How To Sail From Florida To California

How To Sail From Florida To California | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

As an avid sailor, you’ve probably fantasized about making a long ocean passage or exploring a new boating destination. Sailing from Florida to California may mean that you’re far from the conveniences of land but it promises a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If you’re a passionate boater who never gets nervous when the land disappears, you’ll be more than happy that there won’t be more rocks to hit, ships to maneuver, and the tides won’t matter that much. While coast hopping is quite thrilling, it takes a lot more than simple navigation. From dodging freighters, entering harbors to navigating through canals, there are a lot of things to do before sailing from Florida to California!


Table of contents

How Long Will It Take to Sail From Florida to California?

The best way to sail from Florida to California is probably through the Panama Canal. This means that you’ll have to sail south through the Bahamas while making 5 to 7 knots of speed. Given that the nautical miles between Ft. Lauderdale to San Francisco is about 4,405 nautical miles, it would take an average sailboat sailing at 144 nautical miles per day under ideal conditions 30 days nonstop to reach San Francisco.

Your Boat

Your boat will obviously be your home away from home during the voyage. It should, therefore, be in tiptop shape to afford you safety and comfort. Unless you are a hardcore sailor, make sure that your boat range between 28 and 40 feet. While the size of your boat is a decision that may largely depend on your lifestyle and what you’re comfortable with, you should always keep in mind that a smaller vessel is more economical and a lot easier to handle.

In most cases, you’ll likely make this sail with a friend or a partner. For this reason, the boat should be very easy to handle just in case the best sailor of the two cannot continue handling the vessel for whatever reason.

When choosing the right vessel for this adventure, it’s advisable to go for a trawler. This is because they generally offer comfortable interiors and safe 360-degree walk-around deck spaces. A comfortable interior should have spacious headroom, a good helm station (you’ll be spending most of your time here), and nice berths.

Planning for the Voyage and Boat Requirements

The most important thing when equipping your boat to sail from Florida to California is to ensure that it’s fully and perfectly serviced so that its possibility of breaking down is as remote as possible.

Here are some of the most important things.

Choose the Right Time

You’ll want to avoid rough weather conditions such as hurricanes and strong Pacific Northwest winds. You should, therefore, choose the right time of the year. We recommend April and May as the most ideal months to make this trip.

Getting Permits and Visas

Keep in mind that getting permits and visas will take time and this is one of the main reasons why you should plan ahead of your trip. The best thing to do is to start planning at least one year before the trip.

When it comes to signing in and out of Mexican ports and Central American nations, the most important thing is to remain calm, avoid being in a hurry, and follow the rules. Keep in mind that you’ll have to get fishing permits in most of these places. A few Spanish words will be of great help.


Your vessel should have a minimum fuel range of 450 miles. With this, you’ll at least be sure to have some fuel stops in between. Again, you should have an extra 50 gallons for deserted areas such as Baja.

GPS for Navigation

Needless to say, you’ll need GPS to help you navigate the waypoints. This is also essential for accuracy. You’ll also need radar to help you avoid cargo vessels and shrimp boats that are quite a lot in this route. You’ll need:

  • Proper navigational charts (avoid paper charts)
  • Secondary depth finder
  • GPS navigational system
  • VHF radio
  • Waterway guides
  • Dinghy 
  • Anchors

Having an efficient anchoring system as well as two heavy anchors are essential for the various bottom types you’ll encounter. Additionally, you should have a USCG-recommended rod and a second spare anchor just to make sure that you don’t run into any anchorage issues.

Bring Sufficient Food and Fresh Water Filter

You’ll be spending more than a month in the ocean and so you’ll need enough food and clean drinking water. In case your fridge decides to go out while out at sea, you’ll want to bring enough canned food to last the whole trip, as an extra precaution.

Electrical Power

Depending on the amenities that you’ll need aboard, you should have one 50 amp versus two 30 amp power connections. Do not forget to bring a 15 amp male reducer to a 30 amp female reducer.

What to Expect

If you’re sailing near the shore, you’ll not be affected by trade winds. Instead, you’ll only have to deal with thermal, which will require you to motor sail on many occasions. As such, the best times to sail are in the afternoons through evenings. You should also keep in mind that it may take you more than a week to traverse the Panama Canal.

As you start heading north through the Panama Canal, you’ll most likely sail directly into the prevailing currents and winds, so you’ll have to motor sail. The best way to do it is to sail the Pacific high through Hawaii then northeast up to latitude 50 before heading southeast for San Francisco. This will probably take you more than a week, so it’s crucial to have a super-effective engine that can maintain 5 to 6 knots in all types of conditions.

Have the Skills to Make this Thrilling Voyage

It’s important to note that very few people have the skills required to sail from Florida and California. So whether you have a big boat and a crew, it’s advisable not to try this voyage if you are not fully prepared for it. A good alternative would be to take one of the cruise lines that generally travel this route. But if you have the right skills and the passion needed to make this trip, don’t push it aside. Prep yourself, get a proper boat and get out there.

If you can do it, it will be one of the crucial moments of your life. Going through the Panama Canal or crossing the Golden Gate Bridge as you enter San Francisco will be stupendous.

Good luck, fair winds, and bon voyage!

How To Sail From Florida To California
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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