It’s a question I hear all the time: is it really safe to take my bay boat through the inlet, and out into the ocean? This question isn’t easy to answer, first because all boats are different; second because each day is different; and finally, because different people are willing to take different levels of punishment and risk to get out to those oceanic hot-spots. Essentially, while “yes” might be a perfectly reasonable answer for you, “no” might be the better call for me, or vise-versa. So, how will you know how ot make the right call? Here are the important considerations.
Safety Gear – Obviously, this should play a huge roll in your decision making. Personally, I insist that everyone put on an inflatable PFD any time we go through the inlet, and I carry offshore-rated life jackets, as well. I never go without a SPOT or InReach satellite text-messenger, and I insist any boat I’m stepping on for an oceanic run have an active DSC VHF radio at the helm. In addition to the usual required gear, any boat heading into the ocean should also have a first aid kit, spare flares, a back-up hand-held VHF, and a back-up handheld GPS.
Size – Your boat’s size is less of a factor than it was in pervious years, because modern boats are built extremely well and virtually all have floatation built-in. In most cases, the size factor comes down to fuel capacity (always plan on using no more than 1/3 to get where you’re going, leaving 1/3 to get home and 1/3 in reserve) and comfort levels. There’s no official minimum size and no line can be drawn in the sand – it’s up to you as captain to make the right judgement call.
Design – Again, with modern construction, your boat can almost surely take more of a beating than you can. However, remember that the shallower the deadrise is on a bay boat, the more you’re likely to slam when hitting waves. If your bay boat is a power cat, the ride in a head or following sea will be much smoother. The ride in a beam sea, however, can be pretty rough on some models. Again, as the captain, it’s up to you to make a judgement call on whether or not the run will be too rough on you and your passengers.
Weather – This is often the toughest decision to make – one day your boat may be perfectly at home 10 miles off the coast, and the next, being in that same spot could be an absolute nightmare. Help stay informed by checking several different marine forecasts right before you leave.
The bottom line? If there’s any serious question in your mind, call the trip off or simply pick a fishing spot that’s inside the inlet.