The area from Mel Price lock and dam at Alton, IL down into the Chain of Rocks canal,  out of Lock 27 and through the downtown bridges,  all the way down to the mouth of the Meramec river is a very busy and dangerous area for a small fishing vessel.  There is alot of barge traffic in this area.  I would like to give you some tips to make you more aware and your fishing trip a little safer.  Towing vessels are restricted in maneuverability and constrained to the channel by their draft.  Towboats have to stay in the channel to keep from running aground.  It is best to
6.140HP M/V Donna Rushingwatch for them and give them the right of way.  They are not just being difficult when they blow their horn at you.  The last thing they want to see is you to get hurt.  It can take almost a mile for a towboat to stop in elevated river stages when traveling down with the current.  In a small fishing vessel you can go behind the buoys,  he cant.  When you are fishing around fleets of barges you have to be aware that small towboats called tugs may be shifting barges around in the fleet or landing on the fleet to tie a barge off.  The tugs in the harbor take barges to elevators and loading docks to get loaded and then bring them back to their fleets to put together into a tow for a larger boat to leave town with.  When a towboat or a tug has empty barges in front of them their visibility is extremely limited.  These empty tows can be a quarter mile long and cause a blind spot in front of the tow of up to a half mile.  They may not see you when you think they can.  If you are fishing above moored barges do not let yourself get carried down to the barges because when you land the current can swamp your boat and sweep you underneath them.  When you are anchored  in current below fleets of moored barges it is a good idea to keep an eye behind you.  Fleets can and have broke loose and if you turn around and see loaded barges floating down on you it is obviously a dire emergency.  The first thing i would do is cut the anchor line and get out of the way.  Harbor tugs also "drift" their fleets periodically.  This is where they shake the accumulated dritwood off the top of their fleets.  This can cause a large pile of logs to go floating down the river in your direction.   If a drift pile lands on your anchor line it can pull the bow of your boat down enough to swamp it. So it pays to watch your back when you are anchored in current around barges.      

1,550HP Harbor Tug        All commercial traffic monitors certain VHF radio channels for traffic and emergency purposes.  Vessels have to communicate with each other for meeting and passing purposes and this is done on VHF channel 13.  All vessels transiting the river will be on channel 13.  I am a huge advocate of having either a hand held or a stationary VHF radio mounted in your boat. The other channel that towboats standby on is 16.   This is a hailing and distress channel and is a direct link to the coast guard.  If you are stranded or in some kind of immediate trouble you can call the coast guard on this channel and ask for assistance.  If you call the Coast Gaurd you need to know where to tell them to find you.  Download River Charts here6,140 M/V Carol Ann ParsonageFor reference the Gateway Arch is about mile 180. You also need to know your general location if you need to hail a commercial vessel.  There are alot of vessels monitoring 13 and 16 so if you do end up having to call a commercial vessel you need to know the name of the vessel or the vessels position and direction of travel.  The name is always visible on both sides of the boat and on the stern.  The direction of travel is against the current or with the current.  Against the current is Upbound or Northbound.  With the current is Downbound or Southbound.  There is a certain sequence  to follow when hailing a vessel.  
                For example...If I  am fishing near the Cargill elevator on the Illinois shore below Eads Bridge and a tug is headed up river toward the elevator with an empty barge.  I might need to know if i'm in his way.  I can pick up my VHF radio and say on 13 "fishing vessel to upbound harbor tug headed in to Cargill elevator."  The tug will answer with the name of his tug which in this case will be Jackie Sue.  When he answers you now  know the name of the tug.  Then I'll say "fishing vessel to Jackie Sue.  I am the small craft anchored outside of the elevator.  Am I in your way?"  He will then tell you if you need to move or not.  It will make the pilot feel better to know he is in communication with you and if its possible he might then tell you that you dont have to move.  A lot of the hard feelings between commercial vessels and fishing boats comes from a lack of communication and non conveyance of intentions.  
            If a vessel is blowing his horn at you it will be in certain sequences and they each stand for something different.   The one that is important to you is 5 short blasts.  This means you are in immediate danger of a collision (getting ran over) and even if you do have a radio it would be wise to move first before anything else.  I am guilty of just blowing one long blast at a fishing vessel myself.  This is technically not the proper signal but just a friendly reminder that I am in the area and am worried you might be in danger.  I want you to be aware of my presence and act accordingly.   If you are fishing around any kind of barge taffic and you hear any kind of horn you should deffinetly take notice and take quick action.  A few more VHF channels to know are the lock channels.  Mel Price is on ch14 and Lock 27 is on ch12.  Same hailing sequence..."fishing vessel to lock 27."  Hope this helps and makes your fishing trip a little safer.  If you have any questions about any of this feel free to contact me. Capt Rick

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