James River tugs & barges

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n4jri

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Been continuing with my maritime project more close to home. Watching barge traffic on the James River and trying to familiarize. Here's what I have so far:

The tug Miss Gill pushing (and once pulling) the container barge Richmond Express - docking ops at Richmond Marine Terminal consistently on 156.725 (Ch-74A)

The tug Jack Holland making runs from Luck Stone South Richmond Plant, to Luck Stone Distribution Center in Chesapeake. Consistently uses 156.325 (Ch-66) when docking here.

The tug Ellie J. (which usually visits Honeywell AdvanSix) delivering a barge to Chesterfield Power Station. Using 157.075 (Ch-81A) for docking ops.

(these first three are all with Norfolk Tug)

The tug Sea Robin pushing the tanker barge Randy King - docking ops at Honeywell AdvanSix in Hopewell on 156.375 (Ch-67). Also used this channel to communicate with off-ship crew members.

The tug Ross Sea pushing the tanker barge Chesapeake from Regional Enterprises in Hopewell. Undocking ops on 156.450 (Ch-09). There were also comms which appeared to be between the Chesapeake and Regional on 151.5125 (69.3). (I suspect the freq may actually have been 151.505--my PSR600 clone likes 151.5125, but my TRX-1 doesn't. Might also be an FM vs. NFM issue)

(these last 2 tug/barge sets are with Kirby Inland, who took over Allied Transportation)

The tug Chandler B., (Blaha Towing) was hailed on 156.925 by the Sea Robin, who required assistance in docking the Randy King at AdvanSix. The Chandler B. is one of three tugs based at Port Weanack (adjoining Shirley Plantation) Am thinking this might be a normal working freq for them. While only one tug is used to dock the Sea Robin, two are generally used to dock bulk carriers that call at AdvanSix.

So there's my contribution of information.

Now my basic question. It's clear that all these vessels use something to communication between pilots and deckhands, and I know that the usage is consistent with the first two vessels. But they're also heard consistently at the same destinations. I don't believe that any of these channels are specifically licensed, so I'm sure that use is informal. But when deciding what I'm hearing, which should I attach the frequency to--the vessel, or the destination? (the learning process is slow here because the vessels often travel in the wee hours)

I'll also note here that I've taken care to do constant marine searches (and searches of common low-power freqs) when encountering any of these vessels underway, but have heard no traffic from them except on 156.650 (Ch-13) and 156.800 (Ch-16) when not in port. I did note today that there was some conversation with the Ellie J. on 156.650 about how to maneuver its barge into the slip at Chesterfield Power Station. Don't know if that's the barge talking to the power station, or the pilot discussing it with the two deckhands who were at the front of the barge to help guide it. The conversation took place while the vessel was still 15-20 minutes out from its destination.

There's another op where Vulcan materials is staging barges at Port Weanack for shipment down the river. However, I doubt that it generates much radio traffic apart from the usual 'security' calls on Ch-13.

I'd be interested to know if anyone is familiar with these operations. I've learned a lot from AIS tracking, but there are still questions. In fact, everything I learn brings more questions.

73/Allen (N4JRI)
 

W4UVV

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Allen,

FYI for many years I have heard occasional daytime HT comms on 154.5700 mhz. from what I concluded either was a boat or barge crew docked at Hopewell. Only crew member's first names are used and comms relate mostly to maintenance and/or performance issues. One guess is it is a barge owned by Allied Chemical (Honeywell?) in Hopewell which has a facility adjacent to the James River and the barge makes runs to/from the Norfolk area..

John
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n4jri

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Allen,

FYI for many years I have heard occasional daytime HT comms on 154.5700 mhz. from what I concluded either was a boat or barge crew docked at Hopewell. Only crew member's first names are used and comms relate mostly to maintenance and/or performance issues. One guess is it is a barge owned by Allied Chemical (Honeywell?) in Hopewell which has a facility adjacent to the James River and the barge makes runs to/from the Norfolk area..

John
W4UVV
The Norfolk barge appeared to be due while I was down there on Saturday, but the boat that usually pushes it was carrying what appeared to be an empty barge for Chesterfield Power Station etc. If they're using handhelds capable of 154.57 and freqs like that, it could indicate that they keep a limited number of marine channels for onboard use. It's a slow process learning about this particular subject, but hopefully enlightenment will come over time.

73/Allen (N4JRI)
 

W4UVV

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Doubtful

The Norfolk barge appeared to be due while I was down there on Saturday, but the boat that usually pushes it was carrying what appeared to be an empty barge for Chesterfield Power Station etc. If they're using handhelds capable of 154.57 and freqs like that, it could indicate that they keep a limited number of marine channels for onboard use. It's a slow process learning about this particular subject, but hopefully enlightenment will come over time.

