by Elizabeth Rogers
Many people know of the breach at Old Inlet, a channel connecting ocean to bay in Fire Island National Seashore’s wilderness that formed during Hurricane Sandy. But few people are aware that, due to its ever-changing nature and its location within New York State’s only federally designated wilderness, the breach is closed to swimming and boating.
Though it is a relatively stable feature, waves and swift currents influence the shape and position of the breach. Changes to the flood shoals north of the breach in the Great South Bay, the shoreline and main channel of the breach, and the ebb shoals south of the breach can be especially dramatic and unpredictable during hurricanes and nor’easters.
This presents a significant safety risk and is the primary reason the National Park Service (NPS) prohibits wading, swimming, paddling, or boating in the breach. The dynamic nature of the area is also why signage notifying visitors of the closure cannot be posted.
Since the breach formed in 2012 there have been 17 calls for assistance and two rescues. One such call occurred last Sunday, Sept. 18, when a boat ran aground and capsized while operating in the breach. Park Service rangers and Town of Brookhaven lifeguards responded and the passengers were transported off Fire Island for treatment of minor injuries.
Fortunately, all passengers survived but the accident served as a stark reminder of the dangers of entering the breach — and why it is best viewed from a safe distance on shore. The eastern shoreline of the breach is accessible year-round from the Seashore’s Wilderness Visitor Center, adjacent Smith Point County Park. Park ranger-led hikes to the breach and wilderness programs are offered throughout the year and are listed online at https://www.nps.gov/fiis/planyourvisit/calendar.htm.
Elizabeth Rogers is a public affairs specialist for Fire Island National Seashore, a unit of the National Park Service.