Finding Slips And Anchorage While Cruising

Finding slips and anchorage while cruising is a critical aspect of trip planning. What we discovered on our journey cruising the California Coast may be helpful to other cruisers and want-to-be cruisers.

Need a Slip?

On a long cruise there will be times when you will need a slip or dock to tie up. For maintenance and repairs or for food and supplies or simply to explore the port you’ve arrived at.

There are a few options and a few things to consider that will impact the availability and/or cost of securing a place to tie up and access resources. Every port is different.

What’s Your Boat Require?

Size does matter! Most ports we visited had no problem accommodating our little 35′ cruiser. Many of those ports would not have been able to handle a 45′ or 55′ cruiser. Either because dock space is limited or because access to facilities were simply inadequate to maneuver.

For example, Santa Barbara is home to many large cruisers and it’s marina is designed to handle traffic of larger boats. Availability of dockage for a larger boat my be limited by availability of space. Especially in the peak season. But that can be managed with a little advance planning.

On the other hand, Monterey harbor does accommodate larger boats but is so jammed up with commercial and fishing boats that it is unlikely that a larger boat would find a berth or at the very least arrangements would have to be made a long time in advance.

In a port like Morro Bay you would not find any available dock space during peak season. But you may find a space for a few days in the off season at the yacht club dock. Or, you may find an open buoy (They rent for about the same as dock space).

Smaller boats, under 40′, have far fewer constraints. But, there are still considerations like availability of space and availability of services.

Why Are You Looking For Dockage?

Before deciding to pull in to any particular port consider what you want to accomplish while you’re there. Looking for fuel? Need to get supplies? Need services like maintenance or repairs?

Very few ports have everything you’re looking for. Alamitos Bay Marina in Newport Beach is a great example. This is a large well developed marina with access to shopping and marine supply stores within walking distance. But, they have no fuel and no onsite maintenance services that we could see.

Contrast Alamitos Bay with Santa Barbara Marina. Similar in size and accessibility but Santa Barbara offers all services, fuel, shopping and even an on-site post office where you can receive parts.

Unless it’s an emergency like we experienced at Channel Islands Harbor call the harbor master ahead of your visit to verify the accommodations or services you need are available.

Finding Suitable Anchorage

We love anchoring out! Especially when we just wanted to kick back and get a good nights sleep. We found anchorages in many ports of call. Some were fantastic and some were not so great. But, most were free and for unlimited time.

Some of the benefits include no check in/out, usually no size restrictions, close proximity to shore and facilities and finally, a sense of freedom.

The biggest concern for boaters while anchored out is the fear that the anchor will let go and you will wake up on the beach!


This unfortunate sailor did wake up abruptly to the sickening feeling that something had gone HORRIBLY wrong! The rest of us watched with interest to see the Tow Boat US RIB trying to pull him off the beach as the tide came back in.

If you don’t want to post a 24 hour watch it’s wise to have at least one anchor alarm set up. Even if you are awake. If an anchor lets go and the tide is flowing you may only have minutes to correct the situation.

Most chart plotters will have an anchor alarm feature. Or, there are apps that you can download to your phone. Some for free.

Follow prescribed anchoring techniques and you will “probably” never have a problem. Don’t forget . . . rising tides raise all boats . . . And all anchor lines. Sea floor and wind/wave conditions also play a big part in anchor holding capacity.

We experienced heavy winds when at anchor off Santa Cruz Island. We deployed more anchor line than 7 to one, the recommended ratio. It was a sandy bottom that our Danforth style anchor was well suited for. The anchor alarm was set. All was well for 24 hours. Then, the anchor broke loose and we began to drift. We gained momentum for several seconds and then the anchor grabbed hold and with a sudden jerk stopped the boat dead in it’s tracks.

The result of the violent action was a bent bow roller and crushed arm of the anchor stanchion. It could have been worse. I’ve see the entire bow sprit assembly ripped from the hull. Many larger boats deploy a yoke harness to alleviate the strain on the anchor line and spread the load to two points.

At some point every boat runs out of food, water, fuel or other provisions and must head to shore. The larger the boat the more scarce the docking options become and the more planning is a must. Almost every marina will accommodate transient boaters if they have the space and facilities to do so.

Docking and Anchorage Fees

While most, not all, anchorages are free docking for more than a short time (minutes, not hours) is not. We found overnight rates for docking ranged between $35 to $45. Most of the time it was $45. This fee typically includes water and electric service. Also, we never had to pay for pumping our holding tanks.

The only port we were faced with anchorage fees was Morro Bay where space is very limited. Even then, the harbor patrol allows up to three nights free. After that they charge $30 per night. No other anchorage paid any attention to us.

Before closing I should point out that many marinas have what they call “guest docks”. They are generally limited in space and time. At most they will accommodate a few boats. Most are accessible to the public which can be a bit uncomfortable. Most have utilities available. All charge daily rent. All have time limits.

If you have any questions about the ports we visited leave a comment below.

I discuss some of the marinas and anchorages we visited while cruising the California coast. Click Here to review those ports.


One thought on “Finding Slips And Anchorage While Cruising

  • May 19, 2021 at 4:38 am

    You mention “off” and “peak” season – what are those times?


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