When to Sail Around Cape Horn

When to Sail Around Cape Horn | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

The best time to sail around Cape Horn is when the weather is calm, and storms are unlikely, but conditions are treacherous year-round.

Cape Horn is the gateway from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean. The area, which is around the southernmost point of South America, is famous for rough and unpredictable weather. The best time to sail around Cape Horn is during the winter when temperatures are (counterintuitively) warmer, and the conditions are safer.


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What is Cape Horn?

Before the Panama Canal, sailing around Cape Horn was the only way to transition from the eastern United States to the West Coast. The area joins the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.

The cape itself, which is part of southern Chile, has a jagged rocky coastline with no safe anchorages in most areas. Cape Horn has a long history of stormy weather that often grounds ships on the rocky coast.

Is Cape Horn Dangerous for Sailboats?

Cape horn is known to be dangerous to all kinds of vessels, sailing or otherwise. That said, countless vessels manage to make it around the cape without serious difficulties. The key is to plan properly and choose the best time to sail around Cape Horn.

Cape Horn Climate

Cape Horn has a climate that's quite strange compared to most of the world. In Cape Horn, the temperatures, seasons, and weather patterns are essentially reversed.

Reversed Seasons and Cool Temperatures

Cape Horn summer temperatures are mild to low, averaging between 39°F in June and 41.5°F in August. The weather begins to heat up in September and October when temperatures rise to between 46.2°F and 51.1°F.

The hottest months in Cape Horn are December and January, which average between 58.5°F and 57.9°F, respectively. Sailors should be aware of these antarctic 'backward seasons' before setting sail.

Low Pressures and Storms

Pay attention to your barometer when traveling around Cape Horn. The barometric pressures in the region often dip rapidly, causing an influx of gale-force winds and stormy conditions.

Sailing with Cape Horn Winds

It isn't the temperature that makes Cape Horn so treacherous. It's the wind. The winds around Cape Horn are strong and often violent. Wind can change on a dime in the region, both in direction and wind speed.

Winds around Cape Horn frequently exceed 60 knots, and high waves make sailing particularly difficult. Conditions like these make the Panama Canal look like a particularly attractive alternative.

Minimizing the Dangers of High Winds

Standard sailing procedures apply when sailing around Cape Horn. It's especially important to stay alert in this area, as wind conditions can change rapidly.

Be prepared to reef and trim your sails. Installing a roller furling for your headsail is a good idea, as it eliminates the need to walk across the bow to reef the jib. Other systems such as electric winches can eliminate more labor, so you can keep your eye on the weather and hands on the helm.

Best Sailing Seasons Around Cape Horn

The best times to sail around Cape Horn are usually from December to February. Temperatures in the area are warmer during this time, and storm activity is about average.

That said, Cape Horn is hazardous year-round. Winter just happens to be the time when you're most likely to make it through without encountering icy conditions or other treacherous antarctic conditions.

Preparing to Sail Around Cape Horn

Sailing around Cape Horn is challenging and hazardous, but you can take steps to minimize the danger and discomfort of the journey. Here are ten essential supplies to make your journey around Cape Horn as safe and ideal as possible.


Lifelines are cables that connect you to the boat. Lifelines run from a harness on your body to a secure part of the vessel, such as a side rail. These cables prevent you from being swept away should you fall overboard, which is especially important in freezing Cape Horn waters.

Life Jackets

This goes without saying: make sure you have enough life jackets for everyone on board, and make sure you wear them at all times when moving around the boat or sitting on the deck. Combined with lifelines, lifejackets can save your life in a dicey situation.

Foul Weather Gear

Many sailors overlook foul weather gear, as a simple raincoat is often sufficient for coastal cruising. If you're planning a trip around Cape Horn, a good set of waterproof foul weather gear is a must. Waterproof suits keep you warm and dry when you're bombarded by freezing spray.

Cyclizine or Dramamine

Cyclizine and Dramamine are common motion sickness medications that every sailboat should stock before venturing around Cape Horn. Stocking medications is still wise, even if you usually don't get seasick. Sailors know that seasickness is exhausting, and everyone on board prepares to give their 100% if the weather gets dicey.

Berth Lee Cloth

Here's an old maritime sleeping secret that can keep you comfortable and secure in rough weather. A lee cloth is a section of canvas or mesh designed to keep you from falling out of your bunk when rolling around in rough seas. It stows easily and sets up in seconds, and it's easy to hop over if you need to get on deck quickly.

Storm Jib

A storm jib is a fantastic headsail for rough weather, and it can keep you safe and underway during a Gail. Storm jibs, which are usually neon orange, are miniature headsails made of stronger material. They're pre-cut to a small profile that takes advantage of high winds and prevents torn sails.

Storm Trysail

A storm trysail is similar to a storm jib, but it takes the place of the mainsail instead. A neon orange storm trysail offers an additional level of control and more power in rough conditions.

Plus, the neon orange makes your boat highly visible in tall waves. A storm trysail combined with a storm jib is an excellent and affordable option for rough weather.

Heavy Duty Stays, Shrouds, and Chain Plates

A set of heavy-duty standing rigging components can reduce the likelihood of a serious accident at sea. During rough conditions, the strain on your standing rigging can cause defects to become serious hazards.

Dismasting has occurred around Cape Horn, and it's usually the result of a failed chain plate, shroud, or stay. New heavy-duty hardware can give you peace of mind in bad conditions.


Radar is a costly but useful cruising boat modification. Despite its cost, radar can be a spectacular advantage when sailing around Cape Horn. Despite the Panama Canal, Cape Horn is still a relatively busy shipping lane. Radar can help you see commercial traffic during stormy or dark conditions, keeping you safe from a collision when conditions are hazardous.

Cockpit Enclosure

A cockpit enclosure can keep you warm and dry when sailing in rough Cape Horn conditions. Once rare, these vinyl and canvas cockpit covers are now common on cruising sailboats. A high-quality cockpit enclosure offers excellent visibility, wind and spray protection, and easy deck access.

Should I Sail Around Cape Horn?

The best time to sail around Cape Horn is when you, your boat, and your crew are most prepared to make the challenging journey. The trip follows in the footsteps of ancient mariners, and it's considered one of the most rewarding sailboat journeys that you can make.

The scenery around Cape Horn is breathtaking, and the surrounding South American countries are known for incredible culture and sailing destinations. Given the benefits, is sailing around Cape Horn worth it? If you're prepared, it's definitely worth it.

When to Sail Around Cape Horn
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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