November 4, 2014

Sailing to Catalina Island: distance and time from Los Angeles

Are you considering sailing to Catalina Island from Los Angeles? Here, I provide distance and travel times for a boat to sail to Catalina Island (Avalon or Two Harbors) from the most popular LA harbors (Dana Point, Newport Beach, Huntington Harbor, Los Angeles Harbor, Marina del Rey).

In my opinion, the most compelling reason to live in Los Angeles instead of San Diego, is the close proximity of Catalina Island. In San Diego, we can drive to Mexico in 30 minutes. This is nice. However, in LA, you can sail a boat to the island, leaving midday on a Friday and arriving sometime Friday evening. That is very nice.

Once you arrive, you'll find sailing Catalina Island is incredibly fun - also there's lots of bays and bights between Avalon and Two Harbors to fish from and drop the anchor.

How long does it take to sail to Catalina Island? I get this question a lot. So, I thought it would be a good resource to have these distances and travel times posted on the site. There are lots of folks sailing to Catalina from Los Angeles, so hopefully this will be of use.

sailing to catalina island
Sailing to Catalina Island: routes from Los Angeles

Sail to Catalina Island


Distance in nautical miles:               (1 nm = 1.15 land miles)
Dana Point to Avalon:                          33
Dana Point to Two Harbors:                 38
Newport Beach to Avalon:                   26               
Newport Beach to Two Harbors:          32
Huntington Harbor to Avalon:               25
Huntington Harbor to Two Harbors:     27                   
LA Harbor to Avalon:                          25
LA Harbor to Two Harbors:                 22
Marina del Rey to Avalon:                   38            
Marina del Rey to Two Harbors:         31

I plotted out these distances based on my route (direct), and took an approximate start point for each distance at the outside of each harbor. Each mariner may experience a slightly different distance, depending on their mooring location and line of sail, but consider these good approximations.

how long to sail to catalina
My chart for plotting the waters of Southern California

I have made these routes in a 30 foot sailboat (1976 Newport), and considering the range of conditions I experienced (current, swells, headwind), let's say - my average speed for these trips was 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 the correct average speed for mixed conditions.

Sailing to Catalina Island


At that average 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)
Dana Point to Avalon:                             7
Dana Point to Two Harbors:                    8
Newport Beach to Avalon:                     5.5               
Newport Beach to Two Harbors:            6.8
Huntington Harbor to Avalon:                5.3
Huntington Harbor to Two Harbors:      5.7                 
LA Harbor to Avalon:                            5.3
LA Harbor to Two Harbors:                   4.6
Marina del Rey to Avalon:                     8.0            
Marina del Rey to Two Harbors:            6.6

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 an hour on top of these estimates.

how far away is catalina from LA
Sailing my Newport 30 into the welcoming glow of Avalon harbor.

Before you untie the dock lines, you need at least one quality cruising guide on board. Fagan's book is generally regarded as the most comprehensive guide for sailing Central and Southern CA. It has kept me out of trouble a few times.
Plus, this book has a great section on anchorages around Catalina Island and a thorough section on harbors in Los Angeles. Amazon sells used copies for about 20-30$.

2022 Update: Here is the latest website to get a reservation for your boat at Avalon or Two Harbors.

My sailing blog features posts of similar nautical information for other sailing regions on the west coast, please follow links below:

Sailing from San Diego to Los Angeles: nautical miles and time required for a sailboat trip (Mission Bay, Dana Point, Newport Beach, Huntington Harbor, Los Angeles Harbor, Marina del Rey).

Sailing distance (nautical miles) and time for a sailboat trip from San Diego to Santa Cruz Island (Mission Bay, Smuggler's Cove, Avalon, Two Harbors).

And, if you are going to make the journey out to the island, you will want to prepare for some down time in the cabin. Once you lose sight of land, the hours start moving slow. This is a good thing as it gives us a chance to relax and shake out the stress of our regular lives.
However, you're going to need some light entertainment. Bring a book. To stay in the moment, bring a sea-faring book. If you're a history buff, I recommend, "Two Years Before the Mast" by Richard Henry Dana. If you're into single-handed sailing stories, I recommend, "Sailing Alone Around the World" by Joshua Slocum.

And of course, when in doubt...crack a beer and stare off at the horizon.