73/Allen (N4JRI)
--------------
Allen,

I doubt your scenario is what's happening. In my opinion, using HTs for all Marine navigational comms would be a very bad idea and potentially dangerous. Years ago, I and my youngest son were invited to go fishing with a friend who docked his boat at a Va. Beach facility near the Bay Bridge. He first tried to call another fishing boat on 156.8000 mhz. It was worse than CB Ch. 19. The heterodyning plus one talking over the other never stopped. He switched to another channel to hear where others supposedly were catching fish. We never caught anything.

Although Cobra makes a 8 watt standard vhf Marine channel radio, I can't imagine a commercial boat pushing a barge using only a HT and not a 25 Watt radio also available for navigational comms.

MURS HTs are a relatively cheap option for crew comms. There are no 157 mhz. frequencies available for on board comms licensing. Maybe you were referring to the small group of the four 457 mhz. low power frequencies which require a license.

My guess is a basic 25 watt Marine channeled radio is mounted in the pusher barge boat's bridge used for navigation comms.

John
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n4jri

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Allen,



I doubt your scenario is what's happening. In my opinion, using HTs for all Marine navigational comms would be a very bad idea and potentially dangerous. Years ago, I and my youngest son were invited to go fishing with a friend who docked his boat at a Va. Beach facility near the Bay Bridge. He first tried to call another fishing boat on 156.8000 mhz. It was worse than CB Ch. 19. The heterodyning plus one talking over the other never stopped. He switched to another channel to hear where others supposedly were catching fish. We never caught anything.



Although Cobra makes a 8 watt standard vhf Marine channel radio, I can't imagine a commercial boat pushing a barge using only a HT and not a 25 Watt radio also available for navigational comms.



MURS HTs are a relatively cheap option for crew comms. There are no 157 mhz. frequencies available for on board comms licensing. Maybe you were referring to the small group of the four 457 mhz. low power frequencies which require a license.



My guess is a basic 25 watt Marine channeled radio is mounted in the pusher barge boat's bridge used for navigation comms.



John

W4UVV


You're misreading my scenario. All vessels are clearly using a mounted radio for navigation. However I believe the law requires Ch13 be kept at low power except when necessary to increase range.

But at least some deckhands have portables for communicating with the pilot--and those portables may not require the full spectrum of marine channels. They would be in use on marine channels for docking/mooring ops (what I'm usually hearing) but operators might want something else more quiet for dealing with labor intensive cargos such as heated or pressurized liquids--what was going on at Water St. Of course, Regional may have radios of its own for coordination between vessel crews and dock crews. This is the nature of what I was hearing on 151.5125 [69.3]. I was just lucky enough to get down there at the right time. You may actually be the solver of that mystery over time.

This morning I saw that a seagoing ship had crossed the James River Bridge, so I drove down to City Point in hopes of catching the Oslo Bulk 4. Barely did before I had to leave for work.

Two Blaha tugs assisted it using 156.35 at first, then switching to 156.725. The tug op completed at 1:30p, and 467.525 immediately lit up with foreign language traffic, just in time to throw lines and start up the capstans. This freq is the partner to 457.525 on the European channel plan. Give it a listen over the next couple days.

73/ Allen (N4JRI)







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hill

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In one of your posts you said on tug wasn't​ using channel 81A. This channel​ is a USCG allocation and do think you heard a tug on it, but it is not a commercial marine channel.
 

n4jri

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In one of your posts you said on tug wasn't using channel 81A. This channel is a USCG allocation and do think you heard a tug on it, but it is not a commercial marine channel.


Definitely the case. Was picked up by one radio scanning all marine channels and another in search mode. Was watching the op from a public boat ramp just downstream. Lots of transmissions, so ample chance to determine it wasn't image, overload, etc.

I was surprised. This is a Norfolk-based tug that comes up the river about every 3 days. Years ago you could hear USCG Marine Safety Office using this channel.

73/Allen (N4JRI)


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W4UVV

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I imagine local James River ship owners still prefer MURS HTs for their lower prices for on board crew comms. But that could soon change. Cobra's new Marine HT now at the $80 range and becoming competitive.

John
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n4jri

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I imagine local James River ship owners still prefer MURS HTs for their lower prices for on board crew comms. But that could soon change. Cobra's new Marine HT now at the $80 range and becoming competitive.



John

W4UVV


I think it may have changed already. I'm scanning these folks from pretty close range LOOKING for MURS and similar off-the-shelf radio frequencies. That's how I found 151.5125 on Saturday. And I found 467.525 pretty quickly this morning. If I'm missing anything on these vessels it's probably not MURS or other standard cheapo stuff. As for 151.5125, it may belong to Regional. You'll probably find out about that before I do.


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