Best time to paddle a inlet?

To clarify what I asked earlier.

What is the best time to paddle in & out of the inlets in south Fl? And does the current in the ocean always run north?

Thanks again,


If small tide changes
say three feet or less over the whole day … it’s not a big deal. Just don’t try to paddle against the tide. If the inlet is very narrow and has rocks etc in the channel then you want to make sure you are not there a few hours after high tide … similar a few hours after low tide.

There is no hard and fast rules it depends on the inlet and the volume of water that moves through it and the size and topography of the opening to open ocean.

Local currents created with strong winds in storms or large ground swells can buck the predominant coastal flows.

Also you might want to change your
profile from Advanced … if you don’t want to get flamed by the Profile Correctness Police … although most of them have moved on anywat,


– Last Updated: Jul-07-10 10:52 PM EST –

Inlets can be very treacherous and conditions change rapidly even in S.Fl. If you don't have considerable experience navigating them in powerboats it would be best to avoid them in a kayak. If you want to paddle on the outside it would be best to launch on the outside.

just saying..

Slack tide is best
Slack tide and light winds and waves are best.

Based on your questions I wouldn’t do it alone. Get an experienced paddler to go with you. I’d prefer someone that is BCU or ACA rated if I didn’t know anything else about them. I’m sure there are paddling clubs or outfitters teaching classes down there.

Inlets are usually the most dangerous part of the entire ocean.

Some important things to consider . . .
Just several hours ago, I walked around Sebastian Inlet, both sides, watching the current as it progressed to high tide. The boats stayed on the wagon roof.


I grew up visiting Sebastian Inlet and I learned to respect how treacherous the currents can be. I might consider paddling in the inlet under the following conditions:

The tide would be in that brief interval between coming in and going out. If I were paddling out the inlet to paddle down the coast, the tide would be in early transition toward going out. There would be no expectation of returning until the tide had neared the apex of coming in (high tide). I would not - at my level of experience - consider paddling in the inlet while the currents were high . . . going in or out, except that it would probably be safer if the tide were coming in - because you would drift toward the Indian River rather than out to sea.

I would prefer to have an experienced paddler guide - one who knows that inlet - with me at all times.

I would prefer to have a fast-enough kayak; a good touring boat. We brought the SOTs down this trip - way too slow to negotiate currents in that inlet, even at transition.

Also, the best laid plans can go awry in inlets. A couple years ago, we took our sea kayaks through the inlet at Amelia Island - under conditions that were negotiable, except for unexpected power boaters that put us in jeopardy on two occasions that trip. Today, I watched a boat run full speed through the no-speed (to protect the manatees) zone in the inlet, with no regard for the large posted sign. Bottom line: we not only have to plan in a way that protects us against our own possible bad judgment; we have to plan for the bad judgment of others who may cross our path.

Finally, we have to consider our limitations in terms of endurance while paddling such waters. When we were kids, my brother and I would jump off the jettys when the tide was almost in and drift/swim in the current to the jettys nearer the river. Today, I wondered how well I would handle a kayak in that water. I’m older. The biggest obstacle in my trying to develop a predictable roll is my reduced stamina due to age. So, don’t forget to consider how your limitations could undo you in the currents of an inlet.

Good luck. Be safe and you’ll paddle another day.

Get Out and Walk

– Last Updated: Jul-08-10 6:21 AM EST –

Seriously. If you find yourself fighting a strong current or if you see very big standing waves ahead, just find a calm spot on the beach and land the boat. There's no shame in it. I always carry some rope for 'walking the dog'. Just walk and pull the boat along in the shallows. Done it many times.

To answer your question: The best times to paddle an inlet is RIGHT AT high tide and low tide. Water is neither flowing in nor out.

Slack current vs. high/low tide
In inlets that connect large bodies of water to the ocean, the time of slack current is often significantly delayed from the time of high tide and low tide at nearby harbors. In our area, where tidal ranges run about 10 feet, water backs up at constricted inlets so much that it continues to ebb for two full hours after high tide has passed. So slack current may not be easy to predict without local knowledge.

Hopefully you can get tide times for the inlets themselves.

