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How To Run an Inlet

How to run an inlet with your boat


A judicious use of power is required to safely run an inlet, and a very careful use of wheel and throttle.


If possible, have a sidekick monitoring a plotter and/or compass while you handle the steering and engine controls. He or she can help you stay in the channel while you have other things on your mind.


The idea is to ride the backs of waves and overtake them only after they break ahead of you.


Running inlets in powerful planing boats is one thing, but doing it in underpowered displacement vessels is quite another. Avoid the latter if possible.


Before entering an inlet, stand off and watch the wave pattern for a while.


Power is the biggie when running an inlet—precisely controlled power. Some years ago, my brother and I got caught in a sporty little storm in my 23-foot Steiger Craft. We made the jaunt from Essex, Connecticut, to Milford, Connecticut, with stunning ease, despite the semi-sideways sea conditions. I ran the boat about two-thirds throttle all the way. But when we arrived at Milford jetties, an inlet of sorts, albeit a short one, conditions looked pretty darn dire—8- to 10-foot seas were roaring straight through them into the harbor, with an ebb tide coming out. Chances of getting slammed sideways by a tall, compact roller from astern seemed exceedingly likely and going sideways in an inlet is never even mildly good and can sometimes prove fatal.

“Hang on brother,” I yelled before pouring on the coal and putting the following seas directly over our stern. My operational experience with my Steiger was extensive at the time—I trusted her to do just about anything.

And she came through with flying colors. By throttle-jockeying just enough power to stay on the backs of succeeding waves while spinning the steering wheel with both alacrity and a fair amount of nerve to maintain course, I managed to get safely through. The trick was to precisely fit speed and steering to the constantly changing conditions once inside the pass—going not too fast nor too slow. Once you commit to an inlet of this type, of course, there simply is no turning back.

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This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.