Bakers Haulover Inlet in Florida offers a thorny passage

Published: 01/21/2009




Of more than 60 inlets in Florida, Bakers Haulover Inlet is one that requires clear local knowledge or just plain avoidance, say local captains.

This man-made inlet was dug in 1925 to connect Biscayne Bay with the Atlantic Ocean. Known as Haulover, it is located at statute mile 1080 on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and is the only inlet between Miami’s Government Cut and Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale.

By land, it is north of Bal Harbour and south of Sunny Isles Beach at Florida State Road A1A. The fixed bridge has a vertical clearance of 32 feet with horizontal clearance of 125 feet.

It is smooth sailing from the Atlantic Ocean, but near the jetties navigators should be aware of strong currents, constant shoaling and no channel that heads directly west to the ICW.

Although the ICW is dead ahead of a vessel entering from the Atlantic, so too are sandbars. These obstructions require a vessel to turn either north or south to avoid hitting bottom or grounding.

"If you see people in lawn chairs with coolers sitting in the water in front of you, don’t go that way," laughed local Capt. Doug Abbott.

Once inside the inlet, the safest way to the ICW, even with a southern destination, is to take a starboard turn hugging the rocks. This unmarked channel hugs the coast heading in an almost due north direction at Haulover Beach Park. To stay in this dredged Army Corp of Engineers’ channel, head toward markers 4A and lit 5. The channel and ICW are idle zones in this area.

"If you stay close to the marina, you’re OK," said Capt. David Brewer of TowBoat
U.S. Miami.

But navigators must be vigilant, as Capt. Nigel Beatty warned.

"Take caution when you come in toward the ICW and steer right on an incoming tide," he said. "I have seen a vessel’s stern get pushed at a faster rate and force a boat’s nose into the rocks."

"Once you come in the jetty, you may not have enough power," Brewer said, "When the tide is going in, it begins to suck you in and you don’t realize how fast you’re going. You can lose control. We had a sportfisher hit the rocks recently and it put a hole in his bottom."

On this course north, there is an Army Corps dredged channel abeam of marker 6, so if you want to take your chances, mariners can take a west turn before reaching markers 4A and 5. But watch for shoals.

"If you go off course by two feet, you can hit bottom," Brewer said. "Especially at night, it is so easy to go outside the channel."

Capt. Deborah Streeter, a captain from the Florida Keys, knows about shallow water and still doesn’t like Haulover.

"Not my favorite inlet," she said in an e-mail. "We have gone aground there in an 11 p.m. attempt at navigation to the ICW northbound. We were listening to someone calling ‘help,’ contacting the Coast Guard, and not paying attention to where the markers were. Seems like they re-set them with every tide and the shoaling/current is horrific. But … it looks like a good place to party."

Tidal conditions in the inlet are such that even the channel markers don’t quite know where to rest.

"The shoaling never stops, that’s why they have moveable markers here for the ICW," Brewer said of channel markers 6B, 7A and 7B. "The Coast Guard comes and moves them every once in a while."

On this section of the ICW, Beatty said, "If the wind is coming in, the markers on chains can be pushed so it appears they are in different locations."

If the "pushed" markers are honored, a vessel could be dangerously outside of the channel.

Beyond the shoaling and current, Brewer said mariners have to be prepared for severe and fast-moving weather, too.

"It picks up quick. The most I’ve seen is currents up to 4 or 5 knots, but when there is a front, you can really see the waves," he said about wind blowing against tides at the mouth of the inlet. "I often advise small boats to be cautious or not go out."

"The half-hour slack tide is the only time nothing is going on sometimes," he said.

Local traffic can be seen crossing the sandbars, but for larger or unfamiliar inbound vessels, the only other course is to stick tight to the south coast. Bal Harbour Beach Club Hotel-Marina is accessible by this channel as well as the ICW, but there is no dredged channel.

"That section is for locals or the marina, but you have to hug everything," Brewer said. "All of it in the middle is sandbar. You can see the edge because everyone anchors there."

The sandbar inside of the inlet is a popular daytime recreational spot to anchor. Directly west of the ICW is Sandspur Island locally known as Beer Can Island, where boaters anchor and go ashore. And on the northwest side is Oleta River State Park and Florida International University where an unofficial anchorage is located.

Traffic varies in the inlet. Weekends are busy with anchored vessels, and boat shows bringing lots of sightseers.

"Summer can have more traffic and inexperienced boaters, but winter can bring more fronts, making the inlet pick up more with bigger waves," Brewer said. "People get in trouble."

The Army Corp of Engineers dredged the ICW and the north channel connecting to the inlet in 2006 and previously in 1998. The ICW was dredged to a depth of 10 feet while the channel was dredged to 8 feet. Both sections are also dredged an additional 2 feet more as overdepth. This serves as advanced maintenance for the channel and makes sure the waterways are at their required depth.

The Corps is preparing plans and specifications for maintenance dredging of the inlet, tentatively scheduled for the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010, at an estimated cost of $3.5 million.


Dorie Cox is a staff reporter with The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at dorie@the-triton.com .