33 CFR 118.160 - Vertical clearance gauges.

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§ 118.160 Vertical clearance gauges.

(a) When necessary for reasons of safety of navigation, the District Commander may require or authorize the installation of clearance gauges. Except as specified in § 117.47(b) of this chapter for certain drawbridges, clearance gauges must meet the requirements of this section.

(b) Clearance gauges must indicate the vertical distance between “low steel” of the bridge channel span (in the closed to navigation position for drawbridges) and the level of the water, measured to the bottom of the foot marks, read from top to bottom. Each gauge must be installed on the end of the right channel pier or pier protection structure facing approaching vessels and extend to a reasonable height above high water so as to be meaningful to the viewer. Other or additional locations may be prescribed by the District Commander if particular conditions or circumstances warrant.

(c)Construction. Each gauge must be permanently fixed to the bridge pier or pier protection structure and made of a durable material of sufficient strength to provide resistance to weather, tide, and current. Gauges may be painted directly on the bridge channel pier or pier protection structure if the surface is suitable and has sufficient width to accommodate the foot marks (graduations) and numerals.


(1) Each gauge must be marked by black numerals and foot marks on a white background. Paint, if used, must be of good exterior quality, resistant to excessive chalking or bleeding. Manufactured numerals and background material may be used.

(2) The size, type, and spacing of numerals must conform to the Standard Alphabets for Highway Signs and the following table. The nominal day visibility distance is the distance at which the clearance information needs to be ascertained by approaching vessel operators. The District Commander determines this distance for each bridge.

Nominal day visibility distance (feet) Height of numeral (inches) Type of numeral Vertical spacing of numerals (feet)
Less than 500 12 Series C 2
500 to 750 18 Series C 2
750 to 1,000 24 Series D 5
1,000 to 2,000 30 Series E 5
More than 2,000 36 Series E 10

(3) The length of the foot marks must be no less than the width of a single numeral used (except numerals 1 and 4), be the same thickness as the width of stroke of the numeral, and extend to the nearest margin of the white background. Foot marks must be spaced every foot for nominal day visibility of less than 500 feet, every two feet for a nominal day visibility of more than 500 feet but less than 1,000 feet, and every five feet for nominal day visibility of more than 1,000 feet.

(4) Intermediate foot marks may be used when more precise determination of actual clearance is necessary. Such intermediate foot marks must have a width of stroke one-half the width of the stroke required for the numeral and shall be three-quarters as long as the primary foot marks.

(5) The horizontal distance between the numeral and nearest edge of the white background shall be no less than one-half the width of a single numeral (excepting numerals 1 and 4).

(6) The minimum width of the white background shall be no less than three times the width of a single numeral (excepting numerals 1 and 4) plus the widths of each additional numeral (when multiple numerals are used plus numeral spacing).

(e)Maintenance. The owner or operator of the bridge shall maintain each gauge in good repair and legible condition. The bridge owner or operator is responsible for the accuracy of the gauge and shall remeasure the vertical distance of the numerals and foot marks below “low steel” of the bridge whenever the gauge is repainted or the structure is repaired.

[CGD 84-022, 51 FR 16314, May 2, 1986, as amended by USCG-2012-0306, 77 FR 37315, June 21, 2012]

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