How to Sail Across the Pacific

How to Sail Across the Pacific | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

With a seaworthy vessel and the right skills, anyone can sail across the Pacific Ocean.

In this article, we'll go over what it's like to sail across the Pacific Ocean, along with how to do it. We'll also cover how to plan a Pacific sailing trip, what to bring, and what kind of sailboat is best for the trip. We'll help you understand the hazards of Pacific sailing, along with how to train for a safe journey.

You can sail across the Pacific with a properly-sized sailboat (30 to 50 feet in length), an experienced helper or two, and a well-planned itinerary. The best routes to sail across the Pacific include the West Coast Route and to Hawaii via reliable Polynesian trade winds.

This article is based on the experiences of sailors who have sailed across the Pacific. We also base our tips on information provided by sailing schools and the United States Coast Guard.


Table of contents

Best Pacific Sailing Routes

The Pacific is a massive ocean with numerous sailing routes and destinations. The Pacific also harbors multiple climates and weather conditions, so the provisions you'll need vary based on where you go.

Polynesia is one of the best regions of the Pacific to sail in, thanks to its warm and comparatively mild weather. The region is home to many popular and well-kept destinations, such as the Hawaiian Islands. Polynesia is a popular region for American sailors due to its proximity to the U.S. West Coast and its reliable trade winds.

The weather In Polynesia is warm and tropical, and the eastern part of the region is relatively safe from Typhoons. Typhoons, which are Pacific hurricanes, are the primary weather threat to Pacific sailors.

For those seeking a shorter and less tropical route, a trip along the U.S. West Coast from San Diego, CA to Vancouver, BC, Canada is a good choice. This route along the coast can extend as far south as Chile and as far north as Alaska, giving you plenty of destination choices. Stops along the way include San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.

The longest sailing trips usually begin in the United States and navigate through the three main regions of the Pacific. Sailors who choose this route spend months island-hopping around Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. Destinations along this route include Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, and New Zealand. From New Zealand, Australia is just a (relatively) short distance away.

As you may expect, the accommodations on islands in the pacific vary widely. Places like New Zealand and Australia are English-speaking countries with some of the best provisions and medical care in the world, whereas many parts of the Solomon Islands are completely uninhabited.

Many Pacific islands are developing nations or sparsely inhabited, so careful research and planning are required before stopping there. It's best to locate experienced local guides and make arrangements ahead of time on some islands.

How Much Sailing Experience do I Need to Sail the Pacific?

Many sailors wonder if they have enough experience to attempt a trip across or around the Pacific Ocean. The necessary level of experience depends on who you go with and where you plan to sail.

We spoke with Alan, who's a Bay Area native with more than 30 years of sailing experience. He had the following to say.

"I had a few years (of experience) under my belt before I got out under the bridge. The first offshore trip I made was from San Francisco down to Monterey...we hit some pretty nasty chop off Pigeon Point, but all in all, it was a pretty easy run."

Alan's sailing trip from San Francisco to Monterey covered just over 100 nautical miles of coastal and offshore water. He went on to say this.

"I think it was a good introduction to the Pacific. My dad came along because he had a lot more experience than I did back then. There were a few times that I needed a hand, but I did quite a bit myself."

Alan said that the trip took about 24 hours, and he recommended staying between 10 to 15 miles offshore. Alan, who's since sailed much of the Pacific, recommends taking a one or two-day coastal trip if you're unsure of your experience level.

When asked how to tell if you're ready to make an offshore passage in the Pacific, he elaborated.

"Well, if you have to ask that question, you're probably not ready...but you know, I'd worry more about the guy who doesn't ask at all. Get out on the water on a windy day and evaluate yourself, cause at some point, you're gonna have to go for it. I doubt anyone's 100% confident before (sailing offshore), so just be smart and take some shorter trips first."

A lot of sailors seem to echo Alan's sentiments when it comes to experience. It's always better to play it safe when it comes to passage making, but you're eventually going to have to take a risk. At the very least, you should be comfortable with your boat, its handling characteristics, and your competence as a sailor.

This also means you should have experience in a range of good and bad weather conditions, and you should know how to inspect and repair your boat. Next, we'll cover some of the most important things to know before making an offshore Pacific sailing trip.

What to Know Before Sailing the Pacific

Experience is more than the number of hours you've spent on the water, though time plays an important part too. Here are the 'hard' skills you need to master to make a safe passage in or across the Pacific.


You've got to be very proficient at handling your sailboat before attempting a long offshore passage. The middle of the Pacific Ocean during a gall is not the ideal place to learn how to reef the mainsail. This means that you should make an effort to sail in a wide variety of wind and weather conditions.

Practice reefing, trimming, raising, and lowering sails while you're out on the water and rolling around. Try it on a windy day or in the cold, as these are conditions you are likely to encounter in the real world. You also need to know how to handle your boat when conditions change.

How do you prevent an unwanted jibe, and how do you achieve the best windward performance? These questions and others like it should already be answered before planning your offshore passage.

Maintenance and Repair

How handy are you with a wrench? Inexperienced sailors are often baffled by how many things can break on a sailboat, so it's imperative to learn how to maintain and fix your vessel. Familiarize yourself with the rigging, electrical, and mechanical systems on board your sailboat. This includes things like plumbing, engine components, lights, and steering.


