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Is It Dangerous to Sail From California to Hawaii? – Facts

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

is it dangerous to sail from california to hawaii

I’ve lost count of the number of people who have asked me, “Is it dangerous to sail from California to Hawaii?” It’s obviously on every sailor’s bucket list.

Yes, it’s infinitely better to consider it a dangerous trip, much like any open-ocean crossing. For one, you’ll essentially always be in the lap of the gods when sailing the Pacific, and you’ll have to keep an eye on the weather map the entire way. Be wary of volatile conditions.

Is It Really That Dangerous?


I’m just going to say that the risk is directly related to various factors:

  • Seamanship – obviously, you can’t have enough skill when traversing risky routes. Remember that you’ll have to be able to work your way around a lot of unpredictable weather and sea conditions.

Most first-timers who attempt this take the time to enroll in boating courses (particularly skippering larger vessels like sailboats), splicing rope, operating wind vanes (if you’re planning to sail solo), maintaining winches, etc.

  • Knowledge of safe routes – the general recommendation is to avoid the North Pacific High, so the winds will be in your favor.
  • Type of vessel – every time you decide to sail to Hawaii, you’ll always do yourself a favor by choosing ocean-ready, large boats with deep-V hulls, adequate amenities and storage space, and high fuel capacity.
  • Equipment – GPS navigation alone is a godsend for safe navigation, for one.

Sure, it may not be as dangerous as an Atlantic crossing. You can always choose a time with predominantly good weather. However, the seas that you’ll be traversing are nothing short of notorious for their fickleness.

Dozens of people have been rescued from San Francisco Bay alone. And even if you overcome that one big hurdle, you’re bound to be on your toes, especially as more days pass and the risk of encountering unforeseen storms rises.

Risks and Challenges of Sailing to Hawaii

1. Difficult weather and water conditions


Don’t be fooled by the Pacific Ocean’s peaceful name. It will throw strong currents and unpredictable winds at you, especially once you depart from the coast and enter the open sea.

And it’s not like you can stick to sailing along the coastline as much as possible since you want to avoid the bad traffic in them.

Moreover, you’ll be dealing with heavy wind coupled with unpleasant rocking and relentless oscillations of the boat that may keep you up at night.

2. Lack of sailing skill


People tend to underestimate these waterways until their inadequate equipment fails them or the fluctuating winds and tides prove them wrong. Keep in mind that people have died trying to reach Hawaii by boat.

3. General unpredictability and anxiety


Regardless of how meticulously you prepare for your trip, you can never raise your chance of success to a hundred. You’ll need all the help you can get.

Of course, that becomes extra tricky for boaters who dream of doing this trip solo. Chances are, they don’t foresee the precarious positions they’ll place themselves in.

Once you fall asleep, what if you strike a whale, or a container ship, or suddenly find yourself facing a storm upon waking? What if your engine suddenly won’t start?

These questions only underscore the importance of having the right know-how and conditioning before attempting this trip.

4. Distance


The distance from Los Angeles to Hawaii is around 2,600 nautical miles. This is why a boat ride from California to Hawaii typically takes 3 weeks at most – obviously more if you opt for a smaller vessel. A lot can happen in that time – even the sudden formation of storms.

Tips to Sail From California to Hawaii


1. Prepare for a safe and successful voyage to Hawaii


Boating from California to Hawaii always warrants prep work for yourself as the main skipper and your boat.

  • Choose the right boat. Size matters a lot in this case, and I wouldn’t feel safe with anything less than 30 feet.

You have all the freedom to go smaller. In fact, the smallest boat to ever complete this journey was a 10-footer. But why put yourself and your passengers through that needless risk?

  • It should have the necessary safety equipment such as flares, rafts, EPIRB, and life jackets.
  • Upgrade where necessary, may it be your skills, your vessel’s lights, engine, masts, or electrical system, among others.
  • Be sure to carry proper navigation equipment – better if you get two of everything so you always have an alternative if one breaks down. Of course, you should know how to use it.
  • Plan your provisionings. I suggest adding at least 20% more than your expected supplies to account for the journey possibly taking longer than expected and unexpected situations.

Overall, the cost to take a boat from California to Hawaii is based on your preferences and requirements. I mean, you can always choose to bring twice the beer or bring more fuel and food than what’s normally recommended.

  • Pack clothes that account for changing weather conditions. Keep them dry by putting them in waterproof containers. Because it’s definitely gonna be wet!

2. The human factor



Success (or failure) hinges on the actions and decisions of the crew and skipper. This is why you should only take a well-trained crew as much as possible, one that meets all requirements in experience, communication, decision-making, adherence to rules, and preparation.

Here’s a basic step-by-step guide for doing this trip

  1. Acquire the permit or visa you need to enter Hawaii.
  2. Lay out and finalize your route. Examine current and weather patterns at present.
  3. Stay on top of weather forecasts prior to departure.
  4. Make sure the boat is properly maintained, equipped, and provisioned.
  5. Ensure all essential equipment is working including those for sailing, communication, and other important tasks.
  6. Once everything’s all good, time to set sail.
  7. Follow your plan and follow boating procedures to guarantee your safety.
  8. Last but not least, savor the experience!

3. Route recommended sailing from California to Hawaii


The most popular route is to sail southerly until you reach Los Angeles then head straight west until you sight the port of Hilo.

This is already a sound strategy since you stick to the coast until you reach LA, and from there, it’s just a direct sail west. You’ll be able to pick up helpful trade winds in this route as well, which may raise your speed by up to 8 knots if not more.

That should greatly shorten your trip. By how many days exactly? 14 or just two weeks on a one-way boat, which is the fastest time for most vessels.

All the while you completely avoid the unfavorable winds prevalent in a direct sail, which will only make your journey harder than it needs to be.

4. Best time to sail from California to Hawaii


You’ll have to choose your sailing month wisely. Your best window is from May to September. This is in line with the general recommendation that the safest time for Pacific transits is between July and August.

If you plan to sail back, you shouldn’t wait until September ends or better yet, leave in late August – unless you want to sail in conditions even the most experienced sailors fear.

Rewards and Benefits of Sailing to Hawaii


  • You will have achieved a milestone that a lot of boaters only ever dream of achieving.
  • If you’re an adventurer at heart, nothing can match the sense of excitement that this journey imparts.
  • You’ll be able to test your seamanship to the fullest.
  • Assuming you decide to sail with a crew, you’ll only develop your relationship with them and nurture a sense of camaraderie.
  • You’ll be greeted by the wonders of the Hawaiian islands, which are well-renowned for their lush mountains and pristine beaches.

How to Sail Back From Hawaii to California

When heading back, you want to avoid the Pacific High again. You can do this by sailing directly north until you reach its edge in that direction. From there, just turn your bow east and sail straight until you see Califonia’s expansive coast.

Frequently Asked Questions


How long does it take to sail from California to Hawaii?

From California, you can consider three ports of departure.

City Sailing Time (average speed of 8 knots)
Los Angeles 14 ½ days
San Francisco 15 ½ days
San Diego 14 ½ days

What boats can be used to sail from California to Hawaii?

Any sailboat that’s designed to sail on oceans will do. Catamarans and trimarans are, to me, the gold standard because of their ever-reliable hulls that can make short work of rough seas. That’s one less major risk you have to worry about.


So, to recap, is it dangerous to sail from California to Hawaii? Yes, for all the romantic notions you may have in taking part in this once-in-lifetime (for many) endeavor, it’s important to cast those aside and focus on the potential difficulties you’ll be facing.

It will only make the journey’s end that much sweeter, and you’ll adopt a mindset that you can never really underestimate any sailing endeavor of this caliber.

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