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Is San Francisco Bay Closed to Sailing?

This is a question we’ve been getting from many sailors. The short answer is no. At least not yet. A recent update from the base commander at the Sausalito Coast Guard Station said they are requesting all ‘non-essential’ boating activities to be suspended. They have cut their staffing by 50% to avoid close contact among themselves, and are restricting interfacing with the public. The CG is available for outright emergency assistance, but, short of an outright ban, they request that all non-essential (this would include recreational) boating be curtailed.

They do not at this time have ‘enforcement policies’ in place, but if the public doesn’t comply that may be the next step. The policies are changing dynamically, both locally and statewide. The last thing the Coast Guard or any local official on the water wants to do is spend their day issuing citations or arresting people for fishing or sailing, but that could become part of their job description.

Sailing San Francisco Bay
When crossing San Francisco Bay you can be sailing from one set of guidelines in one county to a different set of guidelines in another county.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

As it stands now, if one wishes to take their boat out, there currently is no law preventing it, other than the social distancing rules restricting more than one person other than members of the same household. Events such as regattas are banned. Any organized gathering, whether official or otherwise, would be ignoring this directive.

The Coast Guard twice approached a friend who was bringing his boat to a boatyard last Monday. They questioned him about where he was going and why. He was left with the impression that they were actively discouraging boating.

Unlike San Diego Bay, which is run by a single port authority, the Port of San Diego, multiple jurisdictions manage San Francisco Bay. This made it easier for San Diego Bay to simply close their bay and enforce their order. On San Francisco Bay, the restrictions vary by county. You could potentially sail from one jurisdiction to another and find yourself sailing into a different legal situation. Beyond the guidelines, many readers have commented on the ‘optics’ of sailing during the stay-at-home directive. Imagine yourself needing a Coast Guard rescue during the ban, and your story appears in SFGate under the headline, “Wealthy Yachtsmen Ignore Shelter in Place Guidelines and Require Federal Dollars to Be Spent Rescuing Them During Pandemic.” Just doesn’t look good.

As we wrote just over a week ago, medical experts, public officials and first responders are struggling to figure out how to best protect the public in the midst of rapidly changing conditions. They are asking us all to step back for a few weeks to give us our best shot at getting on top of this crisis. We also remind everyone that what we write today could change tomorrow. But, right now, it remains a personal choice. As hard as it is during the warming spring weather, it feels right for all of us to support those making the request and facing much more difficult decisions than whether or not to go sailing.


  1. Kimberly Paternoster 4 years ago

    Great article. Thank you for the writeup!

  2. Pat Broderick 4 years ago

    John, A very reasoned article. I wonder how driving 50 miles to get to the boat might figure in? If I had an accident or breakdown I don’t want to put first responders in jeopardy – and I think driving that distance doesn’t conform to the stay near to home plan. Apparently in Ireland they have a 2 & 2 Rule: 2 meters & 2 km. Makes sense. Thanks for continuing to provide sailing stories and information electronically.

  3. Jonathan Ogle 4 years ago

    I disagree that we should treat the Bay as closed to sailors. As long as you can adhere to the social distancing standards it should be perfectly appropriate to go sailing. If we are essentially limited to single handed sailors and couples and families already living together, with no regattas, the Bay will not be too crowded and even a half-manned Coast Guard presence will be enough. This pandemic could go on for a long time and we may be in new normal already. I disagree that we should cower ashore for “optics”. I’d rather see the optics of people showing that they can adapt to coronavirus and carry on with important aspects of their lives without endangering anyone. When I have been out these last few weeks sailing on my own, not six but 600′ from the nearest person, I have not been endangering anyone, and might have provided a benefit with a pleasing image to those on shore.

    • Dave Folkboat 4 years ago

      Well said Jonathan

    • peter metcalf 4 years ago

      It’s not a matter of “cowering,” as you wrote, but simply compassion in the face of great ignorance of doctors and epidemiologists, and high health stakes for many people, if we don’t demonstrate or exemplify cooperation in this small way. And as every sailor knows, and some landlubbers too, assumptions are often wrong regarding one’s boat, gear, and personal seaworthiness, which could justify the CG not wanting to stretch their resources for recreation. Remember, they too are dealing with the virus. It’s real to them, though it may be unreal to others.

