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July 28, 2013

Trio of boats rescued in rough seas

PLUM ISLAND -- The mouth of the Merrimack River can be a dangerous place, and three boats and their passengers learned the hard way that a pleasant trip on the water can become a crisis in the space of a handful of seconds.

In all three incidents, rescue efforts saved the boaters.

The first incident occurred around 8 p.m. Saturday at the mouth of the river. According to the Coast Guard, a 23-foot Manatee boat took on water and sank. Its five passengers were quickly rescued by a "Good Samaritan." They were brought ashore by the Coast Guard to Newburyport, where one person appeared to be in mild shock but was otherwise OK, the Coast Guard reported.

On Sunday morning at around 9 a.m., a 17-foot fishing boat was hit over the stern by a large wave and took on water quickly. A nearby boater tied up to the boat, helping to keep it afloat, said Newburyport Harbormaster Paul Hogg. The Coast Guard and Newburyport Harbormaster boat quickly responded, and pumped out the boat. It was able to remain afloat and its passengers were safe.

Also on Sunday, a kayaker was rescued in heavy waters at the mouth of the river.

Kayaking in the river mouth can be very risky, and the boat incidents occurred during conditions that experienced local boaters know can be very hazardous.

Both boat incidents occurred at about half tide, as the tide was going out. The quantity of water flowing down river, combined with the outgoing tide, makes for fast-moving waters at the mouth that often roil into big rolling waves as they interact with the ocean.

Adding to that, said Hogg, were fairly rough ocean waves driven toward the shore by north-northeast winds. That particular wind direction can cause the waves at the mouth of the river to reach impressive heights. Boaters can suddenly get caught in unpredictably huge waves.

That combination of forces can make conditions extremely hazardous at the river mouth, which has a reputation as one of the most dangerous river entries along the East Coast.

Hogg said the quantity of boats in the river this weekend, and the rough conditions, kept the harbormaster's office very busy.

"Everyone is safe, so that's the good thing," Hogg said.

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