The Challenge: Boat Traffic

| May 28, 2013 | 3 Comments

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“We’re used to back home in Hawaii the canoes having priority. Here, it’s like a like a flea on a dog. Everybody else is the big boss.”
– Kekoa Cramer . Team Primo

New York Harbor is one of the largest natural harbors in the world. It is the busiest port on the East Coast accounting for over $200 billion in shipping cargo a year, features an extensive network of sightseeing and ferry routes, has three separate Cruise terminals and countless recreational and pleasure craft. Needless to say, New York Harbor is a very busy place. We have already determined the unique challenges of the tides, the seawall and the effect of the Staten Island Ferry on the Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge. Today, we focus on the traffic, the types of boats that ply the water and the rules that outrigger canoes must follow amidst the chaos of New York Harbor.

Unlike the majority of the world, the rules of New York Harbor calls for all commercial traffic to have right-of-way over pleasure craft regardless of size and power. That rule puts the outrigger canoe into what can be exciting situations. Imagine having a race of high performance cars on the streets of Manhattan where no traffic is shut down…now imagine that happening on the water. When up against a commercial boat (which pretty much means everything larger than the canoe that carries paying people or cargo) all outrigger canoes must adjust course and speed to cross or pass astern. That is, if the safety boats don’t stop the race as has happened on numerous occasions in the past. The main point here is that the larger boats will not stop and steerspeople should always be aware of what is in front and behind them at all times.

The racers will get the opportunity to see the entire cross section of watercraft during the race. Increased access to water due to groups like Hudson River Park have shown an increase in human-powered boat traffic like kayaks, surf skis, stand-up paddlers and, of course, outrigger canoes. The Bradley Lightning is shown in the above graphic in black.

Moving up in size are the many boats from the Fire Department of NY, NY Police Department, United States Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security boats that patrol the waterways. Shown in the graphic above is the Fire Department’s Fireboat 343 which, named after the number of FDNY firefighters who died in the attacks of 9/11 and built from steel salvaged from the World Trade Center, is the largest fireboat in the world.

There are ten ferry companies servicing eight ferry terminals. These include ships serving tourists like the Circle Line sightseeing boats and the Statue of Liberty ferry boats. Commuter ferries are also common with many high speed ferries connecting Manhattan to areas all around New York Harbor. One of the largest of them all is the Staten Island Ferry’s MV Spirit of America with a capacity of 4500 passengers and 40 vehicles.

While permanently moored at Pier 86, the Intrepid Air Space and Sea Museum is a much recognized fixture on the Hudson River. A former World War II Essex-class aicraft carrier, the 872 foot long ship most notably houses the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a Concorde supersonic jet, the Growler spy submarine and countless aircraft in it’s collection.

Finally, there are 3 cruise ship terminals in New York Harbor. Just up the river from the Intrepid is the Manhattan Cruise Terminal where several cruise ships dock every weekend throughout the course of the summer. The largest of these ships is the Norwegian Breakaway and the Norwegian Gem, the latter of which docks the morning of the race. The large draws of the cruise ships allow for the potential to surf their wakes when making their slow crawl to the cruise ship terminal.

Boat traffic in New York Harbor is best described as abundant. Every type of craft is plying the small area of New York Harbor. Keep your eyes open in every direction, abide by the rules and regulations and enjoy the unique experience of paddling amongst the variety of large and iconic ships that share our waterways.


The Challenge Series is written by New York Outrigger Head Coach Keith Tsang. His insights are drawn from over ten years of paddling and steering the New York and New Jersey waterways.

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