The Catalina Ride On A PWC

Be prepared, never go alone, file a float plan, have the safety gear, practice

Disclaimer:  Consult with the US Coast Guard prior to riding in the ocean.  This website is informational only. This site is intended for review by adults only. No representation is made or warranty given as to its content. User assumes all risk of use., its owners and its suppliers assume no responsibility for any loss or delay resulting from such use. Warning - although PWC riding is great fun, riding personal watercraft (PWC) in the ocean is not for the beginner and is for adults only. Offshore PWC riding is extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury or death. The information on this site is for adults and strictly the opinion of the writers on this site. We are only PWC enthusiasts - please do your own research and make your own judgments regarding what products you purchase and how & where you ride your watercraft (PWC/JetSki). We are not certified safety experts, mechanics nor are we certified mariners or certified maritime navigators. Do not take anything you read on this site as guidance from a "professional." By reading this site, you agree to take whatever information or input you receive on this site at your own risk. If you are inexperienced or a beginner we recommend against riding in the open ocean. We encourage you to take a boating safety course and consult with the Coast Guard regarding PWC, boating, rider safety and maritime navigation before you consider riding PWC offshore, in the ocean. For more boating safety information, go to the Coast Guard's website at for more information. Have fun and be safe and never ride in the ocean unless you are fully prepared.  TAKE A BOATING SAFETY COURSE PRIOR TO CONSIDERING RIDING IN THE OCEAN.

The following topics are on this page: 

1. Gear worn or on the craft

2. Gear stowed in the craft

3. Critical phone numbers

4. "Other" checklist items

5. Navigation from Long Beach

6. Other navigation items to consider 

7. Riding in the fog

8. Recommendations on how to negotiate through intense wind waves 

9. Protocol in the channel

10. Refueling at Avalon

11. Towing other PWC

12. Water in the engine compartment 

Catalina Website 

For the adrenalin junkie, the Catalina PWC ride is one of the premier PWC rides in the world! The lessons learned on this page are a result of years of ocean riding and can be applied to ocean riding in general, used for those who have made the Catalina ride only a few times and/or veterans alike. The purpose of this page is to assist the offshore endurance rider as he/she prepares for the Long Beach to Catalina ride so their ride is safe, fun and fast. If a veteran rider picks up a tip or two, that's a good thing also. We welcome any additional insight any of you may have! Please email us with your feedback, if its good stuff we'll post it! Contact us.

It is critical that each craft and rider on the run have the following gear: Disclaimer: Any/all of these items including helmet and neck brace does not guarantee the prevention of an injury. Offshore riding is not for the beginner and is dangerous.

Gear Worn Or Mounted On Craft: 1) Coast Guard approved life vest 2) Minimum 3.0 mm full length wet suit (3.2 preferred doing the winter). I have seen many half suits during the summer months. The downside of the spring suit is should you get lost or lose your craft, a full suit is preferred. 3) Mounted GPS with new batteries (Garmin has a mount for their GPSmap76 product), or consider a sponge and duct tape as a GPS mount 4) DOT approved helmet and goggles. 5) Many riders rub RAINX or Z wax (preferred) on the outside lens of their goggles to avoid blurring and fogging from the salt water. 6) Consider removing the visor from your helmet as if you fall off at speed, the visor may play a role in causing whip lash as it tends to act as a wing if/when you fall off your craft and hit the water. 7) Water booties. 8) Water gloves / consider dive gloves as a back up if the weather is cold (3mm). 9) Consider a weigh-lifting back-belt (not leather type). The back support provided by the weight belt can provide valuable stability and rider longevity for those long rides. 10) Waterproof sun block for exposed parts of your body. 

Gear stowed in your backpack/waterpack worn while riding: 1) Personal locator beacon, signal mirror, extra GPS, flare gun with flares, water in the waterpack's reservoir, many of us carry our cell phone heavily waterproofed in the backpack to enable us to communicate if we lose our craft. Submersable hand held radio. We encourage you to consider a SPOT2 satellite tracking device like the one pictured on the left. 

EPIRB devices have come down in price dramatically. We purchased this ACR for less than 400.00 - this device is highly recommended! 

Gear Stowed In Craft: 1) Flashing marine safety strobe light with new batteries attached to your life vest (with duct tape). 2) Marine compass. 3) Fully charged cell phone in the off position stored in a waterproof case like the Pelican 1030 pictured below. 4) Coast Guard contact phone numbers programmed into cell 5) A tow line at least 35 feet long with stainless steel eye rings 6) Extra stainless steel "O" ring hose clamps for engine hoses 7) Screw drivers 8) Extra oil, 4 or 2 stroke depending on your craft. 9) Extra GPS and light batteries waterproofed 10) Reflective mirror for signaling the Coast Guard in case of an emergency 11) Extra spark plugs and tool 12) Plastic zip ties 13) If it shouldn't be wet, place the item in a zip lock bag or small waterproof dive box 14) Extra cash or credit card for refueling at Avalon or Two Harbors (expect to pay at least 20% more for fuel in Avalon - 87 octane only). You can also refuel at Two Harbors Isthmus. Only 87 Octane fuel at Catalina. Fuelng on Catalina during the weekdays, remember that the fuel stations is closed from 10 am to 3 pm on weekdays. 15) A doc line just in case you want to tie up at Catalina . 16) Extra lanyard. 17) Extra jacket. 18) Duct tape. 19) Enclosed food such as Metrx or Zone bars. 20) Bottled water. 21) Fully chargedsubmersible hand held Marine Radio. 22) Flare gun with a minimum of five flares. 23) Extra sun block. 24) Consider placing all of these items in a waterproof bag you can purchase at a boat or motor sports store. 25) If the bag of these items does not fit tightly into one of your storage compartments, consider placing towels around the bag in the compartment to to secure the items and avoid the bag getting bounced around in your storage compartment. Remember, these items will take a beating and may break if not stowed properly. 26) Bright orange safety Flag. The "safety flag" is a 2ft x 3ft bright orange flag that you place / tie to your craft if you are adrift at sea that enables the coast guard or others to better see and find you. This flag folds into a 5in x 6in x 1/2 inch package to be stored in your bag. 27) We advise against storing extra fuel cans inside your craft. 28) Consider the use of a laser signaling device. 29) Whistle. Most of these items can be purchased at West Marine or related boating stores. 


BE PREPARED to be broken down: Never ride alone, always have a second craft with you in the ocean as your "wingman". A wingman is a person on another craft that never leaves your sight, he/she in turn ensures that you are never riding out of his site. You take care of eachother. It will take time for help to arrive. Again, many riders place the "stowed items" above in a backpack and wear it during the ride. The logic is that if they lose their craft, they can still access the items. Use your best judgment. 

So you look at the list and think it is all expensive? How much is your life worth? You must buy the safety gear or you should not ride in the ocean! 

Critical Phone Numbers to have preprogrammed into your cell phone prior to departure: 

1) UPDATED NUMBER (310) 521-3815: Los Angeles - US Coast Guard Search and Rescue, this is for emergencies only

2) Your Sea Tow/Vessel Assist tow provider's phone number

3) We suggest you inform a friend or family member just before your depart and call and inform them of your safe return. 

Always have a current SeaTow or Vessel Assist membership with their phone numbers preprogrammed into your cell phone: SeaTow, 877 568-1672 (membership services) Vessel Assist, 1800 367-8222 (membership services), 1800 399-1921 (Dispatch) 

Submersible Marine Radio (make sure you have a full charge as this is also a backup communication device for towing and the Coast Guard) 

1) Listen to the weather and sea state on channel 3 prior to departure. If there is a small craft advisory, don't go.  

2) The Coast Guard monitors Channel 16, if you have an emergency, this is the channel to communicate with them on.

3) If your marine radio is a hand held radio (ours is), ideally it should rigged / fastened to your lifevest so you have it if you lose your craft. If you are unable to do this, ensure it is stowed in a place in your craft that is dry and spared from taking a pounding. Ensure you have a radio! Cell phones break immediatey if you get salt water on them. 

4) Make sure you have a full charge on your marine radio. 

