What is the difference between inlets, ports and passes?

Dear Captain "
What is the difference between inlets, ports and passes? "

Hi Mr. Hoins,

When I decided to become a Captain, I went the traditional study route. I applied for all my training materials from the Federal Government. They have an extensive program and at one time gave and had their own plotting and seamanship course and test. Those days are gone, but specifically in the coursework of the seamanship and plotting section they had the following definitions:

  1. Ports -- are waterways in municipalities, towns or cities with a harbor where ships can load and unload things like cargo, passengers etc. Ports will have Federal Agents in and around them all the time.
  2. A Pass -- is usually a natural, navigable (some unnavigable) waterway which connects two large bodies of water. It is generally between two land masses.
  3. An inlet -- is a recess such as a bay or cove along the coast or a pass that leads to a bay or cove coming from the Ocean.

Jupiter Inlet

As you can see the Port is definitely different. Both of Florida’s coasts have ports. The Pass and Inlet can be close to the same. Here is the difference: Inlet differs because of the word Ocean. The east coast of Florida is parallel to the Atlantic Ocean and everything that leads into another body of water is called an Inlet. On the west coast of Florida we run parallel to the Gulf of Mexico and everything that leads into another body of water is called a Pass.

West Coast Pass

While passes and inlets might look the same and you could technically call an inlet a pass by definition. I can tell you this in real world experience. Going through an inlet which has the Atlantic Oceans tidal current moving through it, is a totally different ballgame then going through a pass that has the Gulf of Mexico tidal current moving through it. I attached a photo of a boat going through Jupiter Inlet where I believe the Captain was thrown from the boat and died. The boat I believe was a 51-footer. My prayers go out to that Captain and his family. The other photo is me, fishing in a 21-foot boat in a Gulf Coast Pass. Notice the difference. Don't get me wrong, a Gulf Coast Pass can get nasty. But the Atlantic Ocean Inlets are often much nastier! Safety is the key. If you go to other parts of the country or world they do use the language a little different for other bodies of water.

Thank you for sending in your question to The Online Fisherman.

Captain David M. Rieumont
The Online Fisherman Inc.

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