Lets say that you were in a floatplane (whether it be Terry's floating Cub or a big ol' Martin Mars) and the only otherwise-reasonably-suitable landing spot in the waterway where you are trying to go, or the taxi route from your landing site to your destination dock for that matter, is crossed by a movable bridge (aka drawbridge) that will not clear your aircraft when the drawspan is closed. How would you, the floatplane pilot, signal the bridgekeeper to open the bridge so you can land/taxi through the navigable channel provided, especially considering you don't have a foghorn to signal the keeper with, and the keeper only has a marine VHF radio, which you may not have?

Assume that the drawspan can clear your plane when open (always true for bascule and swing spans; landing under a liftspan would be rather challenging though), and that the bridge is operated by a local bridgetender 24/7 (lesser-used drawspans often require prior notice, and there are also remote-control drawbridges out there that use sensors and/or CCTV to indicate the presence of marine traffic to a bridge operator sitting far away).

  • $\begingroup$ Generally you wouldn't land in such a direction as to have your landing run take you under the bridge (and smaller bridges are often low-speed or no-wake areas). I lived briefly in Bayville, and someone in Mill Neck had a floatplane: They would usually land in Oyster Bay or the sound, then sail back into Mill Neck Creek under the Bayville bridge (which had to be opened at high tide for the tail to safely clear). $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Sep 8, 2015 at 5:34

1 Answer 1


When I sail we use simple air horns to signal the local drawbridges. Something like this one is usually kept on the boat. I see no reason not to keep one in your float plane if you anticipate need to hail a draw bridge or just for general marine hailing. If memory serves, it's one long blast (4-6 seconds) followed by a quick one. Similarly you could opt to carry a hand held marine radio in your plane.

Now all of that is assuming you knew you were going to encounter a bridge. If you did not plan for it then you have a few options. If memory serves some (if not all) of the bridges have land lines and if you have a cell phone you may be able to call them (provided you can find the number). If you are flying a float plane you may (should?) have a PFD on board. Many PFDs have whistles attached. This, in theory should suffice to hail the bridge. The bridge attendant may see you floating there and open the bridge as well.

You can always try, um, yelling at the guy...

Now what if the bridge is broken, there is a long train stuck on it and the attendant stepped out for a cigar break and has no intention of returning for a while? You are in the end of the day in a float plane and you have a unique ability that most ships don't have, you can go over the bridge...

  • $\begingroup$ Your memory is correct: One long blast, followed by one short blast (within 3 seconds). The same response from the bridge tender indicates the bridge will be opened. 5 short blasts from the tender is a "No Open", at which point you'll wish you had that marine radio to find out if you should give up on getting through (the bridge is busted) or heave to for a short delay (e.g. the at the Reynolds Channel bridge the railroad has priority over marine traffic for some odd reason, and they won't open if there's a train coming - usually within 10 minutes). $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Sep 8, 2015 at 5:46
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    $\begingroup$ @voretaq7 - that "odd reason" probably being that even a superheavy cargo ship like a container liner or oil barge can stop faster than a train. 10 minutes really isn't too long a time to bring an 80-car gravel convoy from a 50mph mainline cruise to a complete stop in anything less than an emergency. Then, once it's stopped, you have to get it going again. But, that was probably sarcasm :) $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Sep 8, 2015 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithS It's odd in this case because this is a commuter railroad: even our "freight" trains are typically 15 cars or less (and none use that line). Also the Long Beach station the bridge serves is less than a mile from the bridge so trains are doing about 5MPH by the time they get to the bridge. (Counterintuitively the Broad Channel drawbridge that the NYC subway goes over is a marine priority bridge: Subway service to Far Rockaway is at the mercy of any sailor with a tall mast.) $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Sep 8, 2015 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm. Probably something to do with a need to check and double-check that the rails are back in alignment after cycling the bridge, since there's a significant life safety impact (even at 5MPH). There may also be issues with the system that powers the trains along the bridge, where if the bridge is raised, the circuit along the rail between the two nearest stations is cut, so if anything's in that segment at the time the bridge can't be raised. Nothing that more tech can't fix, but we're talking about a fairly busy commuter connector so maintenance/upgrade time could be hard to find. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Sep 8, 2015 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ @voretaq7 -- I suspect the RR having priority has to do with train frequency vs. boat frequency -- commuter trains run fairly often compared to freights. $\endgroup$ Oct 8, 2015 at 2:27

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