How to Sail from California to Hawaii (San Fran, LA, +)

sail from california to hawaii

If you’re looking for a fun new excursion to try out on your boat, then you might want to consider sailing from California to Hawaii. Considered an easy journey, countless sailors successfully complete the trip year in and year out - even beginners. And since navigating the waters from California to Hawaii can be pretty effortless, it can be a fun trip you can take with little worry about getting lost.

Despite the relative ease however, it still pays to know the specifics. Sure, you might have a rudimentary map of the route from point A to point B in your head, but there are nuances you might not be aware of. Wondering how to sail from California to Hawaii as safely and efficiently as possible? Here’s the need-to-know.

The Sailing Route from California to Hawaii

Travelling in a direct line from California to Hawaii entails sailing a distance of 2,467 miles. But who ever said you’d be travelling in a direct line anyway? Taking on a direct route from California to Hawaii isn’t always considered the best idea, because of the presence of what’s called the Pacific High.

This anticyclone sits in the middle of the Pacific, and is characterized by light rains and almost no wind. Entering the Pacific High might seem like a good idea because of the relative calm in the area. But that also means almost zero wind to push your sails. So it would take you much, much longer to reach your destination.

Most sailors agree that the best route to take would be to sail southerly proceed westerly to Hilo. Following this route lets you catch the best wind to fill your sails and take you to your destination much faster.

Why Go South?

Again, it’s all about the Pacific High. As a general rule, the Pacific High shifts down to the South earlier in the year and then rises back up North as the year trudges on. That means that the earlier in the year you travel, the further down south you might have to go before heading west to Hawaii.

Why is that? The Pacific High brings little to no wind. So entering its territory means sacrificing wind propulsion and potentially overworking your engine or consuming all of your fuel before you even get to your destination.

So how far south do you have to go? Most sailors who have taken the trip recommend going down south until you reach the latitude of either San Francisco or Los Angeles (38°N to 34°N), and then turning west all the way to Hilo, Hawaii. But you won’t always have to go that far. Again, depending on the time of year, you might be able to steer clear of the Pacific High without having to go too far down.

  • Winter - At least 20°N
  • April to May - At least 30°N
  • Summer - At least 34°N

When is the Best Time to Sail from California to Hawaii?

Keep in mind that you can travel to Hawaii from California any time of the year. But there are some things to consider. For instance, starting the trip in the winter means having to face cold weather head on. Starting the trip later in the summer means you might have to deal with potential rains and strong currents brought on by hurricanes.

That said, the best time to set sail for a trip from California to Hawaii would be between the end of May and the start of June. This gives you the best weather conditions, free from both cold and rain.

The Best Way to Get Back

Think of the Pacific High like a giant cyclone in the middle of the Pacific with its winds turning clockwise. Following it south and then west on your way to Hawaii means leveraging that clockwise wind. In the same light, traveling back means having to go with the direction of the winds, which entails travelling north and then east.

As you leave Hawaii, travel up north until about 45°N alongside Seattle. Then travel all the way east towards the shore. As you arrive at the coast of Seattle, you can travel slightly south to reach California.

How Long Does It Take to Sail From California to Hawaii?

The duration of the trip isn’t set in stone, and sailors achieve the distance at their own pace. For instance, during the Transpac race, a monohull was able to achieve the trip in just 5 days and 2 hours. The slowest was able to accomplish the distance in 16 days. But again, these are some seriously good numbers.

For a novice sailor or a first timer, you can spend as much as 3 weeks out on the water. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’ve packed enough of the essentials to take you the distance, as well as the mental courage to take on the often quiet and isolated journey.

Details of the Trip

Aside from just the distances, the latitudes, the directions, and the time of year, you’ll also want to consider a few other factors related to the trip. For instance, how far out of the cost should you sail?

Sailing closer to the shoreline means having to deal with more traffic and stronger currents. And while that might make the technicalities of sailing a little more difficult, some sailors prefer sailing near the coast because it gives a semblance of direction and familiarity. After all, sailing with nothing but water around you might be a daunting sight, especially for a first time sailor.

If you choose to sail close to the shore, make sure you avoid these ports which tend to be busy and littered with boats, people, strong currents, and lots of rocks and obstacles, making them difficult to navigate especially in the dark:

  • Point St.George
  • Cape Blanco and Cape Arago
  • Cape Flattery
  • Rocky Point

However if you want a peaceful ride with sufficient wind and not a lot of waves or currents, it’s recommended that you sail between 50 to 100 miles off of the coast. This lets you take advantage of the Pacific High’s wind. Of course, the trade off is that you won’t see a lot of landmarks while you’re out on the water, which might be a little frightening.

Tips for the Journey

If you’re making the trip for the first time, or if this will be your first sailing trip that lasts more than just a day, you might not be entirely aware of the things and specifics you need to prepare to guarantee your safety, comfort, and efficiency.

So to help you make the right preparations, consider these tips from some of the pros:

Mentally Prepare

You can have all the supplies at your disposal, but if you’re not mentally ready for the experience, then you might find yourself worrying and anxious for the entire trip. There will be lots of times when you’ll be surrounded by nothing but open water.

And with the silence of the sea assailing your boat at every side, you might find yourself riddled with strange emotions and fears. Expect loads of silence and days of travel where you’ll see nothing but open water around you.

Pack Seasickness Medication

Even if you’re not the kind to usually get seasick, you’re going to want to pack medication or natural remedies to help keep your stomach calm. Long bouts of sailing on nothing but open water can cause an upset stomach, and may push you to the point of vomiting over and over.

While it’s unlikely to die as the result of seasickness, the dehydration caused by too much vomiting can become a major health risk if it goes on for too long without any medical aid or assistance. So to cut the risk, prevent nausea all together by using the right medicine.

Study Basic Boat Repairs

Of course, before you even leave the port, you’re going to want to make sure that your boat is up to code. But even then, there’s no guarantee that you won’t be met with minor damages and performance issues as you go through your journey.

Read up on how to perform basic repairs on your boat, and make sure you put together a proper tool box for the purpose. It’s going to be a long journey, so double up on consumable supplies.

Consider Food Choices

A trip that lasts close to 3 weeks will have you feeling hungry constantly. So make sure to pack food that’s sure to last the entire way. While fruits and vegetables might seem like a good choice, anything perishable will probably rot before you can eat it, and might cause a mess on board.

Canned goods, instant noodles and soup, rice, granola bars, grains, cereals, and other products that are slow to perish should be at the top of your list. As a rule of thumb, always pack a week’s worth in excess. It’s always better to find yourself with more than you need than with less.

All Aboard

For all of those wondering how to sail from California to Hawaii, it’s worth noting that the trip isn’t really that tough. With the right preparations and proper knowledge on the conditions out at sea, you should be able to navigate the waters and make it to your destination and back without any incident. Just stay mindful of the Pacific High, pack the right stuff, and prepare for the mental challenge, and you should be ready to sail.

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