The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Port of Vancouver Transit Checklist

Anya Codack

Catalina Sport 275
February 21st, 2023

My boat is moored in Deep Cove. While sailing in Indian Arm is always beautiful, I need to transit Vancouver Harbour to go anywhere else. If you haven’t done the transit, here are some things to be aware of.

1. Tides and Currents

It’s critical to make the transit with the currents. Go with the currents and you’ll make the trip in 1-2 hours. Go against the currents and you’ll take 4 hours or more, and you may not make it through Second Narrows at all. So, when planning your trip, line it up with the tides and currents, specifically the current at Second Narrows. In case you’re unsure, rising tides make the current run east.

2. Vancouver Harbour Traffic

When you go through the Harbour, change your VHF to Channel 12. I will normally have Channel 12 on all the way from outside Lions Gate Bridge to Cates Park. This way you can monitor harbour traffic conversation and be reached if someone needs you to move out of the way. You will also need Channel 12 to ask for a bridge rise at Second Narrows.

In addition to large container ships and tugs, make sure you keep an eye out for the Seabus.

3. Second Narrows Bridge

Tidal currents can be pretty intense under the bridge. When you plan your trip, you have two options for when you go through the bridge:

  • At slack, or,
  • In the same direction as the tidal current.

I’ve tried to go through against the current, and it’s really not a good idea! The current can run at 4-6 knots, tough to beat with a sailboat motor.

And of course, there is the railway bridge. When in the down position, the railway bridge has a clearance of only 10.7m (35ft) – likely not enough for your mast to clear. The default position for the bridge is down, so you will probably need it raised when you approach. About 10 minutes before you are ready to pass under the bridge, you will need to pull out your VHF and call to request that they lift the bridge for you. They don’t really like it if you call them much earlier than that.

When you call them, be prepared to structure your call something like this:

“Second Narrows Bridge, Second Narrows Bridge, Second Narrows Bridge. This is sailing vessel XYZ, traveling eastbound (or whichever way you are going). I’m currently 10 minutes away from the bridge. Would it be possible for you to lift the bridge, please?”

They will respond with any questions or instructions and then they will normally raise the bridge for you. I honestly always feel like the Queen when they lift that bridge for me!

On occasion you’ll have to wait for a train to pass before the bridge goes up. Sometimes that means hanging out in front of the bridge for up to an hour, but, most of the time, they lift the bridge right away and I zip through.

After you’ve passed under the bridge, it is polite to call them back to let them know that you are through and to thank them for the lift.

4. East of the Bridge

Expect eddies both under the bridge and on the east side of the bridge. Lastly, east of the bridge you’ll find a series of dolphins. It’s a good idea to stay south of the dolphins. The area north of the dolphins is a sailboat trap at low tide, with shallow water and muddy shoals.

Every trip through the Harbour is amazing. The views of the city and the mountains are incredible and the traffic and industry are always interesting to experience. Happy sailing and have fun next time you go through the Port of Vancouver!


  1. Gord Fulcher says:

    The tides go up and down. The currents go in and out. The tides and currents are related but not necessarily at the same time. For instance the Sooke Basin empties for one hour after the tide change due to the land restrictions slowing the water moving through the passage between the Basin and the Harbour.

    I am sure Anya meant Flooding Currents run East as tides go up and down. Yhe title to 1 Should be Currents.

    1. Thanks so much Gord. I have made some edits.

  2. Ken+Christie. says:

    Thank you Anya, Many years ago I took a Crown 28 from Kits point to Wigwam Inn and back , a few days of fun, guests and friends Alder Creek, and explored great anchorages. Returning one evening, Westbound Second Narrows, successfully up a weak current under the bridge, motoring along a back eddies toward the pillar near a pile driver, my VHF: PileDriver Force One, this is Port of Vancouver, there is a sailboat moving erratically about to collide with you, do you see them ?
    Later passing Lynwood, VHF: SV Gwyneth this Tug AlphaMighty, will be crossing your bow. I replied, yes I see your course. OK Gwyneth, red to red.
    Later through First Narrows turning toward Siwash Rock: VHF: SV Gwyneth, this is Tugboat TommieB, isn’t it too late for you to be out tonight? You are cutting across my bow! My Reply, TommieB, you are a mile off, I am motoring to False Creek, now we will do a course correction and head for Ambleside Park, awaiting your passage. OVER AND OUT !
    Sheesh, what went wrong ? thanks Enya

  3. Dee, SV Dolphin Tales says:

    Thank you Anya for this practical checklist for making safe passage through Vancouver Harbour – and inspiring me on to go further east than Mosquito Creek.

  4. Stefanie Schulz says:

    Great article; FortitudeX was moored in Coal Harbour Marina for 5 years and we have passed under both bridges (First and Second Narrows) many times. It can be intimidating, adding the traffic and float planes to tides and currents but it’s also an awesome training ground; and thanks to your guideline manageable and enjoyable.

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