September 18, 2014

Sailing Puget Sound: cruising distances for common Seattle boat trips (Blake Island, Kingston, Edmonds, Bremerton, Port Townsend, Gig Harbor, Tacoma, Everett, Oak Harbor, Victoria, Friday Harbor)

     Are you considering sailing Puget Sound? This article provides the cruising distances and travel times between Seattle and the most common harbors in Puget Sound.

cruising puget sound
plotting out distance with my Puget Sound nautical chart

    I learned to sail in the waters around Puget Sound. And in my opinion, of all the cities on the West Coast of the United States of America, Seattle has - far and away - the best cruising grounds for Sailors. There may not be many t-shirt and barefoot sail days. But - throw on a wool sweater and a windbreaker and you are in for a vast inland Sea full of beautiful anchorages and secluded bays.
Someday I will return to Puget Sound...

July 2019 update: Incidentally, my Newport 30 sailboat is now for sale. She is moored in a fancy marina in La Paz, Mexico. She is all yours for 10K.

     I figured it would be handy to have the distances and travel times between Seattle and all the classic destinations - displayed in one place. I know Seattle sailors like to get out on the weekends, so I hope this is of use.

Cruising Puget Sound

Distance in nautical miles:               (1 nm = 1.15 land miles)

Seattle to Eagle Harbor                                  5.5
Seattle to Elliot Bay (downtown harbor)       7 
Seattle to Kingston                                         7.5
Seattle to Edmonds                                         8.5
Seattle to Blake Island                                    9.5
Seattle to Bremerton                                      15.5
Seattle to Port Ludlow                                   23
Seattle to Gig Harbor                                     24.5
Seattle to Tacoma                                           26.5
Seattle to Quartermaster Harbor                    28.5
Seattle to Everett                                            29
Seattle to Port Townsend                                33
Seattle to Oak Harbor                                     41
Seattle to Friday Harbor (San Juan Island)     61 (via Admiralty Inlet)
Seattle to Victoria (Vancouver Island)            65 (via Admiralty Inlet)
I plotted out these distances based on a direct route, and took an approximate start point for each distance at the outside of each harbor.
For the Seattle waypoint, I used the navigation markers just outside the Ballard locks, near the southern end of Shilshole Marina. This is where my boat was docked, so I am partial to Shilshole as a starting point. If you're starting from Elliot Bay, you can add or subtract 5 miles, depending on whether you're heading north or south.
Each mariner will experience a slightly different distance, depending on their mooring location and line of sail, but consider these good approximations.

puget sound cruising distance
Alize' moored right next to the Parliamentary buildings in Victoria - very regal!
     I have made these routes in my 30 foot sailboat (a 1976 Newport), and I am calling my average speed at about 4.7 nautical miles/hr.. This average speed accounts for some sailing in good to moderate winds and then the engine turned on at moderately high RPM when the wind goes light. For most folks with a sailboat near 30 feet, just under 5 nautical miles/hr. is probably about the right average speed for mixed conditions. It must be mentioned that tides and currents play a large role in the navigation of these waters. The prudent mariner would be wise to consult the tide table and plan out each voyage so that the current is working in their favor as they traverse any narrow channel.

At that speed, the approximate time it would take to get from A to B is:

Time needed for each leg (if averaging 4.7 nautical miles/hr.)
                                                           Hours (in decimal)

Seattle to Eagle Harbor                                   1.2
Seattle to Elliot Bay (downtown harbor)        1.5
Seattle to Kingston                                          1.6
Seattle to Edmonds                                          1.8
Seattle to Blake Island                                     2  
Seattle to Bremerton                                        3.3
Seattle to Port Ludlow                                     4.9
Seattle to Gig Harbor                                       5.2
Seattle to Tacoma                                             5.6
Seattle to Quartermaster Harbor                      6.1
Seattle to Everett                                              6.2
Seattle to Port Townsend                                 7
Seattle to Oak Harbor                                      8.7
Seattle to Friday Harbor (San Juan Island)     13
Seattle to Victoria (Vancouver Island)            13.8

          Of course, sailors rarely use a completely direct path from one point to another (either due to some tacking or to unintentional meanderings) and so, it would be wise to plan 1 or 2 hours on top of these estimates.

    And... before you untie the dock lines, make sure you have a cruising guide. Most local boaters prefer the A Cruising Guide to Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands: Olympia to Port Angeles. It's regarded as the authoritative guidebook for the region.

And you probably also want the Waggoner guide. The 2016 Waggoner Cruising Guide is updated every year. So, with this on board, you'll have all the latest information/telephone numbers/websites on ports, harbors, marinas and coastal towns. It comes in handy when cruising Puget Sound.

Here's a happy memory from years past while I was out sailing Puget Sound.

how far sailing seattle to san juan islands
- pulled these Dungeness out of Blind Bay on Shaw Island

Ok - keep off the rocks, have fun - live to tell the story!

2016 update:  I hope this page has helped you estimate cruising distances Puget Sound. I am now starting to return to the Seattle area for work, so I have a chance to get back into these beautiful waters up around Seattle. I look forward to sailing Puget Sound later this summer. I'm helping my friend repair his old Nordic Tug. I'm just going to help him finish the job with electrical. Either way, assuming this doesn't take too long, we should be heading up to Friday Harbor around mid-August. My buddy just gave his boat a new name, he went with the classic, Neptune's Wrath. Sort of a dangerous name, but at least he consulted with experts on naming a boat. I told him about the proper ceremony to go through for this sort of thing. And he followed that completely, so I think he may end up alright...


Shaila said...

Thanks for this numbers! I have had difficulty verifying my own estimates.

How long (approximately) does it take to go through the Ballard locks and shipping canal? Can anyone do it or is a permit required?

Thanks and love your blog!

Captain Curran said...


Glad the post helped. No permit required to pass through the locks.
You can pass through them in about 30 minutes - usually, unless you're at a high traffic time. To traverse the shipping canal takes longer - most sailboats will need a few bridges opened up to pass under. Give yourself an hour to get from the locks to Lake Union.


Rusty Scupper-Whidbey Is. said...

Cap'n Curran, the mate you have at the helm in the "snow crossing" photo is a hearty soul.Great pic,I could almost feel the "sting" on my nose. Your timeline for getting into the SanJuans
is very realistic, don't be in a hurry,
be sure to make time for a camp fire on James Island. Great spot!Enjoyed your blog.Fair winds.

Captain Curran said...

Rusty scupper,

I think you're right - if you rush the trip and jam out a straight line, you've missed the whole point.

I almost put James Island on there as a destination point, as that is one of my all time favorite spots. I really miss that area.
San Diego is warm and pleasant sailing, but its just not as interesting...

zTims said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Captain Curran said...

Fair winds Tim!

Unknown said...
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Captain Curran said...

just returned from Port Townsend - it was just as spectacular as i remembered it - next stop Mystery Bay...

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to sail From Port Townsend to Newport in a small sail boat? If so how long would that take on average best guess?

Captain Curran said...

Hi Amber Ramin,

Sure you can do that. You only want to head south from Seattle to California in the summer though... Low pressure systems can be nasty on the Oregon and Washington coast. In a small boat - I would plan for at least 3 weeks in good weather -- that way you can enjoy the passage.

Diary of a Mad House Women.... said...

How far is it from Port of Everett to Port Townsend? Bremerton? Which is closest?

Captain Curran said...

Diary of a Mad House Women -

The numbers below are hours the journey would take in a 30 foot sailboat (average speed)

So... Bremerton is the closest..

Seattle to Bremerton 3.3
Seattle to Everett 6.2
Seattle to Port Townsend 7

Alia parker said...

Much obliged for sharing such a pleasant and wonderful picture of your trip. I like it so much. keep posting. I can recall my old days through this picture. deep sea fishing