Trip Ideas - 14 min read

Sailing to Hawaii from California (San Francisco, LA & Seattle)

Town and Tourist

Town and Tourist, Updated November 2, 2022

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Sailing to Hawaii from California is every seasoned sailor on the west coast’s dream. It may sound daunting, but it is a reasonable trip if you are experienced and prepared. So, what should you expect when sailing to Hawaii from California?

Sailing to Hawaii from California takes 2-3 weeks when departing from LA or San Francisco. San Francisco is 2,500 nautical miles from Hawaii which typically takes 14 days if you sail at 6-8 knots per hour. It takes up to 21 days when sailing from LA to Hawaii and up to 30 days when leaving from Seattle.

Ideally, you should sail to Hawaii from California in September-December or April-June. Returning to California from Hawaii is difficult because you have to sail through Pacific High which has rough waters. Follow along as we explore everything that you need to consider when sailing to Hawaii from California.

How Long Does it Take To Go To California From Hawaii in a Sailboat?

It can take up to 2 weeks to go to California from Hawaii in a sailboat. Factors such as your boat’s weight, engine, and sailing time all play an important role in how long the journey will take. It also depends on where you depart from within California, such as San Francisco or LA.

One of the most important factors in sailing to Hawaii from California is idle time. For example, the voyage will take longer if there is only one person on board that is certified to steer the ship. That may be the case for you, and if so, you need to account for at least 6 hours of sleeping idle time per day.

This will reduce the risk of dangerous sleep deprivation that can cut your trip short in the event of an emergency. Ideally, you should have an additional 1-2 people that can take over your shift to sleep and eat throughout the day and night.

San Francisco

You can expect to sail at least 2,500 nautical miles from San Francisco to Hawaii. This can easily take 2 weeks, but weather conditions and wind strength all play a role in the duration. For example, a sailboat may be able to get a speed boost if the wind is in your favor because they are hydrodynamic.

However, it may take longer for a bulky yacht without a sail that is hauling thousands of pounds of cargo. It also depends on how much of the day you spend sailing. You can reach Hawaii in under 14 days when you depart San Francisco in some cases if you sail constantly.

This requires you to have people take shifts sailing to avoid hazards such as sleep deprivation which can be dangerous. Sail at 6-8 knots per hour if you want to make the best time possible and arrive in Hawaii sooner. Try to sail for at least 18-20 hours per day to get to Hawaii within 12-14 days if you have someone else on board that can take over sailing duties.

LA

It can take as long as 21 days to sail from LA to Hawaii depending on where you go in Hawaii. LA is further south than San Francisco which adds to the duration of the trip. The trip can be made in 2-3 weeks, but you should realistically expect it to take closer to 3 weeks.

Ideally, you should plan your trip so that you can have multiple people on board that can steer the ship. This will let you maximize the amount of sailing time so that you can alternate shifts to get to Hawaii as fast as possible. You should only sail to Hawaii from LA if you have a large boat with a massive fuel capacity.

Otherwise, you will have to make a detour at some point in your journey to refuel which can add an extra day or two to your trip. Try to maintain a speed of at least 6 knots per hour when sailing to Hawaii from LA. Otherwise, you will fall behind schedule and possibly even take over 3 weeks to reach the shore in Hawaii.

San Diego

You can expect it to take 2-3 weeks to sail from San Diego to Hawaii. It can take as little as 6 days to sail from San Diego to Hawaii, but that only applies to high-speed monohull boats which are uncommon. The distance from San Diego to Hawaii is just under 2,700 nautical miles.

Try to plan your trip to take advantage of trade winds which will give you a much-needed speed boost. You will catch the winds once you sail as far as 550-600 miles west of California if you stay away from the coast. This can make a huge difference in making your trip go faster so that you reach Hawaii quickly.

Coming back, you will have to sail through Pacific High until you head east and then south towards the last leg of your journey. That is the most difficult part of sailing to and from Hawaii from San Diego.

Routing

Routing is key if you want to waste as little time and fuel as possible when sailing to Hawaii from California. Generally, it is recommended that you sail out as far from the coast as possible to avoid shallow and choppy waters that would make the trip more challenging. Try to sail from latitudes 38°N – 34°N when leaving San Francisco and LA.

The trip is much easier if you sail west towards the island of Hilo in Hawaii. From there, you can reroute to whatever destination you choose, whether it be Maui or Honolulu. Otherwise, you set a course from Maui or Honolulu before you depart, but that will require more zigzagging.

Try to stay at least 50 nautical miles away from the coast until you get close to your destination. You will come across several ports along the way in case you need to refuel, pump your waste tank, or stock up on supplies. If you depart LA, you will need to sail north towards San Francisco and then head east from there where the routing will be the same between the two.

Returning From Hawaii

Returning to California from Hawaii requires different routing and can often be much more difficult. You need to navigate Pacific High when you come back from Hawaii. Pacific High is a high-pressure subtropical section of the Pacific Ocean that can be challenging to navigate.

This high-pressure system is constantly pressurized which can pose challenges for even the most seasoned sailors. Ideally, you should sail out to latitude 47° N in the northern part of Pacific High to make your trip easier. From there, you can head east and get closer to the coast within 50 nautical miles then head south and you will have a mostly straight shot back to California.

Your trip will likely take 3 weeks whether you sail to LA or San Francisco from Hawaii. The trip through Pacific High will take the longest, but you will gain speed once you head east and then south.

Sailing to Hawaii From Seattle

Seattle is located 3,100 nautical miles from Hawaii. You can take a direct route that is only 2,215 nautical miles from Seattle, but that ironically takes longer because it requires you to go through Pacific High which will slow you down. It can take as long as 5 weeks to sail to Seattle if you go through Pacific High, so it isn’t ideal for fuel and supply consumption.

Otherwise, you can still expect it to take up to 4 weeks to sail from Seattle to Hawaii. You can increase your speed if you stay 20-40 miles from the coast which will give you a speed boost from the wind. However, it is considered safer to stay at least 50 miles from the coast when sailing from Seattle to Hawaii.

It takes at least 30 days to sail from Seattle to Hawaii in most cases if you sail 100 nautical miles per day. You can exceed that distance if you sail in shifts and shave a few days off of your journey, however.

Best Time To Sail To Hawaii

The best time to sail to Hawaii is between September and December when the sea is less crowded. This can help save time by maximizing your speed which is essential. You can also avoid crowded ports and coastlines during the fall and winter.

With that said, tropical storms can still occur even during November, so you should check the forecast before you sail to Hawaii. Sailing to Hawaii between April and mid-June is also a great idea because of the ideal weather. This will help save time and increase your speed, especially if you stay 50 miles from the coastline at the beginning of your trip.

Even better, you won’t have to worry about sharing the sea with cruise ships between the spring and mid-June. Cruise ship traffic headed to Hawaii picks up in late June and becomes heavy by July and August. Sailing to Hawaii from California is difficult during cruise ship season is difficult and can reduce your speed adding more time to your trip.

Hazards To Consider

Capsizing is the biggest hazard to consider when sailing to Hawaii from California. Drowning is the biggest cause of death when it comes to sailing, and that most commonly happens when a boat capsizes. You can mitigate the risk of drowning if you pack at least one life vest for everyone on board.

Try to bring several flares and stash them in convenient locations throughout the boat that you can quickly reach if you need to evacuate. Flares can alert boats that are nearby and even far away so that they can dispatch help. A battery-powered radio can also come in handy so that you have a backup line of communication in the event of an emergency, such as running out of fuel.

Bring a dry bag to protect your important belongings in case of bad weather or capsizing. You should also bring a harness and tether so that you can quickly evacuate your ship without getting injured. Otherwise, it’s worthwhile to bring a headlamp in case of a power outage or simply to help you look through your belongings at night.

How Much Fuel to Sail From Hawaii to California?

You need at least 2,000 gallons of fuel to sail from Hawaii to California in most cases. Not all boats have such a capacity, and in that case, you may not be able to make the journey. Large sailboats and yachts often have a tank that holds 2,000 gallons of fuel or more.

This is important because you may not be able to stop to refuel during your voyage. Boat fuel comes out to $3.25 per gallon, on average, so you may spend up to $6,500 on fuel when sailing to Hawaii from California. This is a massive and understandably daunting cost, but it is unavoidable.

Of course, fuel prices vary based on inflation and where you go to fill the tank. Plan your trip by checking how many nautical miles are between your departure point and your destination in Hawaii. There are many islands in Hawaii, so you’ll want to make sure that you have enough fuel to make it there. Boats vary in gas mileage and can run from 0.5 miles per gallon to 8 miles per gallon.

How Much Does it Cost To Sail To Hawaii?

It costs at least $7,000 to sail to Hawaii from California in most cases. This includes the cost of fuel, food, water, and toiletries. Fuel costs alone can exceed $6,000 because it takes at least 2,000 nautical miles to make it to Hawaii.

You also have to factor in another $350-$700 in supplies depending on how many people are on board. Supplies such as food and water are the last things that you want to skimp on when you sail to Hawaii. Otherwise, you may need to stop at a port on the way to restock which can add hours to your journey or even waste a day.

Preparation can also cost up to $3,500 or more if you need to rig your boat before sailing to Hawaii. Rigging costs vary based on the size of the boat, and it typically costs $100 per foot. Luckily, you can avoid this cost if your boat is already rigged. However, it is worth re-rigging your boat before the trip to ensure that you won’t run into problems along the way.

How Big of a Boat Do You Need To Sail To Hawaii?

You need a boat that is 30 feet long or bigger if you sail to Hawaii from California or Seattle. Never sail to Hawaii in a boat that is less than 28 feet long. Boats that are under 28 feet long generally have a small fuel capacity and an underpowered engine.

Fuel capacity is arguably the most important aspect of a boat when you make such a long journey to Hawaii from the west coast. A large boat can also fit more cargo which is essential when you take a 2-3 week sailing trip. You will also have more room for extra people that could potentially relieve you of steering duties to maximize time as long as they are certified.

Some seasoned experts recommend having a boat that measures at least 50 feet long. The bigger the boat, the better, especially when you return from Hawaii. Pacific High boasts rough water that requires a long and heavy ship to handle. Sailing across the Pacific Ocean is difficult, so you should only attempt the journey with a large boat.

Is It Dangerous To Sail From California To Hawaii?

It can be dangerous to sail from California to Hawaii and vice versa if you don’t pack accordingly. The two-week trip can be long and arduous, so you need to be prepared. Pack enough cargo for at least 28 meals per person assuming you will only eat 2 meals per day.

However, it is wise to pack more food than you may need to play it safe in case your journey takes longer than expected. Dehydration is another serious risk when you sail from Hawaii to California, so you need to pack a surplus of water. If possible, try to pack up to 1 gallon of water per person for each day of the voyage.

Bring a basic first aid kit with enough supplies to treat everyone that goes with you. You need to bring any medication that you typically take to avoid rebound effects during your trip. Otherwise, it is safe to sail from California to Hawaii as long as you bring all of the aforementioned supplies.

What Food Should I Bring on a Sailing Trip?

Try to bring as many non-perishable foods as possible on a sailing trip when you sail to Hawaii. This includes tuna, beans, pasta, crackers, rice, and noodles. You can bring perishable foods to keep in your refrigerator, but space is often limited.

Since the journey will take 2-3 weeks, it is reasonable to assume that you will have limited refrigerator space. However, most boats that measure 30 feet or more have plenty of room-temperature storage for non-perishable foods. Meat and cheese are acceptable if you can keep your refrigerator at a safe temperature.

Many sailboats have stoves and grills, but you won’t be able to reasonably cook every single meal. That is why you should stock up on tuna, crackers, bread, and even peeled tomatoes. Plan your meals before your trip and take a head count of everyone that will be on board to buy enough food ahead of time.

What Should You Expect When Sailing to Hawaii From California?

You should expect it to take 2-3 weeks when sailing to Hawaii from California. Try to maintain speeds of at least 6-8 knots per hour, or else it will be hard to make good time. San Francisco is 2,500 nautical miles from Hawaii, and you need to sail through Pacific High when you return home.

It takes up to 30 days to sail from Seattle to Hawaii because it is 3,100 nautical miles away. You should ideally have a boat that measures at least 30 feet long when you sail to Hawaii from California or Washington. Your boat should have at least a 2,000-gallon capacity so that you can make it to Hawaii without having to stop to refuel at a port.

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