With the COVID pandemic around people want to be safe and yet have a fun boating season. This means traveling from the bubble of your house to that same bubble on your boat with the people you live with or trust. One boating vacation destination to consider is Fire Island where you can take your boat and turn it into a floating beach house.
Fire Island is one of four barrier islands located off the south shore of Long Island. The island spans 31 miles in length and ranges from 400 to 1300 feet wide. It has some of the best powder sand beaches in the world. During 2012 Super Storm Sandy, the eastern end, Smith Point County Park was separated during a breach. The island has 17 resort communities. Its colorful history includes pirate hideouts, rum-running and shipwrecking where people would lure ships with lights close to shore to wreck and then salvage. Fire Island Pines is known as the first gay community in America and has its vacationers since the 1920s.
Navigating and Docking
The best way to get to Fire Island is via the Fire Island Inlet at the western tip of the island. Boaters will be able to spot Robert Moses Water Tower about two miles east of the inlet from a distance. Entering the inlet requires caution as you may have opposite winds and tides. Also, it has been recommended to hug the west as you enter it. (See in the chart accompanying this story.) I recommend studying your charts and chart plotter before arriving. Once inside the inlet stay in the channels as to not bottom out. Do not enter the Moriches Inlet as it is considered unsafe to navigate. Before arriving at Fire Island make sure you have plenty of fuel to get to your next destination as marinas here don’t sell fuel.
Fire Island has several marinas for transients. You can get a list of them with their description of services in “Water Way Guide, Long Island and New England Waters” This is an essential book for anyone cruising around this region. An easy way to get docking reservations would be to use www.dockwa.com. I recommend getting online as early as possible to secure the marina you wish to attend.
The most popular and expensive marina on the island is the Seaview Boat Basin in Ocean Beach. They refer people to www.dockwa.com for information on them that shows a 35-foot boat to dock is $300 per night on weekends. At the marina is a small market. Bay Avenue and Bayview Walk, the main streets in Ocean Beach is a five-minute walk. There you will find restaurants, shops, a bakery and another market called the Pantry. The beach from the marina is about 500 feet.
Flynn's Marina and Restaurant in Ocean Bay Park is a 20-minute walk east of Ocean Beach. Docking here may be a concern here because this marina is noted for not being as protected others marinas on the island. There is also a chance you may be tied up closer to the restaurant than you may want. Weekend docking here for a 35 foot boat is $175 with a $50 voucher at the restaurant. Dinner fare here is pub/casual. Go to https://www.flynnsfireislandny.com/ to see their COVID rules and events. The beach here is 500 feet from the boat.
Davis Park to the east is a well-protected marina. Its disadvantages here are very limited services (as in one restaurant) and that water taxi to the other communities only comes on demand at $28 per person. If nature and not a community interest you, consider docking in Sailors Haven. Here you are steps away from a rare Sunken Forest with trees over 200 years old. Access to view it is by a boardwalk. The beach here from your dock is less than 500 feet.
The Fire Island Pines Marina is well protected. It has a reputation as a party place so this might not be the place to dock if you are looking for some quiet. With COVID this season, things there have been toned down a bit and you need to check in advance as to what bars and restaurants are opened. There is Pines Pantry Market next to the marina.
Furthest to the east is Watch Hill. This is where the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness area is. If you are looking to get away from it all, Watch Hill is the place. Here your boat is only a few hundred feet from the beach. The only food service here is called the Truck in the Sand. Lastly, if you are into large crowds you can always dock at the Robert Moses State Park Boat Basin. But why go there when you can drive to it.
As the main reason to cruise to Fire Island is for its beaches, swimmers need to be cautious of strong currents so watch the kids closely, even in shallow water. For those bobbing in the waves, rip currents do occur when there is a break in an offshore sandbar. If you are caught in one, do not swim against the current. This will exhaust you. Instead, remain calm and swim parallel to the beach across the current making your way back slowly. Try to signal for help from anyone at the beach.
If you prefer the safety of lifeguards, they protect many of the different community beaches run by FINS. Keep in mind topless bathing is allowed on beaches. In some communities, it is acceptable to go “au natural”. When going from your boat to the beach take a cart with good wheels to haul your stuff on the unpaved walkways.
If you plan to stay more than a few days I recommend exploring the island's different communities. Unpaved roads connect much of the island.
If you take a bicycle make sure the tires are good for this type of terrain. To visit communities too far to bike ride or walk, look up the schedule and fees for the Fire Island Water Taxi at www.fireislandwatertaxi.com. They run to several communities.
Using your boat as a beach house is a fun, safe and easy way to get your family to sun and fun in the surf. Fire Island offers just what is needed when looking for an excellent south shore beach.
If You Go
An easy way to figure out which community would be best for your floating beach house vacation would be to click www.fireisland.com or click “community” at www.fireislandwatertaxi.com. For information on the beaches and events run by the Federal Parks Service go to https://www.nps.gov/fiis/index.htm.
Fire Island Fun Facts
• Fire Island was once part of one island that connected to Jones Beach and went 60 miles east to South Hampton
• Bootleggers used to store their liquor in the Sunken Forest
• In 1882 Oscar Wilde is said to have stayed at the Perkinson Hotel in Cherry Grove. Cherry Grove later became a leading gay vacation destination.
• If you are into birding, bring your boat binoculars on walks, as there are 300 species here.
• The 1936 hurricane broke open the Moriches Inlet
• The 2010 U.S. Census reported 292 people living full time on Fire Island with a seasonal population of over 20,000 with hundreds of thousands of day visitors.
• “Clams are to Fire Island what maple syrup is to Vermont”
• During the disco era, the Village People cut a song called Fire Island
Tab Hauser has photographed and written about boating and travel on all seven continents and is a member of the Explorers Club. During the boating season he operates www.glencovecruises.com from the North Shore.