Long Island is the largest island in the contiguous 48 states. The South Shore beach coast extends east and nearly straight for 118 miles starting from New York Harbor and ending at Montauk Point. The north shore coast is shorter in east-west distance but has several large bays and harbors making that coastline much longer in lineage miles. The North Shore ends in Orient Point which is about 20 miles northwest of Montauk Point. Both coasts could not be more different from each other.
North Shore vs South Shore Boating
The North Shore and South Shore offer two diverse boating experiences. This is because of the distinct geological make-up of the two shores. South shore boaters sometimes call North Shore boaters “rock eaters”. The North Shore boaters return the compliment by calling them propeller sharpeners. Rock eaters refer to the North Shore rocky reefs that captains need to pay attention to.
The South Shore propeller sharpener label is for those that don’t pay attention to the tide and run aground on a sand bar.
North Shore Open Seas
I have been cruising the North Shore for 15 years. I love it up here. Leaving Glen Cove I have easy access for day trips to Manhasset, Oyster, and Huntington Bay as well as places in Westchester and western Connecticut. The New York City Harbor and the Statue of Liberty are 90 minutes away at 17 knots. Easy-to-reach ports of call for staying overnight include Port Jefferson, Stamford, and Northport.
A key advantage to north shore boating is the big open deep water. I never worry about taking my 46-foot cruiser at low tide anywhere. To avoid the rocks near the shoreline, all you need to do is pay attention to the markers and your chart plotter. To hit something means you are asleep at the wheel. Cruising to dinner and coming back at night is also easy.
Weather should always be of any captain before going out. Wind and waves are a concern up on the Long Island Sound. If you are in western Nassau County, boaters need to pay attention to the wind and building seas from the east and sometimes from the north.
During a heavy blow, the waves can reach three to five feet. If you are boating in Suffolk, both westerly and easterly winds should be of concern. You also have to watch the speed of the winds from the north due to the wide distance of the Long Island Sound.
A breezy day and a choppy Long Island Sound can still make good boating on the north shore. This is because you can pull out of your marina and spend a pleasant day in your own bay. Places like Manhasset, Oyster, Huntington, or Port Jefferson offer plenty of protection from the wind by choosing to anchor on the lee side. Some north shore bays offer four-sided protection from the wind and seas.
One advantage of the North Shore is the expanse of cruising. There are no small channels like the south shore. Boater Pete Gebhardt cruises both shores with his trailered boat but prefers the North Shore. “ I boat both shores by trailer. The North Shore has nice deep water pretty much everywhere. But if you do run around it’s less forgiving because it’s all big rocks!! There is less boat traffic on the north shore. You can leave the bays and go into the sound more often than I can go into the Atlantic on the South Shore. I especially like the western sound because it is protected from the weather”. John Rado expressed what many captains say, “that the north shore is quiet, wide open and has amazing sunsets.” Others comment on how easy it is to navigate and fish. Richard Lovdahl said “the rocks don’t move on the North Shore. Once you get the lay of the land (sea), you know pretty much where NOT to go. The South Shore, with the sand constantly moving can get you grounded”
South Shore Protected Waters
The topology of the South Shore makes for a completely different experience for boating than in the north. A big advantage of South Shore boating is the calm seas. Boaters out for the day are protected in the bays behind the barrier islands from Long Beach to Shinnecock Bay.
While the Long Island Sound can make a sloppy day with 15 mph winds, the south bays can stay calm. Boaters tell me they don’t venture into the ocean unless it is calm. Even then they don’t go unless they are fishing or have a need to go east end quickly.
As a North Shore boater, the first thing I noticed aboard Captain Craig’s 40-foot Sundance leaving the Jones Inlet Marina was how busy the navigation screen looked. It showed numerous narrow channels, (some non-navigable) with shallow water on either side.
The next thing I noticed is that even with a stiff breeze, the channels and bay surrounded by the marsh remained lake-like. Yet with all the quiet looking water around, Captain Craig said you have to pay attention to the tide and currents. He said it was not unusual to see boats stuck on a sand bar during a busy weekend.
His favorite things about boating here are having plenty of bays to anchor or raft up on and plenty of waterside restaurants to tie up to. He also liked cruising from Far Rockaway to the Hamptons on the inside when the ocean conditions were rough. Another advantage here is the lower-priced marina rates.
Repeated praise from boaters about South Shore boating was the ease of getting to the beaches. This can include taking your boat to the back side of a barrier island and simply walking across to the Atlantic Ocean. Many other beaches can be found on the bay side. One small boater told me that he liked to pull up to the sandbars and just wade in the shallow water.
The most popular activity in the bays is to find a protected place, throw out the anchor and just float the day away. Our weekday visit to Zach’s Bay, within view of the Jones Beach Theater, was perfect. With shallow water, we were able to throw the anchor with little rode which kept us from swinging near other boats in the calm water. Be warned though that on weekends Zach’s Bay and other popular ones require getting there early and dealing with too many boats along with many inexperienced captains.
Meghan Conifliaro put it best by saying “The South Shore has skinny waters, but amazing beaches and restaurants” Greg Menagio says the best thing about the South Shore is “easy access to sandy beaches, the ocean, Fire Island National Seashore and protected bays”
There were several common complaints from boaters in this area. Dislikes included shallow water and shifting sand bars, green-headed biting flies, and mosquitos. Others complained about the crowded popular bays on weekends, the fisherman in the channel, and the bridges.
A third Long Island boating region (for another story) where boaters can venture is between the forks. Whether you skipper through channels of the South Shore or open water of the North Shore, Long Island is the place to be in season.
U.S. Coast Guard Licensed Captain (and Master to 100 tons) Tab Hauser writes and photographs about travel and boating worldwide. He currently runs www.GlenCoveCruises.Com charters out of Glen Cove. You can find some of his cruising stories by web searching “Tab Hauser Boating” or email questions on cruising to firstname.lastname@example.org