The Working Waterfront

Mariners call for navigational aid maintenance

Pingree writes letter to support concerns

By Tom Groening
Posted 2023-10-23
Last Modified 2023-10-23

Lighthouses and buoys aren’t the only navigational aids on which mariners rely for safe transit. Structures known as day shapes or beacons, often built on ledges, also warn boaters away from danger, and some mariners have complained that as they deteriorate, the Coast Guard is failing to maintain them.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, representing Maine’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Penobscot Bay, has written a letter to federal agencies opposing the decision to “disestablish” two such navigational aids on what are deemed hazardous areas near the Fox Island Thorofare.

Pingree lives on North Haven, and the Maine State Ferry Service boats pass Drunkard and Fiddler ledges, both of which had day shapes.

John Worth of Belfast, a 40-year veteran captain on various vessels who is a fill-in captain for the Maine State Ferry Service and often works on the North Haven and Vinalhaven runs, wrote the Coast Guard about the collapse of the navigational aids, naming the “abandonment of the day shape on Drunkard Ledge” as his most immediate concern.

The Coast Guard abandoned this navigational aid, Worth wrote, concluding it “does not have any navigational significance.” Worth argued this is incorrect:

“In heavy weather, creating high winds and high seas, the Maine State Ferry Service vessels often must take alternate routes [rather] than the straightest route, to maintain vessel safety. It is precisely in bad weather conditions that a day shape like the one formerly on Drunkard Ledge is most important.”

Worth also urged the Coast Guard to work to reestablishment the Maine and New Hampshire Port Safety Forum. He also noted he hadn’t seen a solicitation by the Coast Guard for public comment on abandoning the navigational aids.

Several have fallen into disrepair, he wrote, including” the spindle on Dogfish Ledge and the day shape on Shag Rock. Further, I understand that it is USCG policy that the monument on Fiddlers Ledge will no longer be maintained.”

Pingree, in her letter, asserted that “the day beacons and their radar reflectors are routinely used as a visual signal, and for radar location, to help boats navigate Penobscot Bay while avoiding the dangerous ledges below, which are especially difficult to locate during high tide. These day beacons are a vital navigational tool for the North Haven ferry, which safely transported approximately 55,000 passengers and over 20,000 vehicles in 2021.”

Worth and Pingree’s concerns have been supported by Dan McNichol, port captain for the ferry service; Jon Emerson of North Haven, a member of the ferry service advisory board; and by the Penobscot Bay & River Pilots Association, Worth noted.