San Diego Boating Guide

Boating in San Diego: Everything You Need to Know

Written by Boatsetter Team
January 24, 2022

Last Updated on January 25, 2022 by Boatsetter Team

The waterfront of San Diego, CA covers many square miles and is home to rowboats and aircraft carriers. With a length of over ten miles and two miles across at its widest point, San Diego Bay is a significant body of water.

A bit further north of San Diego Bay is Mission Bay. It is also in San Diego and is a bay designed for life on the water and home to Seaworld, San Diego. The area is a mecca for boaters and sun worshippers, and the weather is moderate, year-round.

The shores of San Diego Bay are lined with wharves and docks from one end to the other. There are restaurants, shops, museums, beaches, and entertainment along the waterfront of San Diego, and it is all accessible from the water. 

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Do you need a license to drive a boat in San Diego?

You will need a California Boater Card if you are less than 35 years of age when boating anywhere in California, including San Diego. This care requires a simple test and can be done online.

You must know where you can drive a boat, what the markers and buoys mean, and the speeds at which you can operate a boat in certain areas. The waterways around San Diego are busy, and you need to know a little about what you are doing before getting on the water.

Where to take a boat in San Diego

There are many destinations to visit by boat on the San Diego waterfront and several other locations in the area. San Diego bay is about ten miles in length, and many boaters keep to the protected waters of the harbor. Once one leaves the harbor, you are in the Pacific Ocean. 

Mission Bay Boat Rentals

Boating in San Diego or Mission Bay doesn’t require a large boat because you are in protected waters. So, bowriders, fishing skiffs, pontoons, and deck boats are suitable for a day’s outing on the waters of San Diego or Mission Bays. However, once you pass the breakwater of either Bay, you will need a bigger boat. 

All boats are expensive, and purchasing one may be out of the question. However, you can rent a boat from a local boat owner that will be suitable on the bays of San Diego or large enough to take on the Pacific Ocean. 

At Boatsetter, we put those who want to go boating together with boat owners who wish to rent you their boat. From fishing boats to yachts large enough for 30 and more passengers, a local boat owner has the vessel you need to go boating in San Diego.

Boating in San Diego Harbor

Parks, three wildlife refuges, and shopping are available along the shores of San Diego Harbor. All shoreside areas are easily accessible due to the amount of dockage on the Bay. San Diego is a city where life on the water is encouraged, making it easy to get from one destination to the next. 

One such San Diego location is Seaport Village. Here, hundreds of visitors come to see the USS Midway Maritime Museum and enjoy being outdoors on the water. Across from this location and fronting the Pacific Ocean is Coronado Island. 

This city on the ocean personifies a lifestyle of waterfront life. The skateboard park, the quaintness of a surrey ride, and enjoying ice cream from Mootime Creamery offer Coronado visitors many different things to enjoy.

All of the above locations are accessible by boat and are great locations to add to a boat trip on San Diego Bay.

Boating on Mission Bay

Mission Bay is a few miles north of San Diego Bay and has an entirely different atmosphere. However, Mission Bay is home to the largest artificial aquatic park in the United States. The coves, anchorages, and jutting landmasses make a place where visitors can play on the Bay in safety.

Home to Sea World San Diego, a boat rental from a Mission Bay boat owner will give you access to every corner and turn of Mission Bay, and there is so much to see. This is the perfect vacation destination as there is so much to do to keep everyone busy and happy.

Boating on the Pacific Ocean

pacific ocean boating

Boating on the Pacific Ocean will open your world to coastal cruising and sportfishing. These adventures require a different type of boat than needed on San Diego or Mission Bays. Larger cabin cruisers, sailboats, trawlers, and yachts are necessary when boating on the Pacific Ocean. However, boat owners in San Diego will rent you the type of boat you need to cruise the big waters of the Pacific. 

Things you need to know when boating in San Diego

Rules and regulations for boating need to be followed for your protection and that of your passengers. Boating safety is taken very seriously in California. Knowing the rules before getting on the water will keep you safe and in favor with law enforcement if you happen to meet. 

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Boat speed limits – posted and not posted.

When operating a boat, you must keep your speed below five miles per hour when you are within a hundred feet of a surfer or swimmer. It would be best if you also kept a boat operating at least 200 feet away from a beach where people frequently swim.

Oceanside vessel speeds

If you are operating a boat along the coastline within San Diego’s city limits, you must keep the speed of your boat at or below five miles per hour if you are within 1000 feet of shore. The regulations for ocean-side speed limits are different in Mission Bay.

Boat speeds on Mission Bay

The speed limit on Mission Bay is five miles per hour or less, from sunset to sunrise. Areas with speed limits other than this time include where buoys indicate a speed limit of five miles per hour, within a hundred feet of shore, another vessel, and near bridges.

Ages of boat operators

Children under twelve cannot operate a boat with a motor. Children aged 12 to 16 cannot use a boat with an engine size greater than 15 horsepower and must have someone with them that is over eighteen years of age.

Boat safety equipment – requirements

life jacket laws san diego

Safety equipment for boats is required based on a boat’s type. However, all pleasure boaters need to have the following onboard to be legal.

  • One life jacket – PFD (personal flotation device) for each person on board.
  • A marine-type fire extinguisher
  • One horn or whistle
  • Flairs or other visual distress signals
  • One throwable flotation device (life ring)
  • Navigation lights for operating after dark
  • Proper numbers, stickers, and registration cards for the boat

Where you can beach and anchor

There are many places on Mission Bay where a boat can be beached. Beaching is permitted as long as there is no landing, swim area, or takeoff point for water skiers. 

However, look carefully for signs before beaching your boat anywhere in Mission Bay. Beaching a boat anywhere along the oceanfront is prohibited except at the La Jolla Shores boat launch area.

Suppose you want a location to anchor overnight. Anchoring is permitted in Mariners Bay, and you are allowed to stay at this location for up to 72 hours.

Special use area on Mission Bay

There are four zones of activity on Mission Bay. They include special use areas, speed zones, swim zones, and open speed areas. Areas of special use include areas restricted to personal watercraft (PWCs) permit areas or water ski permit areas. Unless you are actively using one of these areas, you cannot be there. 

When boating on Mission Bay, take the time to read the signs. They will alert you to the current conditions and happenings on Mission Bay. In addition, signs regarding Mission Bay are posted at all boat ramps and lifeguard stations.

Boating in San Diego

There are many things to do in San Diego, and as you see, boating can be a part of everything you do and everywhere you go. Cities on the water are unique, and San Diego is one of the most special with its Bay and Pacific Ocean access. 

If you need a boat to use near San Diego, look at the boat rentals offered by Boatsetter around San Diego Mission Bay, and book a reservation today. You can rent the type of boat you want with a boat rental and be on the water tomorrow. 

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