Other Checklist Items and 


1) NEVER RIDE ALONE / always ride with another craft (at least two craft riding together). We discourage two people riding on one craft, sea state is rough and can result in a very uncomfortable ride for the person on the back. 2) Always have a charged phone with the Coast Guard phone number programmed in / have in the off mode during the ride to preserve battery power 3) Ensure your craft is maintained and reliable, any doubts, get it checked before you make the run 4) Due to hull size, most riders are utilizing a three seater size craft for the run across the channel. Three seater craft appear to be the preferred craft. 5) Consider installing an after market bilge pump. Water in your hull can cause major issues on a PWC when you're fifteen miles off the coast! 6) Top off your fuel prior to departure, when the craft is at an angle (angeled up) if you move the craft back and forth, air bubbles should come out and allow more gas in, sometimes up to half a gallon to a gallon of fuel. 7) Check your oil and fuel before you leave the dock! 8) Ensure your battery has a full charge. 9) Consider a trickle charger that can be purchased for 35.00 at most WalMart or motors sports stores.  Charge the battery days prior to departure and check the battery the day of the ride. 10) If you have an old battery, consider replacing it prior to making the run. 11) hydrate before the run across the channel and ensure there is absolutely no alcohol in your system. 12) File a float plan - always remember to inform a friend or loved one that you are departing and provide them with a timeline of your return. Call them when you arrive back from your ride and you are safely back at the dock. Should you not call within the given timeline, they will know there could be an issue and should notify the proper authorities. 

SAFETY FIRST! Warning - The Catalina PWC ride is not for the beginner PWC rider. Ocean riding is for adults only. Riding to Catalina on a personal watercraft is extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury or death. We are not certified safety experts, mariners, navigators or mechanics, we are enthusiasts. The information you see on this site is our opinion and you are welcome to implement this information at your own risk. Do your own research and make your own decisions regarding how to and where you ride. Check and validate all of the phone numbers and latitude & longitudes for yourself prior to riding in the ocean. Contact the US Coast Guard to solicit information and training on riding watercraft. Take a boating safety course prior to riding PWC in the ocean. Be safe and have fun. 

Navigation from Long Beach to Catalina:

1) Global Positional System (GPS) is mandatory 2) Purchase a nautical map (available at West Marine ) and check (and double check) your latitude and longitudes. These latitudes ("lats") and longitudes ("longs") should be pre-programmed into your GPS prior to departure. Each craft on the run should have a securely mounted GPS mounted on their craft. . 

The lat and long we use for Long Beach to Catalina runs are as follows (Seek out and validate your own Lat and Longs):

Long Beach: N 33 43.989 

W 118 10.897 (note that this latitude and longitude point is behind the Long Beach Break Wall - if you are returning from Catalina and have limited visibility, watch out for the rocks as your track could take you through the break wall - obviously, avoid the rocks) 

Avalon: N 33 21.500

W 118 18.750 

Suggest you review the Sailor's Choice Avalon website for lat long and other Avalon and Two Harbor's harbor information. 

Other Navigation Items to Consider:

Always ensure you have fresh batteries in your GPS. 2) Ensure that your GPS is securely mounted to your craft, there are many ways to do this through OEM mounts (requiring screwing holes, usually into your storage compartment by the seat or up around your dash). 3) Duct taping the GPS supported by a foam pad is also an option. 4) Remember that your craft takes a severe beating during the ride across the channel resulting in the mount or duct-taped system potentially coming loose. Avoid this. You can ensure this does not happen by properly securing your GPS to your craft. 5) If you use an OEM GPS mount on your storage compartment (right by your crotch area / by where the front of the craft's seat touches the craft) then consider duct taping the lid of the compartment closed (the lid that your GPS is mounted to). Why you might ask? Because that lid may fly open during the bouncing & pounding the craft will take during the run. 6) Always have a standard compass as a backup. 7) Even if its a sunny day, NEVER leave your GPS and compass behind! You may be able to see the island now but the fog can roll in quickly and without notice. Never leave the GPS or compass behind! 8) Some GPS systems can lock up during the pounding some weather can inflict on your craft. If your GPS locks up and you are unaware, you could be following a course that is not accurate. The way to ensure you are aware of the functionality of your GPS is to watch your miles to destination portion of your screen. "Miles to destination" should be decreasing as you proceed forward and closer to your destination. If the distance screen does not change and stays locked on a specific mile as you are proceeding forward, your GPS may have locked up. The best way to clear your GPS is to turn it off and then off again. If this doesn't work, remove the batteries and then put them back in and attempt to turn the GPS back on. 

Practice Navigation Prior to Your Catalina Ride:

1) Familiarize yourself with your GPS and compass behind the break wall. 2) Do a couple practice navigation runs behind the Long Beach break wall 3) Scroll through your screens and become familiar with the GPS functions 4) Ensure you never make GPS screen adjustments while the craft is moving, only do so while your craft is not in motion. Also, find some rough water and put your craft through its paces to ensure that your GPS mount is mounted securely and will not come off during the ride across the channel. 

