Tip of the Month: Navigating Inlets in Rough Waters

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One of the most dangerous and difficult tasks that a skipper will face, particularly on smaller boats, is negotiating inlets in rough seas, whether going out to sea or trying to return to port.

The weather and tidal currents can change quickly which can dramatically affect your options, so careful planning and keeping the risk factors to a minimum are key. Also, the narrower the inlet, the faster the flow of tidal currents whether going in or coming out, principally because a huge mass of water is now squeezing itself into a much smaller space causing the flow of the water to accelerate radically (the infamous Knysna Heads being a great example).

Alarm bells should ring when there is a strong onshore wind and an ebb tidal current (tide going out), all of which will be even more pronounced if it’s winter time because then stronger winds and colder water (hypothermia being a risk, should you capsize) will make the sea rougher, causing higher and more frequent waves which will pose even more potential problems.

This is not the time to experience a boat crisis, whether it is fuel-related, engine cut-out drama or a confrontation with floating debris. Always make sure you follow all the normal ‘going out to sea’ safety procedures and above all check the weather reports, the state of the tides, know your boat and your own capabilities as a skipper, and always tell someone where you’re going along with an approximate timeframe.

It’s generally much easier to judge the overall conditions from an inshore position where you need to carefully monitor everything for several minutes before deciding whether to go or not. If in doubt then just don’t go, never take chances with the sea, especially if it’s rough.


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