Monday, September 11, 2017

Puerto Lopez Boat Maintenance

Spring tides result in high waters that are higher than average, low waters that are lower than average, 'slack water' time that is shorter than average, and stronger tidal currents than average.


I am not a boater nor do play one on TV. My father lives on a boat in California's San Francisco Bay. When I lived there, he wanted to teach me boating but I was never interested in more than riding along. To any boaters reading this, please bear with me as I may use terms incorrectly. Perhaps you will get a nice laugh while you read how a layperson writes about boats.

Puerto Lopez, Ecuador boat maintenance

Puerto Lopez fishermen and tour boat operators perform minor hull maintenance during extreme low tides in a shallow area on the south end of the beach. Spring tides, when the low tide is lowest just after a full or new moon, provide the best time to do this maintenance. That ensures the most possible time for maintenance before the water rises again. The first days after full or new moons are when we see the most boat maintenance.

Painting a shrimp boat hull

Southern Puerto Lopez 

I spent a few days after the last full moon watching the tides and the boat maintenance at the south end of the Puerto Lopez bay. It was interesting to see the dry docking process during the receding tide, then the subsequent float while the tide returned.

High tide

The entire section is bordered by a rocky sea ledge and is shallow, making it an ideal area for low tide dry docking. In fact, tidal pools created during normal low tides are popular family swimming areas. I wrote about them here. During spring tides, the tide pools are dry, as you can see below.

Low tide


A few observations that I had while watching are expanded on below.
  • Boats dock on sand, avoiding rocks
  • Boats are anchored to boulders during maintenance
  • Boats with long enough keels spend multiple tide cycles to paint the entire keel
  • Workers do not have the luxury of a lunch break

Docking on sand

The sea floor where the boats dock is hard sand. Scott and I walk around at low tide, having to be careful of rocks and bits of broken coral from nearby reefs. With experience, the boat captains know right where to dock to avoid the rocky sea floor.

Rocky sea floor further from shore than the sand where the boats are docked

Anchoring to boulders

Operators anchor their boats using long ropes tied to huge boulders.

One of the ropes anchoring the shrimp boat

As the tide comes in once maintenance is complete, people position themselves near each boulder to untie the rope once the entire boat is floating and ready to move out.

Painting both sides of the hull

The keel is used to lean the boat in one direction so they can paint half of the boat hull.

Day 1: Maintenance begins before the tide completely recedes

During the next daytime low tide, they lean the boat in the other direction to paint the other half.

Day 2: Boat leaned the opposite direction to complete maintenance

No time for lunch break

With the clock ticking before the tide comes back in, there is no time to leave for lunch so it is eaten onsite. I have seen families with small grills to cook food, takeout delivered, and food bought off of mobile food carts.

Food vendor selling from his tricycle cart

Fortunately for boat owners, if they run out of time to complete all required maintenance, another spring tide will return with the new moon.

Did you notice any incorrect terminology? Please tell me in the comments section below.


  1. Hi Emily - I'm not a boater myself ... and watch the tides roll in and out with admiration for the moon. I'm quite sure this sort of maintenance or repairs have been going on for centuries as early peoples would have known when the tide would provide access to the boats.

    Fascinating to see your photos - and to see the bicycle cart with his food wares ...

    Locals and invaders (in the old days) would have known where to land and stay safe - from reefs, coastal protection units ... etc - that is not the right terminology!

    The tides never stop for any man ... lovely to see the bays and to read your notes and commentary on the ways of the local fishermen. That rope is long ..

    Cheers Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary - I am sure you are correct that this type of maintenance is a centuries old practice. I had not thought about the invaders this context but yes, I am sure they used the tides and rock formations to find safe temporary locations. I love watching the bicycle cart vendors. And yes, that is a long rope! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments!