The Ravenel Bridge: Revisited

BIG SHIPS CAN PASS … BUT ITS GONNA BE A TIGHT FIT Very few posts we’ve published have engendered quite the level of reaction as our recent article on the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. bridge … and whether it is sufficiently high to permit passage of the latest generation of super-large…


Very few posts we’ve published have engendered quite the level of reaction as our recent article on the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. bridge … and whether it is sufficiently high to permit passage of the latest generation of super-large container ships.

As it turns out, a great many people are greatly displeased at our assertion that it might not be …

(Missed the article? Click HERE).

Responses have ranged from dismissive to downright conspiratorial, with one especially vexed industry expert accusing our founding editor of “deliberately misinforming the public in furtherance of (his) personal grudge with the Governor’s Office – intentionally fabricating facts to deprive South Carolina of shipping business.”

Whoa … them’s fightin’ words (not to mention descriptive of the sort of actual malice that would be grounds for an actionable libel complaint, were the Ravenel bridge a public figure).

Officially, there has been no response to our post from the agency of record … the S.C. State Ports Authority (SCSPA). Apparently, a formal response was viewed as somehow legitimizing our media outlet (if not our reporting). Accordingly we’ve been informed (very politely and professionally, it’s worth noting) that there are no plans for the agency to address what we wrote.

What did we write?

Basically, we questioned whether larger container ships – specifically ships capable of holding 10,000 and 12,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (a.k.a. TEUs – the common shipping industry metric) would be able to successfully navigate underneath the bridge to reach both the Wando Welch and North Charleston terminals.

We also expressed grave doubts as to whether 14,000 TEU-sized ships would be able to pass beneath the 186-foot high bridge – to say nothing of the massive 15,000 and 18,000 TEU-sized behemoths coming out of Daewoo, South Korea shipyards in recent years.

“The ability of next-generation container ships to safely pass under the Ravenel Bridge is … an issue that needs to be addressed – if for no other reason than their inability to do so would expose colossally poor planning on the part of state leaders who spent $632 million in taxpayer money on this bridge,” we wrote.

Anyway …

We did have one particular background (not for attribution) discussion in the wake of our story which – while at times was quite condescending toward our little “blog” – seemed to offer us a knowledgeable, front-line perspective on the issues up for discussion.

In fact we were able to confirm that the source we spoke with is actually some sort of “Deciderer” when it comes to assessing which ships can – and cannot – fit under the Ravenel Bridge.

According to this source, we are basically irresponsible idiots with no conception of what constitutes a bridge’s actual clearance.

“There’s no single number to describe (clearance),” the source told us. “The 186-foot number is a worst-case number – what the Coast Guard wants to see. That’s at the extreme ends of the (bridge’s) span, too.”

According to this source, six international shipping concerns contacted the SCSPA in recent days asking whether their 13,000 TEU-sized container ships could navigate under the bridge.

All six were cleared to travel under the bridge …

As for 15,000 TEU-sized ships “those are close,” the source said, adding “they may fit” (again, somebody cue Michael Scott). Some 15,000 TEU-sized ships might be able to make it under if minor modifications were made by their owners.

The very largest container ships – like the 18,000 TEU-sized Maersk McKinney Moller – will never pass under the Ravenel Bridge, though.

Nonetheless …

“(Charleston) maintains the largest under keel clearance safety margin in the United States – ten percent of the draft,” the source said. “And (the port) is moving Post-Panamax ships at full load, which are the largest ships calling on East Coast ports.”

FITS will continue to investigate the Ravenel Bridge clearance issue – and we welcome all sources to chime in. We also hope to commence a discussion in the coming days about the Don Holt Bridge – which ships must navigate under if they wish to call on the SCSPA’s North Charleston terminal.

That bridge is even lower than the Ravenel Bridge …

Related posts


Tropics Watch: Disturbance Off Florida Coast

Will Folks

South Carolina Islanders Brace For Luxury ‘EcoTourism’ Development

Callie Lyons

Pastor John-Paul Miller’s Personality Test: Mining for Clues

Callie Lyons


Elfego February 20, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Just drill a hole in the bottom of each ship that wont go under it. Install a plug,let enough water go into the ship until it sinks enough to get under the bridge and plug it back up. Obama Democrat solution!

PrackTcal February 20, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Or just fold down the radio/radar antennae as the “nice” ships used to at several of the Charleston draw/swing bridges… Or, we could do as the “smallest drawbridge in the world” does in Bermuda – have a three-foot “draw” in the middle to accomodate masts, antennae, etc.

jimlewisowb February 20, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Few years back fella down the road bought a new fifth wheel. He is a fan of taking the scenic route through the backwoods. Came face to face with a railroad overpass with a sign declaring “Low Clearance”

After studying the situation for awhile he decided if the let air out of his tires he could get under the overpass. He did and sure enough the truck and trailer managed to go under and he was on his way

Later on that day he and his wife arrived at their destination. While he was setting up outside she went inside to get supper ready. Just when he thought everything was OK his wife yelled out,” Honey I didn’t know the trailer had a skylight”

Somewhere in the Upstate there is a railroad overpass with a roof top AC hanging on its side

As for the shipping companies they will probably take the OJ Defense when they declare Charleston a no go port – if it don’t fit, we will not ship

euwe max February 20, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Was it a Republican that approved the plans for this bridge?

