The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: What to Expect When Sailing Across the Pacific

It’s the epitome of high adventure on the seas. Sailing across the Pacific will bring you joy and boredom. It will challenge you and threaten to break you. It will test your expertise and resourcefulness like nothing else like it. For many, the trip is the dream of a lifetime. It takes courage, physical stamina, and a whole lot of planning to play it safe.

Outlining the Challenge

Knowledge is imperative when making this journey. It’s essential, therefore, to begin with what you’re facing. First, you’re talking about over 8,000 nautical miles when going from Panama to Australia, depending on the route you take. It’s not like you can hop into your sailboat and go. There are legal issues you must understand, i.e., passports and visas.

The water is one thing with average depths of 13,000 feet. There are also wind patterns that vary seasonally and regionally, along with tides and tropical storms. There is also the dark side of modern-day pirates a sobering reality of today’s oceans. You’ll need a substantial craft to handle all of these things with enough cargo space to carry you over until the next port.

If you’ve researched sailboat prices or new boat prices, you’ll have an excellent grasp of the available amenities that can make your voyage safer and more comfortable. Get the best one you can afford from a well-respected manufacturer that specializes in boats for this type of use. It’ll pay off in the long run with more durable materials and a better performing craft.

Before You Leave Port

Planning is the most critical task. You’ll need to decide on your route and when you will leave. The Atlas of Pilot Charts provides a plethora of data about weather and ocean conditions by month based on observations collected over 100 years. There are many well-established routes whether you want to sail the South or North Pacific. They take into account the wind patterns and other challenges.

Float Plan

Generally, it’s wisest to travel at the beginning of the year instead of later. That’s when the wet season starts along with the cyclones. Once you’ve decided where and when the next thing you must do is write up a detailed float plan. It’s not unlike a trip plan that you’d complete when going to a wilderness area. It provides information on you, your power boat, safety equipment, and proposed route.

You should then file this document with the marina from which you will leave, along with family members and friends. Sailing isn’t without its risks. A float plan will help speed rescue efforts if something goes amiss.


You’ll also need to apply for a passport and visas as required based on your route and the international water that you’ll cross. Allow for plenty of time to get these materials. You should also obtain any necessary licenses you may need for using a radio or fishing if that’s in your plans.

Don’t forget to look into cruising permits or other documentation you must have to enter certain regions, parks, or other sites. Give your boat insurance company a call too for determining your coverage when sailing international waters.

That’s where your float plan comes in handy. While it may seem like a buzzkill, you must have a detailed itinerary to make sure that you’re taking care of the required tasks before you get to your destinations. You can get fined and have to pay fees for failing to get the right paperwork. You’ll also need nautical charts for every place you’re sailing.

Mechanical Inspection

It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of inspecting your sailboat before you leave. Have a marine mechanic go over the craft from the mast to keel. Make sure that all your electronics such as navigation and comms are working correctly. If something is on the edge of repair, fix it now before getting underway. Always have a backup of all vital equipment.

For example, have solar panels installed as an alternative power source for a battery or generator. Keep spare bulbs for every light on the boat onboard. Replace your sails and wire stays if they’re anything less than tip-top shape. The waters of the Pacific are often punishing, making an upgrade in your rigging a sound investment. If necessary, look into used outboard motors.

Safety Equipment

Now is the time to inspect your personal flotation devices (PFDs), fire extinguisher, and throwables. Make sure that your flares are still good. If your smartphone has a battery, get a spare. Likewise, get a rechargeable battery or brick for a backup power source. It’s also a good time to invest in a satellite phone for purchase or rental to ensure that you always have service.

Provisions and Sundry

Planning for food and drink are also critical tasks, especially since you won’t always be close to a place to dock and stock up when needed. Pick foods that are shelf-stable and provide ample nutrition. Don’t disregard freeze-dried camping meals. The quality has improved substantially over the years, making them an option to have onboard for a quick bite.

You should also plan on bringing other necessities such as Dramamine and bleach to disinfect questionable water sources. Get the uber-sized bottle of your preferred pain med too. Pepto Bismol and other digestive aids are a smart addition to your kit too. Suntan lotion and aloe vera are also excellent items to pack.

You’ll likely be out of range for any cell signal for long stretches. Boredom is a common complaint with ocean voyages. Keep you and your crew sane by bringing along plenty of reading materials to pass the days when all you see is water. A deck of cards is priceless to brush up on your bridge game or play a few rounds of Solitaire. If you’re tied to your smartphone or tablet, download games that don’t require WiFi.

Keeping a Journal

It’s also a wise idea to bring a journal with you, no matter if it’s your first trip sailing across the Pacific or your tenth. There’s always something you can learn from each time. Make it a habit to record the events of the day, making a particular note about solutions and things you’ll need to bring the next time. Also, record what you didn’t use so that you can pack better.

Don’t rely on your memory. Write it down so that you can refer to it later when you’re packing. Besides, it’s a fun way to relive your trip, both the good and the bad. Journaling is a practice that you may want to consider for shorter excursions too. The goal, after all, is to make sailing more pleasurable. In essence, you’re writing the book.

It’s also an opportunity to make some extra cash. You can transcribe your journal entries into blog posts and supplement your income when you’re back on land. You might even consider self-publishing it to help other would-be adventurers on their ocean journey. Any tips and hints you can share are invaluable to the next oceanic trip. Often, the info you get from the front lines is the most useful.

After Your Blue-Water Trip

You’ll likely want to start planning your next adventure as soon as you get back. Your journal will help with the process. As you unpack, note what you didn’t use or even unpack. You’ll likely take more than you need the first time. The post-voyage experience is your chance to make it better. The good times are just as informative as the ugly, miserable ones.

The best lesson to take away from it is your resourcefulness and creative solutions. You have to think on your feet at sea. Pat yourself on the back for making it happen and coming back in one piece. If you’ve learned something, it was worth nausea, mosquitoes, bad food, and rough waters. You are now a part of an elite club. Welcome aboard!