Captain Curran said...

glad to help, i couldn't find these numbers all in one place myself, that's why I put these posts together

jessica said...

was just having this conversation with a friend - we were trying to estimate the closest harbor to Avalon in LA -
looks like we now know...

Captain Curran said...

I hope you make the trip soon Jessica!

Anonymous said...

we did the trip, it was unreal

Anonymous said...

great resource


Captain Curran said...


I am about to ready my boat for another quick trip this Spring

Unknown said...
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Erik said...

I'm not a very experienced sailor, but have made the trip from DP to San Diego with someone with years of experience. Is DP to Avalon a very challenging trip for me to tackle with a few friends with no experience?

Captain Curran said...


You are in for a treat. DP to Avalon should be a breeze for you.

Make sure to double check the NOAA marine report and leave early. Also make sure the engine is not going to cut out on you midway - and if it does - you will want good VHF capability. But - all that said, it is a simple ocean crossing. Get your boat in good working order and then relax and enjoy the ride.

Gerald Boyd said...

Great information. Thanks. Am ordering The Cruise Guide.

Gerald Boyd said...

Great information. Thanks. Am ordering The Cruise Guide.

Gerald Boyd said...

Great information. Thanks. Am ordering The Cruise Guide.

Captain Curran said...

thanks Gerald Boyd - enjoy the island - and I hope the Guide comes in handy!

Ol Dog said...

As Erik stated in an earlier post, I'm not a very experienced sailor. Have done the LA and Newport crossings a few times before, but it has been years. Was just wondering if I'm better off motoring a few miles (7-10) North from DP prior to trying to sail to Cherry Cove. Thanks for your blog, and I am trying to purchase the guide in a book store today.

Captain Curran said...

Ol Dog

I think in general its not worth it. I would just make a straight line. The wind is so fickle out there- if you make some plan to try and get good wind on the crossing - the wind will probably change direction on you. Just head straight there and hope the the wind shifts in the right angle that afternoon and maybe you'll sail in for the last few hours.


Captain Curran said...

And then you should get a nice downwind or beam reach on the return.

confused sailor said...

Would Thanksgiving sailing to Catalina not be recommended because of potential rainy days, high wind,...?

Captain Curran said...

confused sailor,

I would not rule out a trip the island just because it is late November. Personally, I would plan the trip as if it was going to happen - and then heavily scrutinize the 4 day weather/marine forecast just before you depart. If there is any chance of stormy conditions on one of your travels days (crossing the channel) then cancel the trip and plan something else. I think - depending on your skill level - anything over 5 foot swells or over 15 knots - could start to become uncomfortable for an island crossing.

With the El Nino this year, it is predicted that we will be getting some weather by November - so I would move forward with planning - but do so cautiously.

Have fun

Unknown said...

HI Kevin,

I love all your info on this site, it really helps. I am a new boater / sailor and was wondering where I can go to monitor swells and weather conditions for southern California waters.
Thanks for all the info.

Noob Boater

Captain Curran said...

Hello Noob Boater,

Welcome, this is a great area to get your sea legs.

First of all - you want to monitor the marine forecast for the area

that's here

this is good for planning the week -

aside from that - there are some free sailing condition aps that i like and use on my phone -

Windfinder is the one I like - like i said it's free and you can enter in your closest area - i sail out of mission bay - so i enter in sunset cliffs and south mission beach - the wind predictions are pretty good, especially when within 48 hour windows

have fun!

Captain Curran

Captain Curran said...

Maybe this is a better link to that marine forecast site

Unknown said...

Thanks again Captain!

Captain Curran said...

finally planning for my 2016 trip out to the island - really looking forward to pulling into Two Harbors..

Anonymous said...

I'm an experienced sailor, but have never sailed to Catalina. I'm planning an end of July midweek trip to Catalina, including stops at Two Harbors and Avalon. I'll stay at one location on Tuesday and the other on Thursday. I keep reading about how difficult it is to get a mooring at Avalon Harbor. Would my chances of getting a mooring at Avalon be better on Tuesday or Thursday?

Captain Curran said...

Hello -
I honestly think you will be fine midweek. They will likely have a good spot for you up front (depending on the size of your boat).
But if they don't, then you can always grab a mooring ball in their overflow area - called Descanso. Really, it is the weekends you need to worry about..

Captain Curran said...

Here is the official company website.

