water there for boaters to not run aground,” Pickrell said.
Moreover, boaters now need to keep red buoys on their starboard and green on their port as they return from the sea and motor inland. Also, the new junction buoy is closer to South Shore Marina and the actual inlet itself.
With the U.S. Coast Guard Station prominently overlooking the inlet and bay, Pickrell said they quickly realized that the weekend boaters were having trouble with the brand-new configuration.
“People are heading in the direction where they think they’re heading through the S ditch … and we’ve had a bunch of boats run aground,” Pickrell said.
At that point, sailors can hire a commercial boat towing company or wait for the tide to push them out. The Coast Guard only responds when there’s an emergency or medical problem involved.
“This is the recommended traffic zone. You’re recommended to take these buoys down the appropriate side and stay in the marked channel, and, even then, the shoals kind of stick out on either side,” Pickrell said. “I just want to stress extreme caution when operating back there, and using prudent speed.
“Go slow until you really know where the deep water is, pay attention to your depth sounder, and really understand the new routes,” he added. “The sandbars have shifted completely. Where the old S turn was, there’s no water there anymore. I want to say it’s about half a foot [deep] at low tide. … We’ve been dealing with this the whole winter.”
More buoys will likely be added to better mark the shallows and contain boating traffic, he said.
People will approach the inlet at the gated pair, buoys 11 and 12. They should be cautious with the sharp turns at the new buoys 15 and 16, he advised.
The reported changes only pertain to USCG’s federally maintained buoys. More buoys and channel markers are scattered through the waterways, placed by the State or private entities, such as those restaurants or yacht clubs might own.
Pickrell encouraged boaters to research buoy updates every season.
“I recommend practicing safe speeds, learn your areas and also check in with us, with their marinas, their yacht clubs and asking, ‘Have the buoys changed?’”
The area is presented on NOAA Chart 12216.
Boaters can purchase updated charts from retailers. Soon, the updated chart will be posted online at www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/12216.shtml (use exact capitalization when typing).
Updates are also being broadcast on Channel 22, the Coastal Guard-to-civilian radio channel.
The U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center has more resources online at https://navcen.uscg.gov.
By Laura Walter