dorchester boating guide photo by Jill jasuta

Everything you need to know: Public launches, Cambridge Yacht Basin, private marinas, kayak and SUP tours ready to welcome summer 2020 visitors

Recreational boating and paddling in Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is one of the best ways to get outdoors with a limited number of family members and friends and still practice responsible physical distancing on Memorial Day weekend and beyond. With 25 public boat ramps and soft launches for kayaks and canoes, Dorchester is the only county on the Mid-Shore that does not require permits and fees at public landings.

The Cambridge Yacht Basin – within walking distance of downtown – and a choice of private marinas in the county offer affordable slips for sailboats and cruisers that make it easy and enjoyable to explore the Heart of the Chesapeake.

Here’s a look at how to get out on the water in Dorchester County.

Dorchester Boat Ramps

Access to four major rivers leading to the Chesapeake – Choptank, Little Choptank, Honga and Nanticoke – is easy when launching a motorized vessel or personal watercraft from a Dorchester County public boat ramp.

Two Cambridge locations – Franklin St. next to University of Maryland Shore Medical Center and Great Marsh Park – offer dual ramps and plenty of parking on the Choptank and are in close proximity to Rt. 50. The Nanticoke River boat ramp in Vienna also provides easy access to the highway. Carryout dishes, beverage, ice, gasoline and supplies can be purchased at nearby restaurants and convenience stores in each city.

Other Dorchester ramps like those at Ragged Point, Taylors Island and Hoopers Island deliver quick passage to the Chesapeake and popular Rockfish trolling grounds. Additional inland locations are good choices for those with jon boats and skiffs looking to land snakeheads on the Chicamacomico (New Bridge ramp) and Transquaking (Best Pitch Ferry ramp) rivers.

Ramp etiquette is more important than every during the pandemic. Boaters should have their vessels fully loaded before backing down a ramp and avoid socializing with other boaters at the launch. Summer neck tubes and scarf masks, which also provide sun protection on the water, are recommended as protective coronavirus measures when ramp conditions are crowded. Ramp users are reminded to use designated parking areas for vehicles and trailers and avoid nearby roads.

Cambridge Yacht Basin

Located along the waterfront in downtown Cambridge, the Yacht Basin is one of the most convenient and affordable marinas for day use and overnight stays on the Chesapeake. A short stroll up historic High Street leads boaters to Cambridge’s shops – now re-opened – and restaurants offering carryout menus for dining.

With a maximum depth of 13 feet, the Yacht Basin can accommodate boats of all sizes. The general price for overnight dockage is $1.50 a foot. All marina services – laundry, bathhouses, gas, diesel and ice – are now available and facilities are cleaned three times daily.

During the pandemic, the Yacht Basin is providing free pump outs to all visitors as an incentive to use onboard heads and showers. For the safety of other boaters and marina staff, individuals are asked to wear protective masks when passing others on the docks.

Gas and diesel at the fuel station may be one of the best bargains on the Bay at just $2.00 a gallon, which makes fill-ups one more reason to visit Cambridge. Marina officials expect the price to hold through the end of May and into June.

Slips should be reserved in advance.

Marinas Throughout Dorchester

Some of the Chesapeake’s most popular boating destinations can be found elsewhere in the county, including the marina at Suicide Bridge Restaurant on Cabin Creek, just off the Choptank north of the Rt. 50 Bridge; and Slaughter Creek Marinafeeding into the Little Choptank where Palm Beach Willies Restaurant is open for carryout on weekends.

At Hoopers Island, Rippons Harbor and P.L. Jones Boatyard & Marina are accepting boaters for overnight visits with quick access to the Honga River and the Bay.

Boaters should follow Maryland physical distancing guidelines during the pandemic that currently limit 10 individuals per boat, which includes captain and crew.

Soft Launches for Canoe, Kayak and SUP

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (BWR), one of America’s top paddling destinations for wildlife and scenery, can be explored from water access points or soft launches at MD. Rt. 335, Shorter’s Wharf and Key Wallace Drive, where Blackwater Adventures offers kayaks for rent and also guided tours by advance reservation.

Traveling along designated kayak trails in the tidal marsh, paddlers are sure to see bald eagles, herons, osprey, egrets and other migratory waterfowl. Blackwater Adventures also offers a guided Harriet Tubman tour to explore the waters and landscapes where the heroic Marylander was born and enslaved and returned to lead family members and friends to freedom.

Dorchester publishes an excellent paddling guide for exploring the county’s waterways.

Snakehead Fishing

BWR is also snakehead central in Dorchester County and a great spot to experience what is quickly becoming Maryland’s most popular fishing craze. Those with fishing kayaks can get in on the action casting topwater lures and minnows dropped under a bobber. The Woolford Store is the local headquarters for supplies, bait, fishing equipment, guide services and expert advice on catching the monster fish.

Parking can be limited at access points, landings and fishing holes. Individuals should heed posted signs restricting roadside parking.

Stand Up Paddle Board and Yoga

One of the most exciting and athletic ways to enjoy time on the water is on a stand up paddleboard.

Beginning Memorial Day Weekend, Over Board Paddle and Fitness (Over Board) offers a series of regularly scheduled SUP classes including introductory, fitness boot camp and yoga instruction. The highly rated courses are taught at Sailwinds Park near the Dorchester County Visitor Center just off Rt. 50.

Also popular are Over Board sunset SUP tours on Cabin Creek that leave from Suicide Bridge Restaurant every Friday evening beginning May 22. Classes and tours sell out and reservations should be made in advances. The courses are subject to weather conditions.

For more a more in-depth look at getting out on the water in Dorchester County, be sure to read noted Chesapeake Bay author John Page William’s story about exploring local waters here.

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