Every kayaker has been guilty of taking the tide for granted when leaving their kayaks on the beach. We all know that the tide is a predictable force: it comes and goes in roughly a 12 hour cycle and the amount of water that comes and goes is well defined by charts and observation of the coastline. Therefore, working with the tide should be fairly simple. Just pull the kayaks up the beach a little ways to keep them out of the grip of the tide and you should be fine, right? Wrong. Just when you get comfy with this plan the tide will sweep in and borrow your ticket home.
The most serious incident that has occurred during my tenure as a Sea Kayaking chair at the MIT Outing Club involved a pair of kayaks robbed by the tide. We had rented them to two of our members who had qualified to take kayaks out on their own, filed a trip plan, and seemed well prepared for the overnight adventure that they had planned to the Boston Harbor Islands. The next morning we were surprised by a phone call from the Coast Guard. A lobsterman had found a pair of kayaks floating off shore of the outer islands and they had MITOC stickers on them. The officers on the phone were looking for information about the missing paddlers and were concerned about the need to launch a search and rescue. This got my heart beating a little faster, as you could imagine!
Everyone involved was very happy to hear that the paddlers were discovered, safe and sound, on the shores of Great Brewster Island. Another lobsterman had seen them jumping up and down on the beach and called the Boston Harbor Master to come out and pick them up. How did they get stranded? Their explanation seemed innocent enough: “We didn’t pull the kayaks up the beach far enough before tucking in for the night.” I couldn’t get too upset with them for their mistake; it’s no secret that I’ve had an occasion or two that required a prompt jog down the beach to retrieve a floating kayak. What really ticked me off was that they deviated from the float plan that was filed and spent a night on an island that was closed to camping. Not good. However, we all deemed that their shame was punishment enough and we were very happy that they were safe and all of the gear was retrieved.
A tide-way robbery like this is highly preventable. First, make sure that you pay attention to where the highest tide line is when you land on a beach. There are usually two lines that are marked along the beach by seaweed, other once-floating debris, or rock piles. The lower line marks where the typical high tide reaches but the higher line marks an astronomically high tide which occurs during a full moon. You’ll never go wrong if you pull up past the higher line. Second, at least one member of the group should carry a 25ft length of rope. This piece of rope could prove useful for a lot of reasons but should always be used to secure the kayaks at night or when you venture out of sight of the shore. I like to tie all of the boats together through the front toggles and then anchor the loose end of the rope to some “unmovable” object like a big rock or tree. It’s great insurance in case the waves and tide come up and get sneaky while you’re away!