Best Practices: Fieldwork & Boating


Expect the unexpected. Bring what you expect to need and some that you don’t. Boat break-downs and unforeseen changes can radically increase your time in the field. Always stash some extra snacks, water, and a clothing layer just in case. Make sure that your phone is charged so that you can contact the ABCRC.

Check the weather and plan accordingly. Be sure that you are packing for predicted conditions. Be prepared for schedule changes if weather becomes unconducive to planned field work. Keep in mind that working on the water (and the islands) increases your exposure to wind, sun, and extreme temperatures. Cover up, hydrate, and stay alert to your well-being and that of your colleagues.

Field hazards. Proper preparation and attire go a long way towards keeping you safe and productive in the field. Ask a more experienced colleague about hazards and attire suitable for your project.

  • Wear secure closed-toe shoes (old sneakers, dive booties) in the water to avoid cuts from oysters and the challenges of deep mud, especially while disembarking from the boat. Sandals may be suitable once you are on the island. Waders and wetsuits are recommended during cold weather. Conditions vary by site, tide, and project. If you are unsure about suitable footwear, someone with prior experience.
  • Shield yourself from the sun and wind. Wear long sleeves, UPF rated clothing, sunhats, and sunglasses. Always use sunscreen! Long hours with little shelter can make vacation-like conditions intolerable by the end of the day.
  • Our barrier landscapes and boat transport mean that you should always expect wet conditions. Cold weather? Bring rain gear. Hot weather? Wear quick-dry clothing.
  • Be aware of the hazards specific to your site. Ex: ticks on the islands (use bug repellent and wear long sleeves) and stingrays in seagrass (shuffle your feet and post a look-out).

Pack plenty of water. Watch for grouchiness, fatigue, disorientation, and headache – signs of dehydration. Field days can be long and unpredictable; always bring more water than you expect to need.

Forgot some field gear? Ask the staff. We have community stashes of boots, rain gear, sunscreen, etc.

Take care of each other. Planned breaks and cold/hot treats can keep up your field crew performance in unpleasant conditions. If someone looks exhausted, overheated, etc, say something! Your data will always benefit from a prepared and comfortable field crew. Note that staff may limit trip duration in extreme conditions if the crew appears unprepared or unsafe.



  • When scheduling, keep in mind extremely high or low tides, including those from high winds and big storms. While tide stages are often targeted for research, they can also dictate our access to certain sites.
  • Be sure that your boat operator knows how to contact you. Expect a text confirmation the day before your trip.
  • Boat ramps and boarding ladders are often very slippery! Stay off ramps during launch and recovery (load from the dock) and use care on ladders.
  • You are always encouraged to wear a PFD while aboard a vessel. PFDs are stored in the front of the boat. For your safety, if you cannot swim, you must wear a PFD at all times. We may be able to supply you with a vest, just ask. Boat drivers must wear PFDs while underway.
  • Know where emergency supplies are stored on the vessel.
  • Follow boat operator instructions for boarding and unloading from the boat. Steep drop-offs and strong currents can create dangerous conditions; the operator will indicate the safest way on and off the boat. If you cannot see the bottom, the water is likely too deep to safely disembark.
  • If you are unfamiliar with boating terminology or are given instructions that you don’t understand, ask for clarification. You may also request a brief boating tutorial before your planned field excursion.
  • If you are dropped off on an island and any concern arises, including changing weather or the well-being of your research crew, contact your boat operator immediately. It can take an hour for the boat operator to reach you once a pick-up is requested.
  • Any researcher or group working away from the boat on an island is required to carry an EPIRB (personal beacon) in case of emergency. Your boating operator will provide instructions for use.
  • Stay alert to contact from your boat operator, who will monitor weather and notify you if dangerous conditions require an early return.
  • Arrive promptly for scheduled pick-up times. Be aware of how long it will take you to return to the pick-up point from your research site and schedule your fieldwork accordingly. Late rendezvous will not be tolerated: they interfere with other researcher’s schedules and can create unsafe boating conditions as tides shift.

Parameters for Boating Cancellations

For the safety of researchers, equipment, and staff, boat trips will be cancelled if any of the following criteria are met:

  • Winds sustained over 20 mph or gusting over 25 mph
  • A Small Craft Advisory is in effect, meaning wind speeds of 21 to 33 knots with seas expected to produce hazardous wave conditions to small craft
  • Lightning and thunder is reported or forecast within 25 miles
  • Restricted visibility induced by fog, snow, rain, etc
  • Ice or freezing conditions
  • Other extreme weather conditions, such as dangerous heat
    • The site director, in consultation with staff and researchers, may advise the cancellation of trips or implement maximum time in the field during conditions of concern.

Cancellations may also be necessary in cases of

  • Boat system failure (mechanical, electronic, trailer, or otherwise)
  • Operator illness, though we will always attempt to find a replacement operator to keep research on schedule.

The boat operator retains the right to cancel boat trips based on any of the criteria above or other endangering conditions. Only a blanket cancellation of boat activities by the site director supersedes operator judgement.