The final component to the Merrimack’s perfect storm is wind direction and ocean wave height. This past weekend, both were in play. A wind blowing toward the coast helped to push up the height of waves crashing against the mouth. When those forces collide with the vagaries of the outgoing tide, enormous and unpredictable waves crop up in the river mouth.
The river’s mouth has the notorious reputation as being one of the most dangerous river entrances on the East Coast. That is one of the main reasons why Newburyport’s Coast Guard station is a surf station, a unit that is specially trained to handle the most rigorous surf rescue conditions.
Surf stations are fairly rare along the East Coast. There are only six of them, the next closest being Chatham and after that, Barnegat Inlet, N.J. They are required wherever the surf reaches heights of greater that 8 feet at least 36 days per year. Those conditions exist at the mouth of the Merrimack.
It’s not unusual to see kayakers, very small boats and boats that are not considered seaworthy exploring the mouth of the Merrimack, particularly in the summertime when tourists arrive. They are inviting trouble. It can take only a matter of seconds for things to go horribly wrong, and there is little or no time to react.
Boaters should always study the potential hazards of the places they navigate and take all the necessary precautions — wear life vests, bring safety gear, make sure their boat and engine are in top shape, have an emergency radio and let someone know where they are going. And lastly, don’t take risks, and don’t boat alone.
These steps may seem like overkill, but their value is immeasurable in an emergency.