The quaint fishing town of Ilwaco is located on the north shore of Baker Bay where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean at the south end of the the Long Beach Peninsula. An important transport hub in its early years workers and vacationers would arrive on boats and ferries from cities east up the river and the take horse drawn carriages and later trains up the Long Beach Peninsula.
Ilwaco became well known as an excellent fishing location for Chinook Salmon by the late 19th century. Local soft spruce timber found around Black Lake north of Ilwaco supplied the wood for making shipping boxes for the fresh caught salmon.
There were over 500 permanent fish traps attached to pilings in the waters off Ilwaco until 1934 when the State of Washington in an attempt to prevent overfishing banned the use of Great Lake Style Fish traps.
While Ilwaco sits on a flat basin behind Baker Bay protected from storms and sea swells by the cliffs of Cape Disappointment the channel and waters leading into the Pacific Ocean are treacherous waters to navigate and the area is regarded as one of the dangerous river bars in the world. The shallow waters quickly turn turbulent as strong outgoing tides of the Columbia River meet head on with incoming Pacific Ocean swells producing waves reaching heights of 20-30 feet.
Over 230 vessels have sunk at the mouth of the Columbia River since the 1890, for that reason this body of water is also called the "Graveyard of the Pacific."
The importance of the waterway to commerce and fishing attracts a lot of boating activity heading out to Pacific Ocean past the Columbia River Bar. The inherent risks of navigating the sand bar just off the coast led the United States Coast Guard to establish its largest Search & Rescue Station in the Northwest. 50 crew members staff 9 SAR boats 24/7/365 and respond to over 200 calls a year for assistance. The majority of responses happen during the summer months when recreational fishermen arrive for salmon and bottom fishing and get into trouble.
The United States Coast Guard has a Motor Lifeboat School in Ilwaco to train crews for surf rescue operations.