    • Bill Stokely 4 years ago

      abosolutely! We need our sanity. We are social distancing when we sail.

    • Steve Zevanove 4 years ago

      I tend to agree with you Jonathan. Going sailing with people from your household really does not seem like a significant threat to others. It seems to me that it would be far safer than going to Walmart to pickup toilet paper.

      Dr Fauci runs for exercise without a mask. I don’t begrudge him his workout, but recently, I have been nearly trampled multiple times by runners on a walking path. That behavior is far more likely to spread the virus than sailing on the bay.

      True, there could be an incident that requires CG response, but the probability has dropped significantly because so many recreational boating activities have been canceled. I support stopping racing on the Bay, since crew and RC will likely be from different households. I support and practice social distancing. But, going for a daysail with your family (same household) seems like the perfect social distancing activity.

      We are all feeling our way through this thing, and most folks are trying to do their best to support the guidelines. Individually, this requires judgement and common sense.

    • John Robinson 4 years ago


  4. e 4 years ago

    Can we please stop talking about this? You’re blowing up the spot and many of us live on the water. It’s all speculation, not proper journalism, and rather landlubberly.

  5. E 4 years ago

    How about wakeboarding? The north end of Richardson Bay has seen quite a bit of it over the last few weeks.

  6. Evan Stolze 4 years ago

    There was a boat fire in our marina last week. Within minutes we had two fire boats, an ambulance and four fire trucks attend. And 19 firefighters. A shortage of first responders?

  7. Nathan Beckord 4 years ago

    I went out on Sunday (before this article was released) and had some serious anxiety about whether it was “allowed” or not… I Googled around, asked folks at the marina, and even emailed Lat38 to get the scoop. I ended up having an epic day on the Bay, solo-sailing my Yankee Dolphin out the Gate, and even pulled up a few fresh Dungeness for Easter Dinner. I “get” the argument for not straining the CG, and the potential optics, but a single day on the Bay countered a ton of COVID19-related stress and anxiety. Not saying it’s right or wrong, but it certainly helped me reset.

  8. Bob Barter 4 years ago

    A ban on all sailing does seem a bit extreme. I know it is a very touchy subject but, if the only reason for such a ban has to do with Coast Guard assets, I find that a bit flimsy. Of all the days on the Bay sailed by millions of people over many years, how many have ended up with a call to the Coast Guard? There comes a point where you have to weigh all this against the fact that only 25,000 out of 40,000,000 in this state have contracted the virus and almost half of those are in LA county. Seems to me if you multiply the odds of a Coast Guard call by the odds of a coronavirus encounter on the Bay, you get a lottery-like result.

    Having said that, I have only been out once since the shutdown so I am only a minor violator.

  9. Art Stiers 4 years ago

    No shortage of Fun Police though.

  10. Jaye Eldridge 4 years ago

    We would lose our fricking minds if we were banned from taking our boats out. We don’t take anyone out with us, and the boats aren’t in a marina, so it feels quite safe to us. In 23 years of boating together (and 78 or so between us in total), neither of us has ever needed rescue by the coast guard. I’m good with those odds.

  11. Martin Eggenberger 4 years ago

    What about the Central California Coast? I am supposed to bring a boat up from MDL to SF in early June.

  12. Jim 4 years ago

    I am in Kona Hawaii waiting to get back to the Delta in May. Here boating, fishing and surfing are almost essential activities. Even launching boats far exceeds social distancing. If Hawaii can do it, SF Bay and the Delta can do it.

  13. i sargin 4 years ago

    Is there any link to any official notice from the USCG San Francisco Station about this? Unable to find it on any of their sites.

    • Christine Weaver 4 years ago

      i sargin, There is no official posted notice from USCG SF. Our reporting is based on conversations between Latitude staff and Coast Guard personnel.

  14. i sargin 4 years ago

    thx 🙂 to be honest, it puts people in an awkward situation if the USCG chooses to communicate requests so informally during a crisis period like this.

  15. Dave Folkboat 4 years ago

    I understand that the state of New York has opened marinas and boatyards

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