Why We LOVE Winter Boating On San Francisco Bay

The Surprising Facts Of Winter Boating On The Bay


Winter is here, but that doesn’t mean we’re housebound by the weather for us Bay Area boaters. Boating year-round in the Bay is one of the great blessings we enjoy as a Bay Area resident. I have been sailing the bay for over 40 years, and let’s say I have seen some weather, have a good handle on the winds and waves over time, and know when to step out for those epic days on the Bay.

Unlike the Midwest and East, we only see about a 10-degree temperature shift between summer and winter. In winter, the daytime temperatures generally range from around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, while in summer, between 60 to 70 degrees; the temperature of the actual Bay is a different story. It is fairly level, with a year-round average temperature of around 56 degrees (F). Perfect for a cold plunge!

SUNSET IN FEBRUARYI have had some of my best boating days during the winter.  For sure, in winter, boating on the bay sees contrasts.  It becomes more unpredictable and challenging in winter to pick a lovely day, with winter storms bringing blustery winds over 30 knots, choppy waters, and heavy rain. However, when storms are not bearing down, winter days on the Bay are calm and GLORIOUS. They are crisp, clear, calm, and perfect for sailing, boating, paddling, or any water-bound activity. During these tranquil intervals, winds blow lightly at 5-15 knots, especially in the mornings and afternoons, and the water is flat. For us powerboaters, it is an ideal and rare time of the year when you can run at cruising speeds without having to tend to big chop and rolling waves. It’s calm tacking, less heeling, and warm breezes for sailing.

Maybe you noticed too that the winter skies are a sparkling blue perfection, and we have less fog. These tranquil, sunny periods offer ideal conditions to learn to boat and be out on the Bay when other people not in the know about the fantastic conditions are looking out on the water and missing the boat, so to speak. It’s also some of the only days I experience T-shirt weather on the Bay – if the sun is out!  The bay always beckons during these placid days, which we lovingly call “summer in winter” here in the Bay. When the weather is not in a foul mood, winter grants San Francisco mariners some breathtakingly beautiful outings and a magical tranquility. Sunsets in February are like fire and ice in the sky.


Another very exciting opportunity in winter boating is that because of the Pacific Ocean’s cold-weather climate off our coast, marine life isPELICAN abundant in the winter months.

Here is the myriad of marine life and seabirds that inhabit and migrate to San Francisco Bay in the winter months that you can easily spot or take a chance at fishing out on the Bay:

– Harbor seals and California sea lions remain year-round residents of the bay, though additional migratory populations arrive in winter seeking abundant prey/fish stocks. Pups are born from December to May.

– Gray whales pass SF Bay on their annual migration between Alaska and Baja California from December to April. Some have entered the Bay so keep your eyes open!.

– Wading sea birds such as great blue herons, great egrets, and snowy egrets continue foraging in the bay’s shallows, but numbers increase in winter as the Bay is so abundant in food sources.

– Diving birds like grebes, loons, scoters, goldeneyes, mergansers, and buffleheads migrate into our area starting in October, joining year-round residents like cormorants and pelicans to feast on anchovies, sardines, and other small fish that flourish in the Bay.

– Raptors, including peregrine falcons, merlins, and bald eagles, arrive to hunt waterfowl.

– Shorebirds and wildfowl that breed further north traverse the Pacific Flyway to winter here. Starting in October, dunlins, sandpipers, plovers, ducks, and geese proliferate along marshlands.

– Gulls such as mew, herring, California, and elegant terns fish bay waters year-round while boosted by seasonal migrants like Bonaparte’s gulls.

Fish and other marine creatures also shift toward areas like San Francisco Bay in winter when offshore ocean conditions deteriorate. If by chance you’re out and see any sick, injured or abandoned seals and sea lions be sure to report them to the Marine Mammal Center’s Hotline. To report , call the 24-hour hotline: 415-289-7325 (SEAL). Report any sightings as well for their database!

The San Francisco Bay offers world-class boating opportunities year-round, but none so magical as the wintertime. We always tell our charter clients and students in our private classes to prepare accordingly for seasonal shifts in winds, waves, and weather to make your time spent on the water more rewarding. However, when the sky is clear, and the sun is shining, you can usually be sure that the magic of the day is with you until you arrive back at the dock.

If you have a goal to boat and enjoy all the life benefits of being on the water, from physical well-being to better mental health, learn to boat. Take your private lessons with us and become the boater you always wanted to be.

If you want to share this exceptional recreation with people you love, join our boating club and create your boating lifestyle.

Want to learn a new practice that is life-changing and creates a healthier you both physically, mentally, and emotionally? Join our Meditation + Sailing Day Retreats.

No matter how you choose to connect with nature on the water, during the winter, exploring diverse environments can spark an exhilarating journey of adventure and curiosity, igniting personal growth and exploration. Discover the unexpected wonders of winter boating on the bay.