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TVA River Neighbors
MAY 2005


Sideview crew helps boaters navigate safely

The boat itself is nice — outfitted with all the latest technology and comfortable accommodations for the four-person crew. But this vessel isn’t designed for pleasure boating. The 88-foot-long Sideview is TVA’s navigation service boat, and her crew has an important job: helping boaters find their way around more easily and avoid hazardous or shallow-water areas.

  image of boat  
  From radar to computerized charts, the Sideview boasts all the electronic technology needed by the crew in their task of inspecting and maintaining navigation aids along the Tennessee River system.  

Around 2,000 navigation aids (64 kb, PDF), including buoys, daymarks, daybeacons, and fingerboards, mark secondary channels in main-river and tributary reservoirs. These channels connect marinas and public boat launching ramps with the commercial navigation channel, which is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The commercial channel provides safe passage for towboats and barges, The Sideview crew assists the Coast Guard by maintaining safety landing markers, buoy reference ranges, and reservoir pool gauges.

Two times a year, the Sideview travels the entire length of the river, checking the location of and visually inspecting navigation aids. All along the way, the crew painstakingly hauls every single buoy out of the water, checks its condition, and makes any necessary repairs. Time, wave action, and occasional run-ins with careless boaters take their toll; aids must be periodically repainted or replaced. Vegetation obscuring signage must be cut down. Danger buoys are placed in hazardous waters. Soundings are taken prior to the permitting of commercial docks to ensure an adequate depth at minimum pool levels.

Although the tasks involved are pretty routine, you won’t catch any of the four crew members of the Sideview complaining. These guys know how lucky they are to be out on the water 10 months out of the year. They have a chance to get to know the Tennessee River in a way that few other people do. Between them, Captain Larry Dixon and his co-pilot Gary Faulkner have a total of 56 years’ experience on the Sideview and its predecessor, the Pellissippi. Along with deckhands Tim Buckley and Chad Gower, they’ve seen a lot during that time.

The crew played a part in helping to recover a professional angler’s bass boat, which sank during a tournament in Decatur, Alabama. They were also the first folks to reach the wreckage of a small aircraft that crashed and sank just below Watts Bar Dam and assisted the Federal Aviation Administration with the subsequent investigation. They docked at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, and the vessel itself served as an exhibit on navigation.

The boat is well-equipped to handle almost any task. From radar to computerized charts, the Sideview boasts all the electronic technology needed to get the job done. Differential GPS is used to pinpoint the exact locations of buoys, and a computer database lists buoy specifications. In addition, the vessel was constructed to be environmentally friendly; it’s quiet running and doesn’t discharge bilge water or sewage into the river.

There’s a great deal of camaraderie among the crew members, as might be imagined among a group of guys who spend as much time around each other as these fellows do. They are quick to joke with each other about everything from prowess at gin rummy to angling skills. Though each crew member has his own private sleeping quarters on board, they are otherwise together 24 hours a day during the workweek.

Dixon says that the hardest part of the job is the time spent away from home, coupled with the long hours of drive time from wherever the Sideview docks at the end of the workweek to the vessel’s home port in Muscle Shoals — and then back again in time to head out from the same location on Monday. But it’s worth it in his opinion: “We work hard, but we also enjoy our after-hours leisure time on the river,” he says. “There are a lot of guys out there that would pay to have my job.”

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