boy throwing cast net in search for bait

This young man is wearing proper shoes while throwing a cast net in search of bait.

A haven for just about all water sports, Murrells Inlet is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. With the opening of public boat launches—after months of being closed due to COVID-19—the Inlet is again in high demand. Warm temperatures, gentle ocean breezes, and welcoming music emanating from the famous Murrells Inlet MarshWalk lures many people to her shores.

But, what lurks beneath these beautiful waters deserves the respect of even the most experienced outdoorsmen. Navigating tidal waters is challenging and can be risky. Besides the trouble with shallow water at low tide, oyster beds are everywhere in Murrells Inlet. Whether you are floating in a boat, kayak, paddleboard, or jet ski, you need to be aware of the dangers as the tide falls, to exposing these razor-like bivalves.

What to avoid and how to be prepared

Knowing how to navigate the creek takes experience, so that you know which sections of the water are impassable at any time and others that are navigable only at particular tide levels. First, talk to as many locals or experienced boaters as possible to get tips on how to navigate the Inlet. And always check the tidal chart to make sure you know the best time to get out on the water. If you are venturing into areas you are not familiar with, be especially careful about your speed. A pretty good rule of thumb is that if you see yourself getting in trouble with the tide, move closer to the docks, where the water is typically deeper, and the bottom is sandier.

In most cases, the water near the docks is the deepest in the Inlet. There are exceptions—our neighbor has a vast sandbar near his dock. The closer you get to land, the better your chance of being rescued. If you make a wrong decision, you may end up “beached,” and depending on where you are and at what tide level you find yourself, it could be three to six hours before you will be able to navigate out of the Inlet.

The first thing you need is the contact number of a boat tow company to call if you get in trouble. Minutes count on a falling tide, so use your time wisely. I found a couple of companies that offer towing services, and they work very much like the American Automobile Association (AAA), by offering memberships that make boating emergencies much less stressful and costly. I was amazed to learn how reasonable the membership fee is for the services provided, and I plan on getting signed up.

Towing Companies:

Sea Tow – 843-727-4136

https://www.seatow.com

TowBoatUS – 843-249-0244

https://www.boatus.com

Sometimes, even a tow will not be able to help, so plan ahead and keep emergency resources on hand. Items you should consider having in case of emergency are: extra water, snacks, sunscreen, mosquito spray, first aid kit, extra battery cells for your phone, and spare clothes for changing temperatures and conditions.

Other recommendations:

  1. Always make sure someone knows your plans when you’re out on the water, and when you expect to return.
  2. Always have boat shoes and gloves aboard.
  3. Navigate slowly in areas with which you are not familiar.
  4. If you do get stuck, NEVER GET OUT OF THE BOAT WITHOUT SHOES!
  5. Be aware that walking on oyster shells is tricky, and you could fall, putting your hands and body in jeopardy for oyster cuts.
  6. NEVER DIVE OR JUMP INTO THE WATER WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT IS UNDERNEATH.
  7. If you are skiing and trying to get back into the boat, be mindful of barnacles that could be on the boat—these may carry bacteria that can cause infections.

What to do if you end up with a cut or scrape from an oyster:

Your main concern with a cut or scrape from an oyster is infection from bacteria that lurk in ocean waters. Oyster shells, in particular, carry bacteria that may require you to receive a tetanus shot and possibly antibiotics.

The immediate attention needed for oyster cut injuries includes flushing out the wound with water—but not seawater. Applying antiseptic and bandaging the wound are essential. Typically, if you are not showing signs of infection—such as redness, swelling, or anything oozing out of the cut—you should be okay with just proper cleaning and a topical antiseptic such as alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. If you think there is any chance that the wound is infected, seek medical attention. People with diabetes should be extra careful with any cuts, especially oyster cuts on the feet.

view of murrells inlet at low tide

A view from my deck at low tide

Some tales from my deck:

Living directly on the Inlet has given us a firsthand view of the many different problems boaters and other water enthusiasts can experience at low tide.

We have “rescued” a good number of unsuspecting victims of oyster bed mishaps. Seeing them grind to a halt and then try everything while attempting to get off the oyster beds is just the beginning of the tale. Sometimes, if they are lucky, we can direct them to deeper water, but often they are out of reach, and they make an unfortunate decision and head toward even shallower water.

One of the worst incidents included a large pontoon boat with an equally large family aboard. They did not understand English, and we watched in horror as several family members stepped off the boat to try to give it a push. They were barefoot, and we were shouting for them to stay put, but they did not understand until it was too late. Several of the men were yelling in anguish as they surveyed their injuries. We managed to get them one by one across the oyster shells by loaning them a pair of boots. As each family member was brought safely to the dock, we took the ones with the worst injuries to a nearby medical facility. We were able to get one of them to their vehicle, and they thanked us profusely as they headed home.

I still get little thank-you messages from a sweet older couple since I helped them get off their beached boat late one afternoon. I could not even fathom letting them spend the next six hours on that boat. They were so gracious and kept telling me it was okay and they would be fine, but I insisted on getting them off that boat. I was by myself, so it was tricky. The gentleman threw me his rope so that I could tie up the boat. Next, I tossed the lady a pair of my boots so that she could walk over the large oyster bed with her husband’s help. Slowly, they made it safely to the dock, where they rested up. I drove them to their car, and they were so thankful they could spend the night in their bed instead of on that boat.

The most impressive scene we watched from our deck was a trio of girls doing yoga headstands on paddleboards directly over some oyster beds. We didn’t want to scare them off their boards, but we did warn them that if they fell, they would be in trouble. They did appreciate the heads up! They had no idea they were above oyster beds.

Enjoy the waters of Murrells Inlet and all they have to offer, but be mindful and be prepared for what lurks beneath!

 

Written for Waccamaw Outdoor Magazine, June 2020 Issue