The signal to request a draw opening is one prolonged (4 to 6 second) blast on the horn or whistle followed by one short blast (1 second). "On demand" bridge tenders respond with the same signal if they are about to open or the five short danger signal if not (also used when a bridge is about to close). Most Florida bridges now monitor Channel 09 VHF — NOT 16! Hailing them this way is easier on everyone's ears. But keep in mind radios are not a requirement; if you don’t get an answer on channel 09, use the horn. (But if the bridge is on a restricted schedule and you signal at any other time, you just may be ignored.) Even with VHF confirmation, the bridge tender will still sound the one prolonged—one short signal just prior to raising the span. When several bridges are close together (such as on some rivers), each must be signaled or hailed individually.
Rules are meant to make the whole process as painless as possible for everyone involved — you, the bridge tender, other skippers and, yes, the people on land. Do it right and no one is terribly inconvenienced. Do it wrong and people on land (and they do outnumber us) will only become aggravated and press for more bridge restrictions. Give the signal at a reasonable distance from the bridge — close enough to be heard, far enough to allow the tender to respond. Signal too soon or slow too much and you’ll just have to wait longer because a good tender (and there are many) won’t open the draw until you are in the right position to advance on through. Let the current, and its direction — whether it is pushing you toward or away —be your guide for maintaining a good waiting distance.
Once the lights flash and the gates start down, be ready to move. Most boats don’t need the full opening, so don’t wait for it unless you do (or the bridge tender requests that you wait until the span is fully open). Try to be under way and through as soon as it has lifted enough for you to clear. The object is to have the bridge open for the shortest time possible. But don’t be in such a hurry you forget safety. Remember, "normal safe operation" through bridges is idle speed or bare steerageway. But, currents near bridge openings are often strong so bare steerage may require more throttle than needed farther away from the bridge. Try not to hog the center unless your tall mast needs it. Aim for two-way traffic, but the Rules of the Road and common sense say boats that are less maneuverable — that is, with the current on their sterns — should go through first.
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July 4, 2014