Thinking of Running That Inlet?

Defining an Inlet

In an effort to get everyone on the same page, let’s start by defining what an inlet isn't. It isn't always an escape to safety!

For the most part, all definitions seem to agree on a narrow water passage which extends inland from a large body of water to a smaller body of water. The term "entrance" is also in common usage.

The Problem

More often than not, one of the major concerns to the cruising sailor is - entering a strange inlet for the first time. When you add in poor weather conditions, darkness, limited visibility, or any combination of these conditions; the pucker factor increases dramatically.

You will often hear of experienced cruisers planning their arrivals for daylight hours or even those who will heave to offshore until the sun is up before entering. Thankfully, this final phase to all voyages, goes well on most occasions.

What is an "All Weather" or "Class A Inlet?"

We have all heard the term "All Weather Inlet" and the term "Class A Inlet" seems to be the nom du jour lately. Both of these terms have become popular in describing what "someone" thinks is an inlet safe to enter or exit under any weather conditions.

I say "someone," because I have been going to sea now for more years than I care to admit to and I have yet to find an official definition of either one. I have searched the libraries, the blogs, the bibles of navigation like Bowditch, and even Googled the terms: the results "Zero, Zip, Zilch point Sh..!" Ok, you get the idea. So, how can anyone classify an inlet as "All Weather or Class A" when apparently no definition exists to compare it against?

Many people in the past have tried to rank inlets based upon their ease of use. While this is a great idea and would definitely provide the mariner with a valuable tool in voyage planning, the results of these rankings are still very often subjective in nature.

What is easy for a 70’ twin screw custom sportfisherman with 3000 HP on tap is not necessarily easy for a 36’ 30 HP sailboat. Likewise, a 35’ Express drawing 3 feet may find an inlet to be negotiable while the same 70’ sportfisherman above; drawing over 6 feet may find the same inlet impossible under the same conditions.

To further complicate the subject, just what does "All Weather" mean? Webster seems to think it means "usable, operative, or practiced in all kinds of weather" (emphasis mine). It makes me wonder if Webster ever got his feet wet? Personally, there are very, very few inlets that I would attempt in any recreational vessel during seriously heavy weather.

So now that I have muddied up the issue even further, let’s move on and try to come up with some answers.

Solutions? Maybe.

To start, maybe the key is not to try to define what makes an "All Weather/Class A" inlet, but rather what makes an inlet safer to navigate. So we will attempt to define an Inlet from that perspective.

It stands to reason that anything that makes an inlet safer to navigate for one vessel will make it safer for any vessel. So hopefully some of that pesky subjectivity will be avoided.

So what does this "Perfect Inlet" look like?

Now the above definition is my idea of what a perfect inlet should look like. If I am forced into making an entrance into an unfamiliar inlet at night or in less than ideal weather conditions, or both; this is the type of inlet that I would be looking for.

Conclusions

You now have a pretty fair understanding of what I think the perfect inlet might look like and what goes into my selection criteria. Hopefully it may offer you a starting point to decide what inlets are suitable for you and your vessel. You may also be wondering where my list of "All Weather" or Class "A" inlets is. Well, sorry to disappoint, but you will not find that here. Once again, it would be a list of what "someone else" thinks but....

Always Remember

The final decision to run an inlet whether in good weather or bad, can only lie with one person; You. You have to balance the risks to your vessel, your crew, and yourself versus your experience, how well found your vessel is, and the competency of your crew.

When the weather has gone to … (deteriorated significantly,) visibility is reduced by heavy precipitation, and it’s 0-dark thirty out; your decision to run an inlet, might be a lot more serious than the simple embarrassment of having to just call Sea Tow.

Choose Wisely!

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