Navigating Safety around Underwater Lines: What You Need to Know

Where is the damage prevention love and protection for underwater lines? Many people don’t realize all types of lines traverse some kind of waterway in their span from start to finish. Using the U.S. Gulf Coast pipeline network as an
example, this article reveals damage prevention
and response guidelines that can be applied to
ANY underwater assets in ANY area. In addition to
hydrocarbon pipelines, telecommunication, electric, water and gas distribution lines can greatly benefit from the best practices described herein.

There are more than 50,000 combined miles of hydrocarbon pipelines spanning the five gulf states’ inland waters, rivers, bays, lakes, and coastal areas extending deep into the Gulf of  Mexico. With more pipelines being built every day and more boats on the waters across the U.S., the chance of a vessel coming in contact with an underwater line is continually growing.  Accidental interactions and incidents have caused spills, outages, gas releases, injuries and even deaths. In a 20-year study period, 25 fatalities, 17 injuries and more than 100 marine vessel-pipeline incidents were recorded.

This article contains recommendations and valuable information regarding underwater damage
prevention, safety and response. This information should be reviewed and kept in a readily available place by all mariners and companies who have submerged assets.

Often, defining the term “excavation” for on-land activity is a struggle. Even more challenging
is defining “excavation” in a marine environment. Further, what is marine excavation damage
prevention? This is something our industry group, Coastal And Marine Operators (CAMO) is
always challenged to define. CAMO’s definition states “any water bottom contact with a force
of 150 lbs. or more constitutes a form of excavation.” This force level takes into account recreational fishermen who deploy small anchors at their favorite fishing spots and are unlikely to damage an underwater pipeline.

CAMO has divided marine guidelines for Inland and Coastal Waters from Offshore Waters because of varying damage prevention, safety and response measures.

Inland and Coastal Waters is defined as all waters within state jurisdictional boundaries including rivers, lakes, bayous and bays. The types of activities or vessels that can easily cause damage include, but are not limited to, dredging, spud barges, jack-up boats, tug boats and barges, heavy anchoring, seafloor contact of commercial fishing gear, larger vessels over 40 feet., site clearance, pile driving, boring, wheel washing, installation and removal of marine structures. Any inland or coastal waters activity within 250 feet of a pipeline needs to be reported and planned directly with the pipeline company to get a safe-to-work acknowledgment or crossing agreement. Report your onsite activity at least two business days prior, depending on your state’s One Call law, by calling 811 free of charge. This will lessen a mariner’s liability if an incident occurs. Additionally, if you suspect damage to a pipeline, many state laws require reporting by calling 811, as well as hazmat administrators. CAMO also urges mariners to use only approved anchorage and mooring areas when planning their work.

Offshore Waters is defined as federal jurisdiction
– all waters outside of state boundaries. The types
of activity or vessels include, but are not limited to, anchoring of all types, jack-up boats, spud and lay barges, ships, site clearance, seafloor exploration activities, seafloor contact of commercial fishing gear, platform installations and abandonments. It should be noted per regulation in offshore waters of depths 200 feet or greater, many pipelines are not buried and lay on the seafloor. This elevates the risk of damage or a line being snagged. Any offshore activity within 1,500 feet of a pipeline needs to be reported and planned at least one week prior. Notifications should be made to Gulfsafe at 888-910-4853 (888GULFSAFE), 811, and to the pipeline company directly. This will also lessen a mariner’s liability if an incident occurs. Mariners will still need a safe-to-work acknowledgment or crossing agreement from the pipeline company. Pipeline companies may choose to send a spotter to be on the vessel during marine activities. Much like the inland and coastal guideline, it is recommended that ANY force over 150 lbs. that contacts the seafloor, or can touch a pipeline,
be reported prior to the activity. This is simply a proactive measure to avoid injury to mariners, pipeline damage and to protect the environment. Unfortunately, many types of sub-sea lines are not registered with the FREE One Call notification systems.

CAMO recommends mariners make a voyage plan with a predefined route and stopping points.
Mariners should refer to maps and identify and plan for pipeline avoidance before departure.
Have a response plan if a pipeline is struck and share with the crew. Plan to avoid shallow water
depths and account for low tide levels. Confirm a minimum of three feet of water bottom clearance below the vessels’ draft for safe passage over pipelines or any other lines. Look for Pipeline Warning or Do not Anchor or Dredge signs/markers on the banks or in waterways. These signs usually have the company name and emergency contact number if needed. In these areas, water bottom contact must be avoided. As stated, request the pipeline company to have a representative on site before any activity begins within 1,500 feet of an offshore and 250 feet of an inland and coastal pipeline. Understand the signs of a marine pipeline leak, such as a continuous bubbling, blowing or hissing sound coming from the water, a rainbow sheen or
unusual color, oily residue, or hydrocarbon (gaseous) smell on the water’s surface.

Act immediately if you suspect a leak and shutdown or minimize the use of all potential ignition
sources like motors, lights, etc. If possible, drift out of the area before starting a motor or
ignition source. Evaluate the situation, record your exact location and move upwind at least ¼
mile away from the affected area. When safe, call 911, National Response Center (800-424- 8802) and/or radio the Coast Guard. Prevent and warn other vessels from entering the area and if you see a pipeline sign nearby, call the emergency number listed.

Marine Emergency Response
Pipeline emergencies on the water pose different challenges than events on land. Reaching the
scene can take much longer. Obtain the coordinates of the incident and plan your entry route.
Natural gas may be odorless. Have a gas detector on hand when approaching an incident area, and always enter upwind. Do not try and extinguish a fire on the water. Boom off and secure the leak area as soon as possible. Communicate directly with the pipeline company to isolate the source.

A damage or incident on any waterway can potentially have exponentially higher impacts than the same incident on land. Navigating damage prevention on the water takes special  considerations and precautions that are not equally understood by infrastructure owners or mariners. CAMO’s goal is to improve understanding to help save lives, protect the environment,
as well as a company’s exposure, reputation and bottom line.

This Underwater Damage Prevention and Pipeline Safety Message is brought to you by Coastal And Marine Operators (CAMO) Pipeline Industry Group. Ed Landgraf is chairman of CAMO.  CAMO marine pipeline safety information is available free-of-charge. For more information or to join CAMO, visit or send your comments and questions to

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