If you call the number for the 2 harbors mooring system, they will also give you info on the Avalon situation -

good luck -

like I said, I think you're fine. To increase your chances of success, show up late morning at Avalon - that is when all the mooring balls open up..

Tom Armstrong said...

This site is awesome! Lots of great info and links. This may be a stretch but I was wondering if you had any suggestions for bareboat charters in the LA area, I'm looking to take my girlfriend and another couple for a weekend trip in october. I've been sailing my whole life and took a trip to Catalina 3 years back, I just am having a hard time finding a great place to rent a boat for the weekend. I was hoping King Harbor or Long Beach...

Any suggestions?

Unknown said...

Am I crazy to sail my 15' west wight potter from Huntington?

Unknown said...

Am I crazy to sail my 15' west wight potter from Huntington?

Captain Curran said...

Mathew Biscan

No you are not crazy. A potter is a very capable boat - I am jealous that sounds like a great adventure

Choose your weather window
Make sure the swell is under 3 feet
And the wind is manageable -

I am assuming you have a dependable outboard?

Leave early in the day - and enjoy.

Captain Curran said...

Sorry Tom

I really don't have any insight on that.

Best of luck-


Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

My boyfriend and I want to take sailing lessons. Neither of us have any experience at all. He thinks after a couple of sailing lessons, we could make this trip by ourselves. What do you think?

Captain Curran said...

Hello Anonymous,
I think you should feel very confident in your boat and your skills before you make the Catalina jump, especially from San Diego. If the boat is in good condition and so is the engine - then the boat part should be fine -

but - in regards to your own skill, see how you feel after the classes.

If you would not feel comfortable in open seas in 10-20 mph winds with a 5-7 foot swell, then you really shouldn't plan out a trip like this -

Obviously you can choose a weather window that is mellow - but you still need to be prepared for moderately dangerous conditions to arise.. that's my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Captain Curran-
I am wanting to sail a boat from Lewiston Idaho, down the Columbia and up to the Puget Sound. I am having trouble finding how long it will take to do that. We would be doing it in June. Any idea how long it takes to sail the Columbia? Or from Portland to Seattle?

Captain Curran said...


Sorry I don't have any insight into those voyages...
You can always pull up the region in google maps - then create a route with the line tool. Then set the units to nautical miles - this provides a good approximation..

Tom Armstrong said...

Wanted to follow up from my ask last year, I was able to find a bareback charter out of Marina del Rey:

We took a 46 foot Hunter to Avalon and back and it was great, we even had a school of 100+ dolphins following us for about 40 mins on the way back.

Thanks again for the info, timing etc. your numbers were spot on!


Anonymous said...

How safe is it doing this? What's the risk? Can a radar tell you how to get there like a modern day gps?

Captain Curran said...

It is safe, just choose your weather window prudently. If you're real handy with the radar you can use that... but GPS is so cheap these days, just pick up a hand held gps.

Anonymous said...

What do you think aboit macgregor 26d for going to island

Captain Curran said...

Macgregor 26 - no problem - just leave early and choose a good weather window...

Sea Moran said...

Hey Cap,

I found your blog via good ol' google and I have to say it's been fun to read and very informative. I'm a moderately experienced sailor, having done most of my sailing in the SF Bay Area, who bought a 22 ft. boat in Marina del Rey in the fall. Now that the wind is picking up again, I'm looking to make my first haul to Catalina. I'm curious if you have any insight as to what the optimal time of year to head out that way from MDR is? I can handle the rig pretty well, but I'll be with a couple folks who are not as comfortable taking over in difficult conditions and I'm not really looking to steer the entire course for 8ish hours there and back. Any and all advice is appreciated. Safe travels!


Captain Curran said...

Hi Chris - You have a nice window of time every year. The safest bet is May- October. This is the least likely time to see a storm.

So, plan it out - and then check the marine forecast - make sure there is nothing over 3-5 foot swell for your first venture.


Unknown said...

Would you feel comfortable crossing in a 30' Conquest Enforcer OS with a 454 Magnum and Bravo 1 outdrive?

Captain Curran said...

Sure, I suppose...that decision has a lot to do with the condition of the engine and capacity of the crew to fix any issues that arise... but in general a 30 foot powerboat with a good engine and plenty of gas can make that crossing... just ensure that sea conditions are favorable...

good luck!
Captain Curran