Maritime Life
With the county’s 1,700 miles of shoreline, it’s no wonder that maritime activities—building boats, sailing and catching seafood—have helped define Dorchester’s character. Though colonial settlers first looked to farming as a way to survive, many turned to the water as a livelihood. Instructed by local Native Americans on how to harvest seafood and, yes, even how to build log canoes, the region’s first “watermen” passed on a special knowledge of the local tributaries that is put to use even now, three centuries later.

Maritime LifeTraditional engine-powered workboats used by watermen to catch, in season, crabs, oysters, eels and other seafood used to be found almost anywhere in Dorchester where there was water and a dock. The waterman’s way of life is not easy. The hours are long. The work is hard and often dangerous. Expenses are high. And seasonal harvests of crabs and oysters are at record lows, forcing many watermen to give up their boats for a “land job.”

But there’s still strong evidence—from the river town of Secretary to the bayside communities of Hooper’s and Elliots islands—that the tradition of “working on the water” continues in Dorchester. A visit to any of these places, particularly in summer when crabs are “running,” will find men—and a few women—baiting their trot lines or unloading the day’s catch.