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Taking your boat to the San Juan Islands - what you need to know.

 This post covers the bare basics needed for a San Juan Islands visit.  Simple answers to some very important questions.

Taking your boat to the San Juan Island
Just because it is on a trailer, does not mean it is a good idea.

While reading this somewhat abbreviated post, click the links to dig into specific details.  Lastly, use the search box to find more of what you need to know.

#1 Where to begin this epic outing? 

One of these four places may offer exactly what you need to get the boat wet.  First, but not necessarily best, consider Cap Sante Boat Haven in Anacortes.  Cap Sante offers light and heavy travel lift slings but no launching ramp.  They also offer short or long-term pay trailer parking and an RV park.  You definitely will want a reservation for slinging and mast stepping.  You may be able to reserve a slip at the transient dock. The costs are not cheap.

The next place to consider is Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham.  While travel lifts are available at the port, their multilane all-tide boat ramp, long-term parking, and abundant transient slips are what most boaters come for.  If your destination is the San Juan Islands or perhaps jumping over to Canada, this is by far the best place to begin and end your voyage.  No reservations are needed, and they operate 24/7 with a self-pay kiosk.  Driving the extra freeway miles to Bellingham adds very little time to your overall day.

Next, back in the Anacortes area are Washington Park and Deception Pass Park.  Washington Park is a city-owned campground with a two-lane boat ramp and float and trailer parking.  You don't need to stay at the campground, you can simply use the ramp and park for up to two weeks.  Pay 24/7 at the pay station.  Parking may be limited so avoid weekends if you can or have an alternate plan.  Tip: Plan an outing staying in the campground, taking the boat into the San Juans for day trips. Of course, you will need reservations for camping.  Lastly, just a few miles away is Deception Pass State Park.  The launching ramp and transient docks are at  Cornet Bay and are just a stone's throw from the famous Pass.  The ramp is usable at all tide levels, has four lanes and floats and has abundant long term parking.  Pay 24/7 at the Kiosk.  Cornet Bay also boasts a marina, fuel and a convenience store. All four locations have nice restrooms with pay showers.

There are a few other options for launching such as boat yards and some inferior ramps but these are the ones recommended and that have parking.    all the ramps  As an aside, taking your boat on a ferry expecting to launch from a ramp on one of the islands is not a well-thought-out plan.

#2  Before you get going you need to take a good hard look at your gear.  Ill-prepared skippers not only risk ruining their cruise but they jeopardize the safety of everyone around them.  On the flip side, well-prepared captains seem to always have great drama-free vacations.  Speaking of gear, you need a way to get to shore from your anchored yacht.  A cheap two-three-man inflatable will work, paddle boards are risky but work, but beaching your boat for anything but a minute or two is not going to work out well for you. basic gear needed

#3  Okay, you're all packed and on the highway but where will you spend the first night?  Good question and the answer is all up to you and what you want.  What I have learned, is that what works best for me is to stay at Cornet Bay or Squalicum Harbor on the boat.  It is usually late and we are tired, simply getting on the water is enough for day one.  Your plan may be different so here is a list of parks.  parks, parks, parks , and here is a list of resorts and marinas waiting for your arrival. resorts and marinas

#4  You are well on your way now.  I hope you brought some food and fuel, if not, don't worry, here is a list of places you can go to get all the stuff you forgot to bring.  places with food and supplies

#5  If you are really going to the San Juans you will have dozens of new questions now that you are thinking about it.  So try this link for more answers >>  basic questions answered

#6   Lastly, along with planning where to go it really helps to know the distance between points.   Use this handy mileage chart.  water mileage chart  Remember, currents and tide fluctuations are part of every passage.

#7  When to go.  This is not a difficult choice, just go when you are able, but avoid winter weather.  July and August weather attract more people but there is plenty of room.  Holidays can get festive and tend to attract crowds but sometimes that is what makes it a great vacation.


 This rather in your face map has big labels to help newcomers orient themselves to the major names and places in the San Juans.  Use this map when making preliminary cruising plans.  Also, use the distance chart below to quickly judge time and distances.

San jaun Islands area map & chart with islands and citys marked


Distances are based upon shortest route, however taking into account currents and sea state, the shortest route may not be the best or even fastest route.  Distances were derived using a chart plotter.

San Juan Islands milage chart between islands marinas citys


Cruise the San Juan Islands – Sample Itinerary, Trip Plan, Info Guide

      Talk to ten San Juan Island cruisers and you will get ten different answers to the question, "What's the best place to go or thing to do in the San Juan's."   Each will be correct, mostly. To support their answers, they will offer first-hand exciting personal experiences.  That is why you must gather the best information, inject your wants and quirks, and then chart your own course to the San Juan's.  

Our experiences and local knowledge have been earned the old-fashioned way – one cruise at a time. Sailing, hiking, biking and gunkholing, all while immersed in nature has been our reward. 

     This website is a compilation of our travels in five sailboats and two trawlers spanning over two decades.

     Along the way we published a cruising guide, “San Juan Islands Cruise Guide,” followed later with a Land and Sea Guidebook, “San Juan Islands Travel Guide.”  My goal for this website and these books is to help boaters, travelers, sailors, and families enjoy the good times we have enjoyed for many years.

     What is the best five-day itinerary?  That's like asking what's the best color.  But there are certain things that our experience and local knowledge will help with.  Sometimes, one just needs a little push in the right direction to get on the right tack, so to speak.  It is impossible in an essay or article to cover everything important to everybody or all the possible places to go.  However, this website does cover every state park, every county park, every public dock, and much much more.  You will find many links to pictures and specific posts, all composed for San Juan Island boaters.  Be sure, while reading to click the links and follow your interests. Be sure to use the search box at the top of this page on the left side.

You're invited!

     To help you muddle through this dilemma and provide some interesting reading, please come along with us on our summer cruise in the San Juan Islands.  Of course, you will be taking your own boat since ours is full.  

     Today, we use our laptop as a chart plotter, I only use the GPS function. The program was free online Free chart plotter software but I had to buy a USB antenna for $19.95.  You can get by with a small handheld GPS or even your cell phone but I enjoy the big screen.   I don't want you to get lost if we get separated, or your battery is dead, so you should pick up a paper chart and a compass.   chart #18421 I carry a colorful roadmap with us as well.

    Let's get on the same page and assume this is your first boat trip to the San Juan's, and you are in a trailerable sailboat with a 5-6 mph speed.  There are five or six starting points we have used but only three are preferred.  They are Cornet Bay in Deception Pass, Cap Sante in Anacortes or Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham.  If you have a fast powerboat or are coming up from the Seattle direction you will want to make time and distance adjustments.  We will plan to sleep on board but use bathrooms on shore. Okay, let's go. ----- We have narrowed it down to about twenty parks to choose from for the first night, and that's not counting the marinas at Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor, or Rosario.   Not to worry, I have a plan >>>  all the parks and then some

      Sometimes when we plan a vacation trip to the San Juan's,  we try to make a great circle route because it saves time and resources. But this time we're going to decide where we go, as we go. We will see how that non-plan works out.  Certain people on the boat have expressed a desire for hot showers, I guess we will see how that works out too. Since we may travel all the way across the San Juan's and back, your boat will need a minimum 75-mile range. Fuel is readily available everywhere but smart skippers figure one-third of the miles out, one-third back, and a third as a cushion.  If your fuel tank is a little small you can tie a five-gallon can on deck.  Knowing you have reserve fuel will ease anxious thoughts and ensure you have a great visit.  Shall we also assume that you have a seaworthy vessel with all safety gear?  If not, correct it before we head out, or stay home.  Life jackets for all

Plan as we go itinerary:

Cornet Bay boat launch San Juan Island's
Cornet Bay Launch Ramps

        Let's begin at Cornet Bay in Deception Pass Park.  However, after reading this post, I suggest that you search this website and check out the other launch locations. Some may fit your plans better. launch points Also, search the other parks and marinas and things to do.  It is easy to overlook a great place or mini adventure that will make your cruise the best of all.  I chose to launch at Cornet Bay this time because I really enjoy the pass scenery.  The dock and the long-term parking are ideal.  Plus being able to take off or return from both directions 24/7 opens up even more possibilities when not having a firm plan. If I was heading for the Sucia area first off, I may have chosen Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham but where we end the cruise may dictate where to begin.

Read the rest?