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What Does a Bridge Tender Do?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated Feb 02, 2024
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A bridge tender controls the raising and lowering of drawbridges to stop traffic when water vessels need to pass. Bridge tenders check for vehicle, railway, and pedestrian traffic before closing access to the bridge. They sound an alarm to indicate the bridge will be raised and they communicate with watercraft as they pass through. Once a boat has cleared, the bridge tender lowers the bridge and opens gates to allow automobile and train traffic to resume.

Other duties a bridge tender performs include logging the identification of all watercraft passing under a raised bridge. He or she records the time needed to navigate and when the bridge was raised and lowered. The tender uses a two-way radio, loudspeaker, or telephone to guide the vessel through the opening and obtain information necessary for log books.

If a mishap occurs, a bridge tender must act quickly to determine if emergency personnel are needed to treat injuries. He or she is responsible for providing life-saving equipment, such as life jackets, ropes, or buoys, if people are in the water. Any accident must be reported and documented by the bridge tender to appropriate safety agencies.

Drawbridges that exist on highways and railways require basic safety rules to operate. When the bridge disrupts rail traffic, a bridge tender communicates with railroad dispatchers to determine if trains are approaching. Water vessels are typically given priority over railroad traffic, with some bridges remaining open until a train needs to pass. Other bridges remain down and are lifted when boats approach.

Most bridge tenders need special training and certification when operating equipment involving train traffic. They learn how to activate warning devices to alert approaching trains of an open bridge or that it will be raised. Some bridges are remote controlled and open on demand via automatic equipment.

A bridge tender typically inspects and maintains the structure, including lubricating movable parts and performing minor repairs. These chores typically are recorded daily. A person working in this occupation must be physically able to climb stairs and ladders to perform inspections and maintenance duties. He or she usually wears safety equipment, such as a life jacket, steel-toed boots, hardhat, and fall protection while inspecting and repairing bridge components.

Most bridge tenders receive on-the-job training before they are tested to earn certification or a license to operate drawbridges. They must learn safety rules, basic mechanical skills, and communication requirements of the job. Some companies test for math skills and problem-solving abilities before hiring bridge tenders.

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