Chesney’s Navy Rendezvousing on Pittsburgh’s North Shore
1 July 2016
By Haley Nelson
As it usually does whenever country music star Kenny Chesney plays
Pittsburgh, Chesney’s Navy is quickly forming along the North
Shore in advance of his concert Saturday at Heinz Field.
But the flotilla, which in some years has had rows of boats tied
up together 15 deep into the Allegheny River, poses safety risks
that city officials have been slow to address since Mr. Chesney
began playing Pittsburgh in 2005. An ordinance that remains in
draft form and has not yet reached City Council would prevent
boats from mooring more than 100 feet from the water’s edge and
would require that a boat’s legal operator not leave the vessel
for more than 24 hours at a stretch.
Until the proposal passes, country music fans and boaters alike
can enjoy a relatively unstructured environment down by the
riverside. In addition to the Chesney concert, this weekend’s
festivities include a Billy Joel concert at PNC Park on Friday, a
Weezer concert at Stage AE on Sunday and Fourth of July fireworks
“It’s a big tailgating party for a month,” said Trey Miller, 40,
of Carnegie. This year marks the seventh that Mr. Miller has tied
his boat up along the North Shore and, like many, he comes for the
party atmosphere, not to see Kenny Chesney in concert.
Mr. Miller said he believes river-safety concerns are often
exaggerated. A fire or an accident on the water is no different
than one on land, he said, adding that boat owners usually have
the sense to keep out of danger.
Yet an incident on the North Shore during the Chesney concert
several years ago suggests that the practice of linking boats
together, called “rafting,” can be dangerous. Todd Rosa, 51, of
South Fayette, recounted that a boat in the middle of a “raft”
became untied from its neighbor, pulling away with it a
six-boat-long line that slammed into other boats tied up behind
them, causing havoc.
Control of Pittsburgh’s rivers crosses many government agencies.
While the U.S. Coast Guard has ultimate oversight, the
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has the authority to stop
boaters for moving violations and for boating under the influence.
In an emergency, a city river rescue facility beneath the Clemente
Bridge can respond immediately. The Sports and Exhibition
Authority has control of the large metal cleats to which boats can
be tied along parts of the the riverfront.
SEA executive director Mary Conturo said she knew of no plan to
limit the length of time a boat can stay tied up to the cleats.
Although the proposed ordinance is still being revised,
Pittsburgh’s chief operations officer, Guy Costa, said the
ultimate goal is to keep boaters safe at all times, not just
during large celebrations.
He expressed particular concern for rafting, when lines of between
12 and 15 boats protrude into the river, close to the paths of
commercial boat and barge traffic. To reach the shore, people must
hop from stern to stern.
“If you start walking from boat to boat, you have to be very
careful,” Mr. Costa said. “You could slip through between boats.”
The Coast Guard recommends that boaters limit the length of “raft”
lines, and the Pittsburgh Safe Boating Council secretary Nicole
Moga said the limited space between rafted boats can make it
difficult for people who fall overboard to climb to safety.
Shawn Love watched from his boat Thursday as a second vessel
pulled alongside. Mr. Love, 50, said boaters must find spots on a
first-come, first-serve basis. Some Chesney fans arrived as early
as Memorial Day to claim a spot. Boaters watch over friends’
vessels while the owners are away.
While the city originally considered imposing a 24-hour time limit
on docking, Mr. Costa said the proposed ordinance was revised
after officials spoke to boat owners who said they stay in
Pittsburgh for long periods during the summer.
“Most people do stay on the boats. A lot of people make a week of
it,” Mr. Costa added.
On Thursday, dozens of boats sat empty along the North Shore. The
proposed ordinance in its current form could require that any boat
that doesn’t have a legal operator on board in a 24-hour period
could be towed and the owner fined.
Mr. Costa added that the ordinance could be amended such that
permits, distributed by a central agency, could be made available
allowing boats to remain unattended for longer periods without
being towed away.
But for now, boat owners are free to moor for as long as they
“You could be here indefinitely, if you wanted,” said Mr. Miller.
Finnegan Schick: firstname.lastname@example.org.