How To Sail From California To Hawaii

How To Sail From California To Hawaii | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

November 19, 2020

If you live in California, you’ve probably been wondering why plenty of sailors regularly make the trip from California to Hawaii. Sailing from California to Hawaii can be a truly immersive and enjoyable experience but only if you know how to make the trip.

Sailing a large water boat from one destination to another on the large and blue Pacific Ocean is, without a doubt, one of the most emancipating experiences anyone can have. While hardcore sailors may prefer long jaunts, most of us would prefer short excursions to regions that we are very familiar with. One such trip is between California and Hawaii.

Although California and Hawaii are both in the United States, they are separated by close to 2,500 nautical miles. As such, this is a journey that requires a perfectly equipped long-range motorboat with an incredible fuel capacity that can handle the nullifying winds and currents of the Pacific Ocean.

You’ll also need a perfect knowledge of sea sailing, a strong stomach, the courage to remain focused and hold it together when there’s nothing to see on the horizon but the deep blue waters for a fortnight. You should also have the ability to survive on short periods of sleep, the ability to change sail, the knowledge to fix a leak on a boat and such things. Nonetheless, the experience is thrilling and very few things will ever come close.

For this reason, this post highlights how to sail from California to Hawaii. The tips will make the voyage more enjoyable and memorable.


Table of contents for this article

Plan the Journey

Planning for the trip is the ultimate thing to do if you want to make this trip memorable and successful. In addition to plotting your course, you should have specifics such as the best time to make this trip, the best route depending on your origin, the ocean currents, and the weather systems.

Another important part of planning is being aware of the required fuel capacity. The voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu is generally appropriate if you use a boat that has a fuel capacity of at least 2,000 gallons. While this may depend on the power of your boat, it’s important to use a vessel that has hourly fuel consumption, cruise speed and fuel tank capacity that can cover the distance twice. This is to ensure that you can compensate for the currents and winds that will most likely work against you.

Given that you might spend close to two weeks on the water, it’s crucial that you carry with you enough food and fresh drinking water for the entire trip. In most cases, you’ll be consuming between 2,000 and 3,000 calories and a gallon of water per day for the two-week trip.

You should, of course, not make this trip alone. Whether you’re planning to travel alone or with a friend, it’s important to recruit a knowledgeable crew to help you with watch duties, as well as with other tasks. Finding a crew on the West Coast shouldn’t be an issue. Just post a notice at your local marina and you’ll readily find them. In fact, don’t be surprised if you find some crew members who are willing to help out for free in exchange for the trip.

Last but not least, make sure that the boat’s engines, electronics, mechanical systems, and navigational equipment are in perfect working condition. Equipment such as GPS, a marine radio, autopilot, and radar are a must-have. 

The Main Sailing Route from California to Hawaii

While you can sail from California to Hawaii from various Californian cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle or even Oregon, the route will generally be almost the same. While this may depend on the time of the year, the best way to sail from any of these cities is to sail south along the coastline to 35° N – 25° N before heading west for Hawaii.

In other words, the best route is not a direct sail for Hawaii. This is because the Pacific Ocean currents along the U.S. West Coast generally run from north to south. For this reason and as we’ve noted, you should consider heading south along the Californian coast currents before heading west towards Hawaii. This path is of great importance as it will take you away from the path of strong countervailing winds that generally blow intensely against the direct path of travel. Here are some more tips on the route.

  • If you want the safest route, sail offshore between 50 and 100 miles offshore. This may offer a very smooth sailing but watch out so that you don’t end up in the Pacific High where light winds and rain may work against you. The Pacific High is essentially a semi-permanent depression in the North Pacific, which is the main reason behind the all year long trade winds in Hawaii.
  • Keep in mind that it’s a lot safer if you’re further out. This is because the waters are smoother and there are fewer boats. Again, the navigation will be a lot easier but you need to have efficient navigation equipment that is safe and sound.
  • You should follow the coastline at about 20 and 40 miles out if you want the fastest route. This will give you an upper hand on the speed given that the winds and the coastal currents will be of great help.

The Best Time to Make the Sail

The best time to sail from California to Hawaii is in June. It’s early summer, the temperatures are calm, and the hurricanes are still a long way. You should, therefore, avoid the southerly part of the trip in April as it may be extremely cold during winter while you may encounter deadly hurricanes from July to November.

The Estimated Duration for the Trip

When it comes to estimating the duration of the trip, there are certain factors that you should take into account. For instance, the winds, currents, speed of your boat, your navigational skills, and the direction that you choose may affect the duration.

While the direct distance between San Francisco to Honolulu is around 2,500 nautical miles, you shouldn’t take this route. Instead, make use of the trade winds by sailing south until you’re around 600 miles west of the Californian coast. The best vessel for this trip is a boat measuring between 30 and 36 feet. So if you’re sailing the boat at around 6-8 knots for 18 hours a day, it will take you around 14 days to reach Hawaii.

Coming Back Home

It’s important to note that the journey to Hawaii may be easy but the trip back home may present a real challenge as you’ll have to sail around the Pacific High. With that in mind, the best route from Hawaii to California is to sail north until you reach the northernmost edge of the Pacific High at around 47° N Seattle Latitude. You should then turn east and sail to the coast and you’ll be in the range of the coast. Finally, head south and you’ll be within your home range.


If you are one of the few millions who call California home, you’re very lucky. This is because you have a golden opportunity of sailing to the beautiful and pristine island of Hawaii and marking it off your bucket list. This is something that any sailor or angler would always dream of and it’s very possible!

However, always keep in mind that this trip is a dangerous one that requires experienced sailors with the right skills and sea sailing knowledge. Make sure that your vessel is in tip-top shape and have a crew that can handle unpredictable conditions with calmness, proper tactical decisions, and experience. Take this challenge and you’ll have a memorable sailing experience for the next two weeks and a great story to tell your grandchildren. After all, sailing from California to Hawaii is arguably the most pleasant ocean voyage in the world!

How To Sail From California To Hawaii

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How To Sail From California To Hawaii

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