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Skipper’s Corner – An Inlet Is Very Serious Business!

Of late there have been a plethora of video postings on social media showing pleasure boats running various inlets in Florida and other states while confronting serious seas. Some of these postings are accompanied by infantile laughter and commentary. It seems as if those filming are actually waiting for a disaster to happen. I have rarely heard a cautionary word expressed by the commentators.

Any experienced boater will find them excruciating to watch. Bad boating is not a comedy.
It is serious business and those who fail to view it as such should not be on the water. They should just stay tied to the dock and just brag “I own a boat” and be done with it.
To safely run an inlet the captain must consider many factors. The boat used must be up to the task. On flat sea days, a high gunnel 18 ft center console would be adequate with a captain of experience. Other days, a 40-ft craft with an inexperienced captain shouldn’t even attempt to run out.
The trick is that the captain first must know his boat. How does it handle in seas from calm to snotty? How many passengers can safely be accommodated, is the engine(s) in peak condition and is your communication system active? Every prudent captain must check all-weather, sea conditions, tide changes and the lunar situation. That’s right! The moon can have a tremendous effect on inlet conditions. If you leave a calm inlet at high tide and return when the tide is rushing out, especially with a full or new moon configuration, that flat inlet may turn into a maelstrom of dangerous, confused, waves. Factor in the direction of the wind and the situation degrades even further. You may be better off lying outside until it calms down. If you decide to go, first watch the wave patterns. Even in the most confused inlet, you can detect a system of larger and smaller waves. Catch a wave and ride the back of it. If the wave behind you seems to be coming up your transom, throttle up higher on the wave you are riding, but do not go so high up that you begin to dive down the front of it. This can flip you right over in a somersault. Avoid turning sideways to any incoming inlet wave on any but the calmest day. Taking a big wave sideways is an instant recipe for disaster as your craft gets slammed and then rolls you over.
Better yet, follow a much larger boat in, let him do the work. Don’t close in on him but trail him so that he is cutting you a softer path through the water.
The important thing is to keep your eyes aware, and your brain focused. This is no time to be jabbering away about the beers waiting at the dock. It helps to assign lookouts to the so you have a 360-degree idea of what’s going on and never assign a hysteric to a watch position-you just want to be forcefully told of a problem so you can clearly understand and take appropriate action after quickly assessing for yourself. Remember, you are the captain.
We all learn by our own experience and of others. There are so many programs and books to learn from or improve your inlet running skills. If you are new to boating, I suggest hiring an accredited captain for a series of “On the water, through the Inlet” experiences. It’s worth every dollar you spend. Considering the prices of today’s boats, it’s the cheapest investment you will ever make. If you decide that inlets are not for you and you would rather just cruise, fish and anchor in the bays, just enjoy that. Never let yourself be talked into doing something with your boat you are not comfortable with. Tell them to just buy their own boat!
Lastly and most importantly. On every posting, I watched to research this article (way, way, too many) life preservers were completely absent from everyone on board every boat I saw. You cannot imagine what was going through my head as I watched this stupidity. On top of that 50% of the boats were grossly overloaded with most passengers standing, falling, and sliding all over the decks as they tried powering through the waves.
This is totally unacceptable. Worse than that-it’s deadly. Wake up boaters! Be a smart boater. Learn your stuff and practice it. Boating is so much more fun when everyone is safe.