This article identifies the social and cultural history of the early modern tidal water ferry, its skippers and passengers, by way of evidence from a northern Scottish rural coast. Evidence from the region's ‘firthlands’ reveals an amphibious communications network which transformed gradually prior to the early nineteenth century. The article argues that the defining local topography of coastal adjacency both influenced, and was influenced by, the people who lived their lives within and around the littoral. A system of short range communications over and between the estuaries and firths is highlighted from a Coastal History perspective, leading to the examination of a ‘pluriactive’ microhistorical space, linking south-east Sutherland, the eastern edges of Easter Ross and the Black Isle and the Nairnshire seaboard. The article thereby opens up possibilities for comparison with other peoples, places and periods, in which being ‘alongshore’ was integral to rural community construction, coalescence, dynamism and friction.