Giants on the Ohio River

WHEELING – Consol Energy towboat operator Brian Loring said when it takes nearly three-quarters of a mile to stop a loaded barge, safety has to be the main thing on his mind.

And that is something recreational boaters and those using Jet Skis on the Ohio River should keep in mind as well, he noted.

Loring was just one of dozens of employees of Consol Energy Inc. and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who took part in a special “circle of awareness” demonstration at the Pike Island Locks & Dam this past week to celebrate National Safe Boating Week and to kick off the summer recreation season with a message to the public about safe boating.

A public tour was provided aboard Consol’s Tom Hoffman towboat, before dozens of local first responders, marina owners and local media representatives were provided with a safety demonstration and a nearly three-hour ride aboard the powerful towboat from Pike Island to a Consol Energy docking area near the Shoemaker Mine in Benwood.

As part of the “circle of awareness” demonstration, a Wheeling Police Marine Patrol unit circled the towboat and barge, which was more than 1,000 feet in length – demonstrating the potential for “blind spots” where towboat operators can lose sight of recreational boaters or jet skiers from the pilot house.

Even with the police boat positioned more than 1,200 feet directly in front of the barge, it was barely visible to the towboat operator as he departed from the Pike Island facility.

Loring said there are times when boaters and Jet Skiers will cut in front of a barge that is traveling at full speed. He said while the summer months make for a “more nervous time of the year,” safety is on his mind year-round.

“You’ve got a lot of motor boats running around during the summer months. … I would like to see everybody on the same page … and that they understand the situation we’re in and we understand the situation they’re in,” he added.

Pike Island Lockmaster Jim Kirchner said the main reason for the demonstration was to try and enhance safety awareness for recreational boaters when they’re traveling up and down the river – especially when a barge is nearby.

“We want to give the point of view from the pilot house out to the public to let everyone see what they see and enhance that safety message,” he added.