Know the risks before you go
The primary purpose of piers, breakwalls, and jetties is to tame wave action and provide safe shelter for all vessels. Recreational use is neither recommended nor intended, and public use is often prohibited.
Recreational uses—walking, jogging, fishing, biking, swimming, sky watching and relaxing—on these structures has increased, so you should be aware of the potential dangers, which could include loss of life.
During winter months, these structures get icy and slippery. Covered in ice and snow, rock jetties form an “arctic-scape” of “snow mountains” and caves that beckon us to explore and climb. Most are hollow with deep pockets created by freezing spray and waves, and falling into these false mountains could cause serious injury or death.
Risk and hazards to consider
People can slip and fall on slippery or icy piers, breakwalls and jetties, causing bruises, sprains, bleeding, broken bones, head injuries and unconsciousness. Drowning can occur when someone slips, falls, or gets knocked off the structure by strong waves or wind.
Diving and swimming hazards aren’t usually visible on the surface. Hazards include broken concrete, rocks, underwater cables, rebar or other supports, as well as waves from boats, strong currents, rip currents, and undertows. Unsuspecting divers and swimmers could lose their lives.
Suggested safety precautions
- Children and the elderly should be closely supervised on these shoreline structures.
- Young children and non-swimmers should wear properly fitted life jackets, even if supervised.
- Stay off piers, breakwalls and jetties during strong wave action or strong storms.
- Avoid walking on slippery or icy structures.
- Wear appropriate footwear.
- Do not run or climb.
- Avoid getting too close to the edge.
- Do not dive or swim around piers, breakwalls or jetties.
- Do not go alone, especially at night.
- Do not climb on natural-looking “snow mountains.”
- Be aware of local rules, ordinances and laws. Most prohibit swimming in navigational channels.
This article first appeared in Rag-Pot, the newsletter of Kennebec River Sail & Power Squadron/19.