Riding In the Fog "Riding by your instruments":

Avoid riding in the fog. If it is foggy, turn back and ride another day. Should you have to ride in the fog i.e. the fog rolls in, this is where your skills will be put to the test. 1) Sunny days with the island in site can quickly change to fog with limited visibility. NEVER attempt to ride to Catalina without the appropriate navigation equipment, even if you can see the Island from Long Beach. Weather can change quickly and if you're out there without navigation equipment, you will quickly become disoriented and get lost. 2) Heavy fog can appear from nowhere in the channel. 3) Avoid riding in the fog but if you are already out there, keep an eye on the little horizon that you can see and watch out for other craft. 4) Decrease dispersion between you and the other craft in your group to avoid possibly losing anyone. 5) Decrease speed in heavy fog. 6) Scan the horizon from left to right and right to left continuously. 7) Remember that you need quicker response times during fog riding as other craft can quickly appear from behind the fog. You must be prepared to respond defensively and quickly to avoid problems. 8) Remember you are a very small craft and there are very large craft navigating the channel (Including tankers)! Ride defensively. 9) I have heard pilots equate riding in the fog to "flying by your instruments" as you rely exclusively on your GPS during fog riding. There is no shore to orient to so you must rely on your navigation equipment. 10) As you are proceeding forward, quickly look down at your GPS every 30 seconds or so to ensure you are on course, if you are off course make a quick adjustment. 11) Situational awareness!! The bottom line is pay attention, stay extremely focused and attentive during fog riding. 12) If you are close to shore, be especially aware of kayaks! They are small and can be hard to see, can be lost in the moving waves and must be looked for. 

How To Negotiate Through Intense 

Wind Waves:

Although intense wind waves are usually found on lakes, they can also present themselves in the open ocean. Wind waves are usually large almost vertical waves that reach heights of six feet or more. Wind waves will challenge your riding ability. The challenge of wind waves is that the distance between waves is usually small, sometimes less than fifteen feet. This results in a challenge to small craft such as a PWC. This results in the craft getting slammed from wave to wave and possibly "submarining" (nose going under the water) into waves that could result in water in the engine compartment and if large enough, taking you off your craft. A perfect example of wind waves are those waves that were encountered during the October, 2007 Walts Four Hours of Havasu Endurance Race on the SouthWest side of the course in Lake Havasu, AZ that was canceled due to wind waves. So, how do you handle large wind waves? Here is what we do: 

1. Safety first: If you are just out having fun in the water and not racing,get off the water as soon as possible if intense wind waves present themselves. 

2. When the wind is at your back, you should attempt to "tack" going downwind at a 45 degree angle from exactly where the wind is coming from. Racing Sailboats do this to keep boat speed up and it works. This can assist PWC also as it can serve to keep the PWC's pump hooked better and longer. Wind at your back is usually where you are most likely to encounter submarining.

3. Submarining etc., keep body weight low and as centered as you can. Submarining is usually a result of getting air and then coming down nose first into the next wave resulting in the nose going through and down into the wave. The force of your craft and your body hitting the water can rip you off the craft. Be careful and consider decreasing speed if you encounter submarining situations. 

4. When wind is at your bow, ensure you are comfortable with your rate of speed. If you are racing, many attempt to jump a wave or two to keep the ride as smooth as possible. You will see that wind at your bow/in your face is usually the easiest wind wave situation to maintain speed. Be careful to ensure that you control speed to ensure you don't get too much air. If you are racing, many times you are able to keep the craft at throttle and skip across the top of the waves. 

5. Side waves, surprisingly many skilled riders can ride relatively fast in these conditions. We suggest you don't "fight" the boat. It will want to swim some but most boats today can handle some bow hunt. Stay light on the windward side of the boat. Transfer more weight to the leeward side of the boat when it starts to rock back and forth.

6. Again, if you're not in a sanctioned race and you encounter large, intense wind waves, we suggest you get off the water. 

