Newburyport is located on the southern bank of the Merrimack River, 3 miles from the inlet. The town is roughly 45 nautical miles north of Boston and 58 nautical miles south of Portland, Maine. Known by locals as “The Bar”, the Merrimack River inlet has a strong current (up to 4 knots), and can be very dangerous, especially when a strong ebb tide opposes an easterly wind. Novice boaters routinely get into trouble here. Heavy boat traffic during the summer only exacerbates the situation. Coast Guard Station Merrimack River monitors the river entrance and will provide current inlet conditions via inquiries on VHF 16. Note too that a flashing white light at the bend of the north jetty signals that conditions are favorable for breaking surf.
To enter the river from the north or south, head for lighted red-white buoy “MR” and proceed to lighted buoy R “2” off the north jetty. The best advice is to transit at the top of the flood tide. Locals favor the northern side of the channel to avoid the shoal that extends off the tip of Plum Island.
Once clear of the inlet, the river channel has a mean low water depth of 12 feet (6 feet above Gillis/Rte. 1 Bridge). Be sure to keep buoy R “8” to starboard after clearing the inlet to avoid Badgers Rocks. The shallow Joppa Flats are visible to port, followed by the American Yacht Club, the Coast Guard station and Newburyport’s downtown area.
Be sure to follow the channel markers closely as you approach Newburyport, as you’ll need to steer clear of Half Tide Rocks off buoy GC “17”. This can be a tricky spot to navigate in a strong current with heavy boat traffic. If you wish to continue upriver past Newburyport, note that the Gillis/Rte. 1 Bridge has a vertical clearance of 35 feet at low tide. It can be raised by hailing the bridge tender on VHF 13 or 16. Mean low water depth is 6 feet west of the bridge.
Note: there is a strictly enforced no-wake zone from R “8” Fl R 4s to G C “11”.
- American Yacht Club (978-465-9053, www.americanyachtclub.org): First facility to port after entering the Merrimack River. Offers moorings on reciprocal basis.
- Newburyport City Docks (978-462-3746, VHF 12): Municipal marina offering city transient dock space, moorings, water, electric and pump-out, gas and diesel, and restrooms.
- Hilton’s (978-463-3990, VHF 9): Full-service marina with 65 slips, gas and diesel, pump-out, WiFi, electric, haulout, ice delivery and more. Transient slips up to 150 feet.
- Newburyport Harbor Marina (978-462-3990; VHF 9 & 71): Full-service marina offering 65 deep-water slips, transient dockage for boats up to 150 feet, WiFi, cable TV, electric, ships store, ice, bait and tackle, haulout and repair.
- Newburyport Boat Basin (978-465-9110; VHF 9 &10): Full-service marina offering haulout, outboard repair, transient slips, freshwater, fuel, ice delivery, bait and tackle.
- Windward Yacht Yard on McKay’s Wharf (978-462-6500; VHF 11): Full-service marina offering 150 slips and moorings, haulout, storage, ice delivery, bait and tackle, ships store and restaurant.
- Bridge Marina (Salisbury) (978-465 1153): Located on northern bank of the river, at the foot of Gillis Bridge, Bridge Marina offers 100 slips, 5 moorings, an onsite restaurant, gas and diesel, restrooms, ice, and bait and tackle.
Due to strong currents, heavy traffic and poor holding ground, anchoring inside the Merrimack is not advised.
City of Newburyport Harbormaster
Paul Hogg (978-462-3746; VHF 12)
- An excellent launch facility with ample parking, pumpout and restrooms is located just west of the Gillis/Rte. 1 Bridge at Cashman Park. $10 daily fee. Attendant on duty.
- Another state ramp with ample parking and close proximity to the river mouth is located on the north side of the river at Salisbury Beach State Reservation (978-462-4481).
- Cartoppers and kayakers can also launch at the small concrete ramp on Water Street, just west of the Joppa flats and a 1/2-mile east of the Custom House Museum, although parking is limited.
- Another option for kayakers is to launch at the base of the Plum Island Bridge, as well as the beach near the partyboat docks on Plum Island. Both spots provide ready access to the Joppa Flats, Woodbridge Island and the scenic marshes and creeks behind Plum Island.
- Newburyport Whale Watch (978-499-0832 outside NE / 800 848 1111 within NE): Runs whale-watch trips from Plum Island.
- Yankee Clipper (800-978-3370): Offers entertaining harbor tours from Waterfront Park.
- Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Education Center (978-462-9998): Located on Plum Island, the Center offers nature trails and birdwatching stations.
- Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center (978-465-5753)
- Custom House Maritime Museum (978-462-8681): Maintains a unique collection of maritime art, model clipper ships, displays of famous shipwrecks, the history of the Coast Guard and more.
- Cushing House Museum & Garden (978-462-2681): The Caleb Cushing House Museum houses the collection of the Historical Society of Old Newbury. The society dates back to 1877 and was organized for the purpose of the study and remembrance of Newbury’s history, which includes Newbury, Newburyport, West Newbury, Byfield and Plum Island.
- Newburyport also has numerous galleries, including the Newburyport Art Association (978-465-8769), and the Walsingham Gallery (978-499-4411)
- Michael’s Harborside (978-462-7785): Popular outdoor restaurant and bar on the river in downtown Newburyport.
- Stripers Grille and Inn (978-499-0400): Riverside dining.
- Starboard Galley (978-462-1326, www.starboardgalley.com)
- The Grog (978-465-8008)
- Black Cow Tap & Grill (978-499-8811)
- Joseph’s Winter Street Café (978-462-1188)
- Fowle’s Market (978-465-9028)
- Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry (978-462-6680)