Navigation is so important yet often neglected. Many sailors don't want to sit and study when they can be out on the water, but nobody can make a safe offshore passage without a thorough understanding of navigation.

The best way to start is by learning to navigate 'the old way' with charts. A GPS is a modern-day sailing necessity, but it's always best to be skilled with both. Charts will eventually be necessary as it is because you'll need to plot your course somewhere along the way. Navigation itself is tricky and takes practice, especially along the rocky Pacific coastline.

Precision is also essential far offshore, as minor mistakes can take days to correct in a sailboat. Do you have enough food and water to be a week off course? All it takes to make such an error is a few incorrect chart points, so take your time to study navigation before you plan your trip.

How to Prepare for an Offshore Pacific Passage

The first thing to consider when preparing for an offshore passage is your health. Are you in good shape, and do you take any medications? The best course of action is to sit down with your doctor for a thorough discussion about the risks. Don't make this decision on your own, and see if you can get a physical evaluation before departure.

If you're cleared by your doctor to make the trip, be sure to procure any medication you need in sufficient quantity. You can always have a general idea of when you'll arrive, but leave some room for human error and unpredictable conditions.


Next, it's time to evaluate the health of your boat. Have the vessel thoroughly inspected, and stock up on tools and spare parts. This includes everything from oil filters and fuses to sail repair kits and fiberglass patches.

Take a walk around and inside the boat, find all the essential parts, and think to yourself the following: "If this item broke, how much trouble would it cause me?" If alarm bells go off in your head, either replace it or store a spare onboard.

Replace wear items such as filters, pumps, bulbs, old hoses, lines, and standing rigging before departure. Also, don't forget to take the vessel on a shakedown cruise after replacing major parts.

The phrase, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," applies when there's a hardware store down the block, but not when you're in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Next, it's time to plan the trip itself. Start by researching wind conditions and calculate the best course and expected arrival.

Harness the Community Experience

Go online or ask around, because it's always helpful to speak with a few people who have made the trip before. If you're sailing to a popular destination (such as Hawaii), you may want to consider joining a regatta and sailing with other boats.

Also, see if you can bring another experienced sailor or two along with you. Having others on your boat (or joining a crew) makes the trip significantly safer, and social interaction can keep spirits high.


Before leaving, give a copy of your plan to trusted friends and relatives. Using satellite communications equipment, send them real-time location updates every time you stop to plot a point on your chart. In most cases, it's fine to update your friends and family once or twice per day. This keeps people in the know and helps rescue services find you should something go awry.

You'll also need to carefully stock up on provisions such as food and water. For a few weeks before setting out, it's useful to carefully record your daily food and water intake. This way, you'll; know how much to bring along. You should always carry reserve food and water, along with additional survival supplies in your emergency bag.

Safety Law Compliance

The United States Coast Guard has a right to stop you and board your sailboat whenever they want, and they often do. That means you've got to have all of your USCG-approved safety and emergency gear in good order.

The Coast Guard has a short list of equipment requirements for all sailboats above a certain length. These items include flotation devices, distress signals, a fire extinguisher, and more. You have to have all of these items to operate your boat, and they must all be in usable condition.

Check the USCG website for an up-to-date list of safety requirements. As of 2021, here's what you need to keep aboard a typical medium-sized cruising sailboat.

  • Lifejackets for everyone on board (Type I, II, III, or V)
  • A Type IV throwable flotation cushion
  • Fire extinguisher (Type 4 B1 for boats 26-40 feet LOA)
  • Sound producing device (horn, whistle)
  • Vi sisal distress signal (three day and three-night distress signals)
  • First aid kit
  • VHF radio
  • Tool kit
  • Sun protection
  • A bailing bucket
  • Paddles or oars
  • Anchor and sufficient chain

These items are required by the United States Coast Guard. You must have them aboard at all times when underway. The Coast Guard also requires other equipment, such as navigation lights, to be present and operational.

Tips for Sailing Across the Pacific

It's always a good idea to have foul weather gear aboard in case the weather gets bad. Foul weather gear includes waterproof clothing and non-slip sailing shoes.

Additionally, all offshore sailors should wear a harness when underway. Sailing harnesses are relatively unobtrusive, and they connect to the boat to keep you from falling off. Sailing harnesses are essential because sailboats will continue sailing even after you fall overboard.

It's also smart to stock anti-seasickness medication, as a bout of seasickness can knock the toughest captain out of action for days.

On a lighter note, an offshore Pacific passage is an excellent time to catch up on some reading. There will be countless hours of uneventful sailing that you can fill with personal pursuits, such as reading or learning a language.

If you're the artistic type, bring some paint and canvas or a film camera. You can do a lot of useful things in the middle of the ocean.

Sleeping and Collision Prevention

The final topic to cover is sleeping. This is especially important if you plan to make the journey solo. Most single-handed trans-Pacific sailors sleep a couple of hours at a time while using an autohelm to steer via GPS. They wake periodically to check their course, then go back to sleep.

Installing a radar system is a fantastic way to prevent accidents. Sailboat radar alerts the captain to the presence of other vessels, along with their names and identities. These systems can be programmed to sound an alarm at night when a large ship is nearby, allowing the sailboat captain to adjust course and give the larger vessel its right-of-way.

How to Sail Across the Pacific
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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