Most of your inlet passages will be eventless and pleasant. But if you get caught at sea with bad conditions in the inlet, consider staying out, even if it means overnight. This may demand that some tough decisions must be made; it’s normal to want to “get in at any cost” when faced with rough conditions offshore.
Sometimes an inlet, even though it’s only a 10-minute shot, could be your
undoing, while staying out only means another few hours at sea until you
can try the inlet again in the morning.
Inlet Conditions At the Time You Enter
An inlet can be a piece of cake at one time of the day and very dangerous at another.
Many a skipper has been lulled into a false sense of security traveling out to sea
through a peaceful inlet, only to return later to a dangerous maelstrom. Prudent seamanship dictates that you closely study the chart, consult a pilot book, and read the
“Local Notice to Mariners” before navigating an inlet, just as you would when entering
any unfamiliar waters.
Also compare the published resource material with what you’re actually seeing and
experiencing. An inlet may be benign the majority of the time but turn into a raging
fury when, say, there are strong wind-against-tide conditions.
Knowing inlet conditions may include being aware of what’s going on far away.
Incoming waves generated by a storm far offshore may not be present when you leave
on a sunny morning, but these may reach shore hours later, under those same sunny
and windless skies. When the swell from a storm feels the shallow bottom, it begins
The Ins And Outs Of Inlets
No one truism covers all inlets and their circumstances, except that when you’re entering one,
you’d better know what you’re doing, have a plan, and do it well
to hump. When swell tries to funnel into
the inlet, particularly against an outgoing
current, it can form dangerous standing
waves. Standing waves seem to stay in
place as the current meets the incoming
sea, sometimes tumbling over on themselves. Often they span the channel.
An inlet’s features help determine
whether you can handle it and, if you
can, how to do so. For example, a narrower inlet may have faster-moving currents, and some inlets have constantly
shifting shoals or submerged rocks that
cause strong eddies. Up-to-date local
knowledge, as well as a familiarity with
the aids to navigation (ATONS) is critical. Often the channel through an inlet
twists and turns, and it’s easy to confuse
or miss even very conspicuous ATONS
that mark shallow water extending into
what appears to be the channel.
Other boaters are sometimes an inlet’s
most threatening hazard. Racing in and PH
By Tom Neale
Inlets can look benign from seaward, but this can be misleading
and trap the unwary.