That’s good to know, Nate. Thanks.

Boat Speed Vs Current
You would have to take into account your boat speed vs current. In South FL, there are a few inlets that can only be paddled in fast boats like surfskis (powered by strong paddlers) -such as the Boynton Inlet and the Jupiter one.

The Boynton inlet can be suicidal for anyone but very experienced surfski paddlers: very narrow (one of the narrowest), very high boat traffic, tall sea walls, and current w/eddies that max around 7mph.

The Jupiter’s one is at least twice the size or more but still at the wrong time you might not able to over paddle the current.


my advice may differ a tiny bit
Paddling from the ocean into an inlet, if the current is strong, it will carry you into the inlet, even if you’re swimming and hanging onto your boat. Just make sure the tide is flooding, you know where you will end up, and floating in won’t put you in harms way. If you know you will be well in control in the conditions you have observed in the ocean and inlet, it’s easiest to get to the ocean via an ebb tide. But there’s more to consider.

The trap is the ebb tide flowing against breaking waves coming in off of the ocean. The current will carry you out. The breaking waves will grab your kayak and pull it in. First, if out of your kayak, you always want to immediately get on the ocean side of your kayak. The most common injuries in surf are the result of kayak on person. Then you have the choice of swimming to a good area, or safely reeentering your kayak and continuing to paddle. Inexperienced and/or panicked attempts at assisted rescue are more likely to cause injury than prevent it among breaking waves. It only takes an uncontrolled moment on the rescuers part to injure the swimmer, themself, or both. That doesn’t mean the rescuer feels out of control out there. They could feel well in control and still have brief out-of-control moments. The result is the same.

So possibly you can swim with the current out to sea, pulling your kayak behind you. When a breaking wave hits, make sure you have hold of your kayak pointing directly into the wave so that the least resistance is encountered, and make sure you have a solid grasp on a toggle, that will not get tangled around your fingers, and that you can release instantly, and you are holding onto it in a way that a very powerful jerk is not going to injure a finger, elbow, or shoulder.

If the breaking waves are likely to be too big and powerful to allow you to swim your kayak out into the ocean beyond the break, don’t waste energy on it. Don’t waste energy swimming against the current to get back in. Make your way sideways towards the edge of the inlet or the beach, until the current and waves allow you to shore at some point. If you can’t get to shore with your kayak, well, I can’t really make that choice for you, but you can always let go and save yourself.

Make sure you observe the situation and can put yourself in the mindframe “It’s a nice day for a swim and I know what I can try next” vs “Oh no, everything is going wrong”.

A great trip into an inlet to gain experience would likely be during mid-flood during a spring tide (new or full moon). If you can’t fight the current, you will only be carried back where you came from, and now you start to understand the potential.

A life jacket won’t save you if you’re unconscious, so don’t ignore the helmet advice. The paper just recently reported the drowning of a vacationer paddling out of Lockwood’s Folly Inlet. It reported no lifejacket being worn, but a bonk in the head could certainly have been a contributor.

If in doubt, avoid the ebb tide altogether, and paddle out starting at slack low in the inlet.

Every situation is different.

Inlet Safety
Yes, when the tide is ebbing and waves are breaking in the shallows = the perfect time and place to have a reliable roll.

All the self and assisted rescue procedures are very important. But in certain situations, it becomes apparent that they are quite ridiculous as a substitute for a roll.

Going to play in an inlet in the morning
I’m getting nervouse reading all this. Sounds like most Florida inlets have man-made improvements that create risky conditions for kayaks. In the morning, I’m going with a friend to play in an inlet (surfing with sea kayaks). NOT IN FLORIDA!

We go in and out of inlets frequently as we like to “paddle 'round in circles” (circumnavigate the barrier islands).

Bill Guiffre

Mt. Pleasant, SC

Some of us go looking for trouble …
It’s best to treat strong tidal flows with a lot of respect. I personally had a near miss that was very scary. The fun of learning to kayak is learning how to handle your boat in rough water, standing waves, breaking surf. Learn how to do it safely and have a plan if all goes wrong, but get out there and have fun.