July 14, 2015

Boating to the Farallon islands: sailing distance from San Francisco.

Sailing from the Golden Gate Bridge out to the Farallon Islands is one of the great boating adventures in Central California. It can be challenging though, so you don't want to be too cavalier about this endeavor. We wrote this page to lend insight on the day trip for the sake of both power boaters and sailors. Do your research, wait for a safe window and then get out there and have a great time.

boating to the Farallon islands
Golden Gate Bridge out to the Farallon Islands

Sailing to Farallon Islands

The distance from the Golden Gate Bridge outside of San Francisco to the Farallon Islands is approximately 29 miles (25 nautical miles). You need to take currents and tides into consideration when approximating your speed to the island chain. A 40 foot boat, moving about 6 kn/hr should be able to make the round trip in 8 hours, so a full day on the water.

There are other considerations for this boat trip, but first and foremost, you want to give the Farallon Islands a wide berth when you're rounding them. There is no reason to cut any corners on this pile of rocks. There's been many unfortunate incidents where boaters cut in too close, here is an exceptionally sad story that occurred during the Full Crew Farallones Race.

 Some boaters like to leave San Francisco on a slack tide, just as it's beginning to flood. If you leave in a max flood, make sure to stay near the North Coast for a back eddy, but watch for rough conditions in the Potato Patch, especially on an ebb tide.

You want to check marine conditions before you commit to the Farallon Islands. You want reasonable swell height and swell period. 5-8 foot swell with a short period (less then 10 seconds) can be miserable, but the same swell size with a longer swell period (more than more than 18 seconds) can be reasonable. Know your comfort level with open sea conditions. There's no reason to push it out there.

boating to farallon islands
The Farallon Island group

You can monitor VHF Channel 12 to stay informed on large boats coming IN and OUT of San Francisco. This information is transmitted at 15 and 45 min. past the hour.

Many boaters prefer rounding the islands on the south side. It's generally a better way to see the islands. Make sure to check your charts and GPS repeatedly so you're certain you're clearing the rocks with plenty of margin of error. Swells can stack up as they get closer to the islands and waves start to break, so if the ocean is already up - it will be even more chaotic as you near the rocks.

sail trip to Farallon islands
we saw some Risso dolpins while crossing the channel

If you're sailing, the route you take will be dictated by the wind. Plan out your tacks - take advantage of a stiff breeze when its there - and be ready to reef if things pick up. Most folks end up with a nice downwind sail back under the Golden Gate into San Francisco.

If you're thinking about this trip or other boating adventures in SF Bay and surrounding coastline - you want to have a good set of nautical charts on board. We like the Maptech chart book for the SF region. You get the zoomed out big charts of the Bay. Then for each specific area - you've got the zoomed in high resolution charts to help with anchoring or approaching harbors.
These charts are waterproof, and virtually indestructible. We've been neglecting and abusing our Maptech book for a decade and they still looks crisp and new..Amazon gets you a bit better price than West Marine.



Alright - fair winds!

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