When guests go swimming in the York River, it’s on a hot day and the wind is flat. This is a great way to cool off in a expansive setting of genuine adventure. Typically, July and August are best for swimming. We simply stop the boat with a hove-to maneuver and then pull in the sails. By rolling in the genoa and tightening the main, the boat maintains a little momentum against the current. It’s important not to have the engine on. Even though the prop is tucked 10 feet under the stern, it’s inherently hazardous to run it while people are in the water.
Warm River for Sailboat Swimming
The river temperature in July and August reaches 85-90, which is very comfortable without seeming too hot. The water is safe for swimming except for those rare periods when the Red Tide rolls in. A nitrogen deficiency in the water creates the illusion of red, unpleasantly so. Fortunately the event is rare and is more often found in the Susquehanna River in the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay. Sailboat swimming is safe because the York is free of harmful bacteria, as attested by the popularity of swimming at Yorktown Beach and nearby Gloucester Point Beach. We call Yorktown Beach the poor man’s Virginia Beach, and we call Gloucester Beach the poor man’s Yorktown Beach. The one exception is vibrio bacteria, which is a threat to people with open wounds.
A detailed study of the York River by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science alludes to the sediment runoff of fertilizer and waste from proximate farms: “Key water quality management issues and threats within the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries include excess loadings of sediment and nutrients, and the introduction of toxic chemicals and microbial agents. Poor water clarity, principally controlled by suspended sediments and phytoplankton, is a persistent and widespread problem in the York River estuary…” The problem is much worse on the Susquehanna, where I doubt they do any sailboat swimming.
The water quality at Yorktown and Gloucester Point is 95% okay most of the time. From official York County: “Yorktown sampleds weekly from May 15th from September 15th. The Virginia Department of Health monitors water quality at beaches in this region from May to September. Water samples are collected weekly. Results are posted on the DOH website. Swim Guide checks for the latest information daily, Monday – Friday during the monitoring season.”
And more: “A beach marked Green puts the level of enterococci bacteria in the water has less than 104 units per 100 mL of water. A beach marked Red puts the level of enterococci bacteria in the water at higher than 104 units per 100 mL of water. A beach marked Grey indicates no current or reliable monitoring information available.”
Where to swim? We have to get out of the middle of the river because that’s where the current runs the strongest, as much as 4-6 mph at mid-tide. Jumping off a boat into the water would scoot any swimmers downriver or upriver depending on the tidal direction. But if we get too close to shore, we run the risk of encountering jellyfish. One sting will discourage sailboat swimming.
Over the years, Let’s Go Sail has found the perfect spot. We stop just east of Channel Day Mark 2 at the beginning of Sarah Creek. Like Goldilocks, it’s shallow enough to avoid the current but not too shallow to attract jellyfish. Some people simply jump in, while others back down by using the ladder attached to the swim platform. (Also used to pull anyone up who falls overboard, which has never happened to Let’s Go Sail.)
The video at the end of this blog shows a spectacular aerial view of the York as it winds along toward the Chesapeake Bay. The estuaries wind their way upland, and the water appears brown because of the sandy bottom. Much has been done to bring back the marsh grasses that are so vital to restoring the entire Chesapeake estuary. They say 100,000 acres of grasses have come back in recent years. No sailboat swiming in the grasses!
Life Preservers Save Sailboat Swimming
Even though the water is shallow, it’s still 10 feet deep. And even though we’re out of the main current, there is still a tug. Hence everyone (especially children) wears an official USCG-approved Type I life preserver. It comes with a neck brace that makes it easy to lay back in the water.
Tethered to Boat
Finally, swimmers tether themselves to the boat with sturdy lines that go around each person’s waist. This mitigates any current and ensures the boat won’t sail away from them. By now we’ve dropped the sails and are pretty much standing still. Specific lines that are red, whiite and blue make it easy to discover if one is missing, and with it the swimmer. So far, so good.
Swimmers shouldn’t jump off the docks at York River Yacht Haven because of potential stray electrical current from the dockside boxes. It’s one of the reasons that boats are more at risk of lightning strike than out in the river or at sea. Evidently the current in the water draws lightning bolts. I don’t understand how the professional divers who clean boat bottoms can do their work in the slips, unless their rubber suits offer protection from stray current.A strike hasn’t happened at our marina, but it did strike a 44-foot racing boat across the way in Wormley Creek. The video below shows a dramatic strike south of Boston MA. Boom!
Let’s Go Sail, Sailboat Swimming
Check rates and pick a day for a sailboat charter. See reviews on Trip Advisor.
Sailboat Swimming describes the steps and procedures for safety's sake.
Capt Bill ODonovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails/Let's Go Sail
Book a Trip!
Let's Go Sail.
Call 757-8976-8654 or fill out
the Reservations Form
to reserve your date now!