By Cheryl Costello
The tide swings on some Chesapeake Bay waterways can be drastic. What could be sufficient water depth yesterday may be a sandbar today. On the Corsica River, a 23-year-old boater lost her life when the 17-footer she was riding in ran hard aground. Bay Bulletin reported on the tragedy in 2020. Just over the Bay Bridge, the victim’s family has now launched a pilot program urging boaters to check the tides before they go out.
A flashing light above a new sign at Kent Narrows Boat Ramp will catch your eye before you launch. At least that’s the hope of Dave Ash, who lost his daughter Hannah in a boating accident two years ago during a low tide.
Ash is talking to boaters and getting out a message on the importance of knowing the extreme water depth changes caused by the tide through his family’s foundation, Inspired by Hannah.
When we visited the boat ramp, Ash showed boater Jared Smith a handy app that allows you to check NOAA’s tide charts via a QR code on the posted sign. Smith was able to pull up the tide charts in real time for that location.
“What populates on your cell phone is a tide and current chart. It gives you the two cycles of the day in real time,” he demonstrated.
This is information he wishes 23-year-old Hannah Ash and her boyfriend had before they went out on the Corsica River on their 17-foot Sea Ray.
“There was a full moon the night before, which caused a really severe low tide. It was probably the lowest low tide of the month. And they were coming back at 4 o’clock in the afternoon from Conquest Beach. And in the process of coming back, they ran aground, hit a sandbar and Hannah flew out over the boat and was struck and passed away later that night,” said Dave Ash.
Despite their pain, Hannah’s family started Inspired by Hannah to provide boat safety information and community resources that were important to Hannah. The young woman was experienced on the water, having earned her boater’s license at age 14.
Cap. Sarah Lawrence with Tow Boat U.S. Kent Narrows and Knapps Narrows, who is partnering with the Ash family, points out, “Hannah grew up boating. It was a calm, beautiful day. The people she was with on the boat were knowledgeable boaters, so it could happen to anyone.”
Lawrence says the conditions we’ve seen so far this year make the tide-swing risk greater.
“Especially this winter and spring, we’ve had a lot of gale force conditions. That has created changing shoals in our area, different patterns underwater. We do a lot of ungroundings in places that we didn’t do before. And that is because of wind and current and waves. The bottom does move,” she says.
The Inspired by Hannah partners hope the signs at boat ramps will get people to take heed. And the boaters we talked to were pausing to give the tides some thought.
“There could be a place where there was water in the morning and then in the afternoon it could be a sandbar, so it definitely does change,” says Smith.
Boater Austin Kramer admits he doesn’t usually check before he goes out—but that he should.
Since the end of April, the signs have been placed in five locations around Queen Anne’s County with the support of the county’s department of parks and recreation. It’s a pilot program that the Ash family hopes to extend throughout the Chesapeake Bay. Inspired by Hannah is hoping to get feedback on these signs before adding more.
For her part, Capt. Lawrence says the importance of wearing a life jacket is worth repeating, as another key safety component.
“It’s just like when you’re in a car. If you’re mid-car accident, you’re not going to be able to clip on your seat belt. This life vest has got to be on the entire time, and it is saving boaters’ lives.”
The Ash family wants tide checks to be as familiar as life jackets.
“We’re trying to not have this happen to anyone else because it was a beautiful sunny day and everything else about her trip was perfect.”