8 Tips to Navigate a Boat through an Inlet Safely

Yacht navigating in rough waters, Sardinia, Italy
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You will rarely encounter any challenging inlet passages, but you may still face difficulties navigating a boat through an inlet safely. Following the right tips can be helpful because even the most experienced boaters go through challenges when trying to navigate rough seas. Hence, it’s best to stay out of the water or at least the inlet if it’s raging. You can try it at another time once you study the inlet and check the weather conditions that would make it passable. 

If an inlet appears reckless, your best bet is to study it and wait for the right time to pass by it. While it may look like a 10-15 minute ride, it can wreck your boat completely if you try to enter it unprepared. Here are some of the most useful tips shared by boaters who prefer using special knowledge and experience to navigate a boat through an inlet safely.

How to Navigate a Boat through an Inlet

Inlets are narrow channels where powerful tides keep coming. The onshore wind is so strong that it piles up the seas. The combination of powerful tides and strong winds result in challenging waves at an inlet. Therefore, incorporate the following tips to make sure you get through the inlet unscathed.

1. Avoid Rushing In

Are you unfamiliar with the bar when boating and trying to navigate a boat through an inlet safely? Then, it’s best if you study the inlet carefully and take your time before trying to run out of it. It can be unsettling to end up in a nasty inlet. However, once you’re in, you must use the best of your boating abilities to survive the recklessness of the inlet you’re dealing with.

St. Lucie River in Port St. Lucie, FloridaNorth Fork of the St. Lucie River in Port St. Lucie, Florida

Studying the wave cycles near the bar can help. You will understand and memorize the rhythm of it. You navigate a boat through an inlet safely when the waves get smaller. If you have enough time on your hands, you can try studying the inlet way before entering it. Rushing in isn’t advisable in any case.

2. Make the Perfect Boat Choice

Never assume that all you need to navigate a boat through an inlet safely is a pair of strong hands and only some knowledge. Even with the right knowledge and skills, surpassing the breaking waves in an inlet safely can seem like a nightmare without the right boat.

Motorboat navigating in the open sea

The boat you take up to navigate rough seas must have a seakeeping property, buoyancy, and considerable size. You don’t want to end up losing to the breaking waves and having your boat overwhelmed by the crashing waters. You need to stay level at slower speeds to navigate a boat through an inlet safely.

Navigation and foreseeing objects in front of you are extremely important as you try to pass a raging inlet. If the boat has an unnecessary bow rise, it will be challenging to navigate properly and foresee objects including jetties, waves, and buoys. To navigate safely, know the strengths and weaknesses of your boat very well.

3. Save Extra Horsepower

There will be instances where you require additional horsepower at a moment’s notice. You must have that in immediate reserve, and for that to happen, you must be using the right boat type. The horsepower you reserve to get out of any dangers when navigating through an inlet safely will be relative to your boat size. Meaning there’s not a fixed level of power everyone may need. It depends on the boat you’re using.

Small motorboat out on the water

4. Avoid the Inlet at Night

It’s a great danger to try and navigate a boat through an inlet safely at night. You can’t pinpoint the breaks and where the waves have started forming to predict where they may break. Even more, you can’t cross the bar in the dark, and it’s possible to incur an unintentional accident due to high tides.

Jupiter Lighthouse sits atop an ancient Indian mound along the Jupiter InletThe scenic and historic Jupiter Lighthouse sits atop an ancient Indian mound along the Jupiter Inlet

5. Never Forget PLBs

There should be no compromises on boat safety and protective measures. Hence, wear life jackets and keep personal locator beacons, or PLBs, nearby when you navigate a boat through an inlet safely. It’s possible to deploy the Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon EPIRB to gain assistance from responders.

6. Learn about the Inlet

Keep tables on the weather conditions and the tide’s power. It will help you pick the perfect departure time and when to venture into the inlet. To navigate a boat through an inlet safely, you must realize that timing is everything. Plus, you may enter with relatively less trouble. Regardless, not preparing and potentially picking the wrong time to return via the inlet can put your boat and your safety at risk.

Sebastian Inlet, FloridaSebastian Inlet connects a lagoon with the open ocean

7. Try to Get a Displacement Hull

If you can get a boat with a displacement hull, it’s possible to outrun a large wave safely. If you think a large wave will break on your stern, you can stay behind it or outrun it. But whatever you do, you must stay away from the break. 

8. Play Right around Large Waves

If a large wave is mounting ahead of you, try not to go over the top of it. You can stay at the back of the crest, so it breaks before you, i.e., not under you. This will also help you use the extra horsepower and break through the turbulence created.

Frequently Asked Questions

When Not to Navigate an Inlet?

You shouldn't navigate a boat through an inlet during the night, during the winter season, and during uncertain weather forecasts.

How to Navigate Through Breaking Waves?

You must find the right boat type, study the inlet, reserve extra horsepower, and be patient when approaching big, breaking waves.

How to Drive a Boat in Rolling Waves?

You must drive the boat into the oncoming waves at slight angles. It helps the boat rise and fall at certain angles on its long axis.

What Is the Most Dangerous Inlet in the US?

The most dangerous inlet in the US is St. Lucie, Florida. Others include Jupiter, Florida, and Sebastian, Florida.

By monitoring weather conditions, inlet information charts, and tides, you can increase your chances of avoiding danger. Trying to navigate a boat through an inlet safely can be tricky. But, with the perfect boat type and extra horsepower, you can ram through the breaking waves at an inlet.

It can be a mind-shattering experience to navigate through an inlet safely without preparing with the right tips. If not you or others on board, it will be the boat that endures the damage due to passing through reckless inlets without knowledge and skills.

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