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Q& A - Boat Handling

What are some factors to consider when  negotiating an inlet?

It's often easier to safely go out an inlet than to come in. Your bow likely will be into the waves, you're looking ahead toward them, and you're choosing weather and conditions. When you go out an inlet, think ahead as to conditions that will exist when you re-enter, including weather, current direction, tide level, light, glare and direction of sun. Will it be in your eyes, making it difficult to see buoys ahead?

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Onshore seas can make an otherwise safe inlet dangerous. And onshore seas against an outgoing current can cause breaking and standing waves across an inlet. Before negotiating an inlet, watch for a while - use binoculars if necessary - to determine the sea state. Remember that an inlet looks smoother from offshore than it actually is since you're seeing the backs of waves. Even on a calm day with good weather, an offshore storm can build swells that will occasionally break across an otherwise calm inlet. Study updated charts and guides, and beware of submerged jetties that may extend alongside the channel out to sea.

When negotiating a rough inlet during an outgoing tidal rip you may be tempted to steer to the side and out of the rip to get into calmer water. Don't, unless you are sure of depths.

When entering an inlet, keep watch ahead and all around. Watch following seas and respond according to the behavioral characteristics of your boat. In a sailboat it usually helps to keep at least the mainsail up for power and stability, but it is wise to start the engine, as well.

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue.