Aaaaooogah! Yes, Tacoma, those foghorns were really loud

The sun breaks through the haze at the Port of Tacoma on Friday morning.
The sun breaks through the haze at the Port of Tacoma on Friday morning. alynn@thenewstribune.com

Tacoma residents — most of them from the city’s North End and West End — jumped on social media Friday morning to ask: “Was it just me, or were those foghorns on Commencement Bay exceptionally loud this morning?”

Whether they were louder than on other socked-in mornings is hard to know owing to how sound carries across water and the impact of fog inversion layers. But Port of Tacoma officials confirmed there was a burst of maritime activity Friday morning.

“We had three ships in the harbor. One was leaving and two were arriving,” said port spokeswoman Tara Mattina. “That requires them to blow their horns when they’re underway.”

Residents from Sixth Avenue to Point Defiance complained about the horns. Most said the horns were loudest starting around 4 a.m., though others reported hearing them as early as 1 a.m.

United States Coast Guard rules regulate the use of ship horns when it’s foggy.

According to the Coast Guard navigation rules handbook, when visibility is restricted, moving ships must sound one prolonged blast at two-minute intervals. If the ship is underway, but stopped, it must sound two prolonged blasts.

There are other sound requirements based on a vessel’s size and whether it is under tow or anchored. In most cases, vessels must make some sort of prolonged noise on a frequent basis.

With three vessels moving, and all of them required to blast their foghorns for four to six seconds every two minutes, it’s easy to see why people were complaining about the early morning nautical symphony.

While some took to social media sites like Reddit or neighborhood online groups, others called the Port of Tacoma to ask what was going on.

“If there’s some noise like that that sounds different than what they’re used to, we’ll often hear from people,” Mattina said.

The port heard from enough people that it put a message on its Facebook page explaining the Coast Guard’s foghorn requirements.

“I live in north Tacoma and I’ve actually heard foghorns from my home,” Mattina said. “But this was more frequent.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467, @bgrimley