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Hidden Summer Dangers at Tideline of Oregon Coast / Washington Coast - Video

Published 07/11/22 at 6:59 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Hidden Summer Dangers at Tideline of Oregon Coast / Washington Coast - Video

(Oregon Coast) – Right about now, at this time of year, you're extremely comfortable wading through the tideline at the Oregon coast or Washington coast, especially when you see how the waves are farther out than usual on your favorite beach, in places like Moclips, Meyers Creek near Gold Beach or at Seaside. (Above: at Tillicum Beach near Waldport, this large pool in front of the tideline is impossible to gauge exactly how deep it is, and could drop more than five feet. All photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

Like the old movie poster warned: just whe you think it's safe to go back in the water. There is a hidden danger in conditions like these, where large pools of water that look harmless can actually injure you or cause you to outright drown. Summer's high sand levels on the Washington coast or Oregon coast produce large dune-like blobs of sand, and the spaces between them are rather deep. That's no problem, if you can see where you're going.

But what if those spaces were filled with water?

That's exactly the scenario that hits every year along the Oregon coast or Washington coast – right near the tideline or even in the tideline. Sure it's awesome to wade out there up to your belly button, but make sure the sand landscape below is rather flat instead of dropping down suddenly.

What happens is that people are walking along those inviting sand bars above big pools of water, and then when they step into one of those pools they find it's a lot deeper than they thought. Some of these sudden drop-offs are five maybe ten feet down.

There have been a few deaths over the decades due to this. Part of the problem is that there's a big jolt to their body because they dropped off farther than they expected. It hurts your whole torso to some degree. But if these holes / drop-offs are deep enough, you can actually find yourself below water.

Luckily, the worst scenario doesn't happen often. But feedback from Oregon Coast Beach Connection readers shows an overwhelming number of people having bad experiences with this. Stories range from the coastlines of California up through Washington and Oregon beaches.


Nye Beach at Newport: note the steep drop-off of the sand dune. That's what is happening underwater at times, and you can't see that depth when covered by sea water

It happened in Cannon Beach in 2007 with one local teen who died in one of these pools.

On the north Oregon coast, they've been nicknamed “crab holes,” though no one seems to have come up with an actual technical name.

Keith Chandler from Seaside Aquarium explains:

“The sand under the ocean is not flat,” Chandler said. “There are holes, deeper spaces between those sand bars, and they can be deeper than you realize.”

Chandler said that for kids, a three- to four-foot drop can mean serious trouble. On the extreme end, those ten-foot crab holes are just plain deadly.

“Just the shock of landing so deep and so hard can knock the breath out of you,” he said. “Then, if you've dropped down far enough, like even into the water, you can't catch your breath.”

If your head is just barely above water, that kind of shock can cause you to loose your footing and drown, or be taken away by an incoming wave. Also, the deeper the hole the better chances you'll get washed away with the tides.

Even if this is a depth you can usually swim your way out of, with that kind of shock to your body, the resultant instinctive breathing in means you're likely to swallow water.

What to look for? That's kind of complex.

“If you can't see the sand at your feet, it's too deep to go into,” Chandler said.

He went as far as to suggest not to go wading in the ocean at all, since people really need a trained eye to know what to look for.

Chandler also suggests making sure you walk back the same way you walked in: avoid those pools.

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Hidden Summer Dangers at Tideline of Oregon Coast / Washington Coast - Video
Above: large sand holes at Manzanita. Careful of all those pools: you don't know how deep they are


Meyers Creek Beach near Gold Beach also gets these deep pools in summer (pictured here in flatter conditions). Photo courtesy Oregon Dept. of Forestry

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