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Restricted & Danger Areas


Restricted Areas

Areas immediately upstream and downstream of the Ohio River navigation dams are designated “Restricted Areas.”

Near the downstream side of a gated dam, powerful reverse currents, commonly called backlash, draw boats in an upstream direction into the dam where there are capsized or smashed against the structure. Furthermore, an additional hazard exists near the lock discharge structures, which are located adjacent to the downstream river wall of the lock chamber. When the water in the locks is released during each locking operation, sudden turbulent boils are created which can capsize a boat venturing too near. This turbulence becomes more severe as the downstream pool falls to lower elevations. On the upstream side of the dam, there is a strong undertow created by the flow of water through the gated section of the dam. Boats approaching too closely from the upstream side are in danger of being lodged against the dam or capsized by the undertow. The nature of these river conditions emphasizes the serious danger to boaters and anglers who operate their craft near either the upstream or the downstream side of a dam. Vessel operators who enter these areas risk their lives and property and often preclude necessary gate operations of the locks and dams. Anglers often fish in the tailwaters below the dam gates because the fishing is good, however, that fishing from a boat in these waters can be fatal.



Danger Area

To supplement the restricted areas, the remaining area downstream of each dam, extending to the end of the long wall has been established as a Danger Area. All boaters and anglers are urged to wear Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) within this area, since these waters are frequently turbulent. Vessel operators should also heed the warning sirens, which indicate that project personnel will be increasing flow from the dam or releasing water within the lock discharge areas. These sirens will be operated for a period of 30 seconds, after which, there will be a 3-minute delay prior to a release of water.

Navigators should become fully aware of the Restricted and Danger Area boundaries prior to operating their craft within the vicinity of a lock and dam facility. The Restricted Areas are shown in the current publication of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District, “Ohio River Navigation Charts; Cairo, IL to Foster, KY.” Navigators should also observe all warning signs or marker buoys located within the area of each locks and dam structure. The marker buoys are illustrated with reflective orange bands and waterway symbols, and black wording on a white background. Buoys with the words “KEEP OUT” have, as their symbol, a cross enclosed within a diamond. Buoys designated as “DANGER DAM” are denoted with a diamond symbol.


Resticted Area Regulations

The regulations pertaining to the Restricted Areas are contained within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “Regulations Prescribed by the Secretary of the Army for Ohio River, Mississippi River above Cairo, IL and their tributaries; Use, Administration, and Navigation” (Blue Book).

These regulations are as follows:

33 CFR 207.300 “(s) Restricted Areas at Locks and Dams. All waters immediately above and below each dam, as posted by the respective District Engineers, are hereby designated as Restricted Areas. No vessel or other floating craft shall enter any such restricted area at any time. The limits of the restricted areas at each dam will be determined by the responsible District Engineer and marked by signs and/or flashing red lights installed in conspicuous and appropriate places.” Lockmasters will enforce adherence to these regulations and, if required, solicit aid from local law enforcement officers. In the interest of public safety, please tell other boaters or anglers about the dangers of boating near lock and dam structures.


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