The Colonel February 21, 2014 at 10:46 am

The Governor at the time was none other that James Hovis Hodges (D) 1999-2003. Construction on the bridge began in 2001.

euwe max February 21, 2014 at 10:47 am

Well, that was one dumbass Democrat!

The Colonel February 21, 2014 at 10:48 am

Yes, yes he was. Nice guy, politically dumb as dirt.

vicupstate February 21, 2014 at 11:40 am

At the time no one knew what he future would hold. Would you want to make a decision today that still works for 2027? Besides, any Bridge that started construction in 2001 was in design years before. This isn’t a partisan issue.
That said Hodges didn’t have the best political instincts, I will agree.

The Colonel February 21, 2014 at 12:47 pm

The Panamax max air draught is 58 Meters (190 Feet). That has been the max air draught for years due to the Bridge of the Americas in Balboa Harbor. What we’re really talking about here is New Panamax standards (12,000 TEU) and post Panamax ships (15-18,000 TEU).
Just like the designs for the Ravenel bridge, post Panamax designs have been on the drawing board for years. The New Panamax and Post Panamax ships are causing problems all over the world. In shipping time is money and the more you get on one boat the more you make.
Wilmington could make a fortune if they could get their act together – there ain’t a bridge between the Cape Fear River entrance and the terminal.

Smirks February 20, 2014 at 6:30 pm

So we won’t be the most competitive, but we’re still in the game? Well, that’s not too bad.

TontoBubbaGoldstein February 20, 2014 at 7:08 pm

“(Charleston) maintains the largest under keel clearance safety margin in the United States – ten percent of the draft,” the source said.

TBG thinks that this “source” could solve the NFL’s problem of extra point kicks being too “routine.”

Norma Scok February 20, 2014 at 7:53 pm

I’m not sure how the post panamax ships are coming into the Charleston harbor when at mean low tide our fine, skinny (1000′ wide) has an average depth of 45′ in the channels.

The post Panamax ships draw about 60 feet.

Merchant Seaman February 21, 2014 at 11:17 am

Norma Scok, please note that at 18,340 TEU, the Maersk Triple-E class vessels are the largest in the world. Maximum draft = 48 feet. See, e.g.,

The Colonel February 21, 2014 at 12:48 pm

You still have a three foot difference and no master in his right mind would enter a harbor with less than a 10 foot margin for error – that’s where the 60 foot number come from.

Pull The Tape February 20, 2014 at 9:24 pm

When it comes to clearance a foot might as well be a mile.

scotty February 21, 2014 at 11:06 am

It is my understanding the clearance problem is connected to the dredging funds that have been tied up in Congress for years.

Merchant Seaman February 21, 2014 at 11:15 am

As for the Don Holt Bridge, it appears the North Charleston Container terminal will eventually become an automobile terminal and displace the container ships that call there now, as the air draft of containerships increases. The design of the Pure Car/Truck Carriers (a/k/a “Ro-Ros” for “roll on- roll off cargo”) that carry cars and trucks in and out Charleston have had a fairly constant air draft over the years, and one that fits well beneath the Don Holt Bridge at any tide. Accordingly, the box-like car carriers will likely transition above the Don Holt Bridge, to the North Charleston Terminal in years to come.
On the other hand, the air drafts of post-Panamax containerships are definitely increasing. As such, look to these ships to stay below the Don Holt Bridge in years to come, at which time they will likely call the new container terminal now being built at the south end of the old Navy base, and continue to call the Wando Welch Marine Terminal in Mt. Pleasant.

jockstender February 21, 2014 at 1:14 pm

An accurate understanding of this important bridge air draft issue requires documents from the SC Dept. of Transportation.

I requested these documents two days ago (Feb. 19th) from Christy A. Hall, SCDOT Acting Secretary of Transportation.

I’m still waiting for this information and will post it along with my comments when I receive it.

The last time I spoke with SCDOT, I was told that I must request it pursuant to the FOIA.

Now that doesn’t seem very transparent or forthcoming, does it?

— Jock Stender, Charleston

Hungryneck February 23, 2014 at 11:32 am

There is a smoking gun somewhere. the original plans for the bridge called for heating coils in the roadbed – were they removed because local mayors held the project hostage until bike lanes were added?

nitrat February 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm

The only really absurd part of the mega-ship mess is that a few shipbuilders have convinced/conned every country on the planet that they should spend trillions, i.e. waste trillions, modifying their ports and canals to accommodate ships that aren’t needed to get the job of transporting goods done.
Probably the most amazing example of tail wagging the dog and the person walking the dog, ever.

ELCID February 24, 2014 at 1:50 pm

These larger ships could just use the regular Charleston Harbor docks that are located right in front of the Bridge. They can handle any size ship, as there are no bridges. But, they better tie up strong. Because, in WW2 a Liberty Ship got lose in a storm and knocked down the old Cooper River Bridge killing several motorists.


Leave a Comment