How to Take Your Own Boat to Catalina


When professional seafarers talk about rough seas, the North Atlantic in winter tops the list; when small boat operators talk about rough waters, they describe the run to Catalina Island. Making the transit across the Santa Barbara Channel to Catalina Island in your own boat -- if your own boat isn't a megayacht -- means your first priority is the weather. Your second priority is being ready for every conceivable emergency a boater can face. That includes replacing a spun-off prop in six-foot breaking swells or, at worst, being cast into the channel as your boat founders.

Things You'll Need

  • Category 1 EPIRB
  • Extra propeller
  • Extra line
  • Extra anchor
  • New EPIRB battery
  • Boat-mounted VHF radio
  • Waterproof hand-held VHF radio
  • Reserve fuel
  • Ensure that your boat is equipped with a Category 1 emergency position indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB, with a new, working battery. Open the EPIRB, remove the battery and read the expiration date stamped on the battery. Replace the battery if necessary. Press the EPIRB's "Test" button, located on the body of the device, to make certain the battery and EPIRB are in working order. In addition to the EPIRB and the survival gear required by law for your boat, take along an extra propeller, extra line and a sea anchor and other emergency gear.

  • Pack a waterproof -- not water-resistant -- hand-held VHF radio in your "abandon ship bag." Wear a life vest, regardless of the discomfort and weather reports. The weather in Santa Barbara Channel can change suddenly and render a weather report invalid in a matter of minutes. Vests that lie flat around your neck like a necktie will inflate on contact with the water and are more comfortable than the standard Type 1 ocean-use life vest.

  • Check the NOAA Marine weather forecast, paying close attention to the swell forecast for the area. Additional information on wind and waves is available in half-hour increments on the public pages of the Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center. Plan to monitor NOAA weather radio on VHF Channel 16 or Wx-1 throughout the entire voyage.

  • Input the departure point for your voyage into your GPS as well as the destination point. The marina at Avalon is located at latitude 33.20.83 N, longitude 118.19.42 W. Know the magnetic compass course to your destination and back from Catalina as well, in case you lose power. From the San Pedro Breakwater the course to the island is 202 degrees; the return course is 022. From Long Beach Breakwater, the course is 208 degrees and the return course 028 degrees. From Long Beach Marina East Breakwater Light the course 213 degrees and the return course 033. From Santa Monica the outbound course is 164 degrees and the return is 344 degrees. From Marina del Rey, the course to the island is 170 degrees and back, it's 030 degrees. Finally the course from Pointe Vincente is 178 degrees outboard and 358 degrees inbound.

  • Abandon, or at least reschedule, your travel plans if the anticipated seas or the seas you see in the forecast exceed four feet. Abandon your voyage and return to safe harbor if seas en route become questionable, particularly in the winter, when the Santa Ana winds may shift the seas suddenly. In the event a return to safe harbor is necessary and you are in the vicinity of one of the ferry routes, follow closely in the ferry's wake; a slightly choppy ride is better than overpowering seas.

Tips & Warnings

  • There are always swells and the longer they are, the better. Caused by the balance between the overall pressure gradient within the surface of the ocean and the motion of the earth, the normal Pacific swell enters the channel. As the seabed rises, that balance is disrupted. Instead of the normal, very long, very calm swell one would expect, the swells are close together and begin to form waves and break.
  • If you find it necessary to turn around because of a change in weather or seas, and if one of the several ferries is passing near you, return by following in the ferry's wake. The ride will be smoother. And, should fog set in -- not unusual for the Santa Barbara Channel between Catalina and the mainland -- you can follow the ferry to the mainland.
  • Towing insurance is on the list of "must haves." Also: a life vest equipped with a light, a waterproof hand-held VHF radio in addition to your boat's stationary VHF. And a Category 1 emergency position indicating radio beacon -- an EPIRB, that operates on 406 MHz and 121 MHz, and is detectable by aircraft and ships.
  • Pack emergency provisions and a survival kit.

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  • Photo Credit Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty Images
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