Protocol In The Channel and Avalon:

1) We suggest you stay away from the Catalina Cruiser while en route to Catalina, there is no need to jump their wake (safety). 2) We suggest staying away from all craft, boats will not want you jumping their wake (safety). 3) The bay at Avalon is a no wake zone and you will get a ticket if you are over speed. 4) If you want to get lunch you can but note that finding a place to dock your craft is almost always a challenge and if you do, there are usually many craft close to you that can bounce into your craft and cause scratching / minor damage etc. 5) While riding around the island, you must stay 300 feet from shore or you can get a ticket. 6) Stay away from fishing boats 7) You will see schools of dolphins as you get closer to Avalon - stop or go around them. 8) Yes, there are sharks in the channel. 9) You will see Gray Whales migrating during the winter months, keep a very respectful distance from the whales and do not disturb them. 10) Stay away from all tankers and large ships, especially while they are underway! 11) People at both Avalon and Isthmus are laid back, be nice and they will be very nice back to you. As PWC enthusiasts, we want to ensure we are respectful and courteous at Catalina as to ensure we are always welcome. 

Refueling at Avalon: 

1) 91 octane is no longer available - effective 1/10/2010 / consider octane boost. Fuel is expensive at Avalon! We paid 5.40 a gallon for 87 octane at Avalon in January of 2010 2) To get to the refueling area, go right after entering the Avalon Harbor. 3) Catalina is very environmentally conscious, do not spill fuel. 3) Two Harbors (Isthmus) on the Northeast side of the Island does have a fuel station but does NOT have 91 octane fuel. 4) The harbor area at Avalon is a great place to remove your seat and check your oil prior to the return trip. 5) Assuming your navigation is good, most new four stroke PWC can make it to Avalon and back to Long Beach on one tank of fuel. Until you're familiar with the ride and your craft's long distance capabilities, we highly recommend you refuel at Avalon or Isthmus prior to the return trip. 6) The fuel station at Avalon is closed on weekdays from 10 am until 3 pm so plan accordingly. 

PWC Towing Another PWC In The Ocean

We've learned this one the hard way. Approximately five years ago we had a craft in our group brake down half way between Catalina and Dana Point, Ca., 16 miles at sea. Reminder: Some craft need a special valve or water intake line (or lines) blocked with a vice grip if towed at in excess of 5 mph (some craft require this step regardless of speed). This is done to ensure water doesn't make its way back into the engine via the exhaust. If your craft requires it, ensure you take this measure prior to taking the craft under tow. 

1) The reason why you want a longer tow line (minimum 35 feet / longer if tow line weight is not an issue) is to keep the craft under tow out of the wake and in the smoother water, resulting in less stress on the towing craft. 

2) Hopefully you have three craft as the ideal method is to tow the down craft without a rider on it and for the tow craft to be ridden alone. 

3) Slowly get the towing craft on plane and attempt to keep it on plane. Don't worry, it is unlikely the craft under tow will roll over (although it looks like it might, it is unlikely). You will see that the craft being towed will also come on plane which results in decreased drag and easier on the tow craft. 

4) There is no need to go full throttle, just get the two craft on plane and try to keep them on plane. You will also notice that the "on plane speed" will result in greater water flow and keep the towing craft's engine cool. Slow, off plane tows can result in an overheated engine (we've been there!). 

5) The craft towing the down craft should be ridden alone (one rider) so get the rider of the down craft on another one of the functional craft. 

6) If you are out there with only two craft and one breaks down, get ready to double up on the functional craft and a bumpy ride back. Should you ever need to be towed back from Avalon and choose not to use your PWC as a tow craft and you do not have a tow service membership, plan on spending $350.00 to $500.00 for one of the tow services to get you back to Long Beach (get the tow service, see link above). 

Is it Better to Ride Standing or Sitting In The Tray?

The age old debate of standing vs. sitting! Which is better and which is faster? While there are benefits to both sitting and standing while at speed, the bottom line is that it is rider preference and usually depends on sea state. In the unlikely event the channel is completely smooth and you can sit, do it! Tuck, become aerodynamic, keep an eye on what is in front of you and get speed (but be prepared to stand quickly to engage and negotiate through a wave). Sitting can preserve valuable energy! If the seas pick up, you will likely have to stand to avoid taking a severe beating by the ocean. My preference continues to be a modified standing position while at speed offshore. Having once been a sitting rider, the pounding my entire body took while at speed was intense! Not to mention my back taking about three days to loosen up after one of my first rides to Catalina. Why the modified standing position? (Note - Modified standing is bent knees and hips resulting in a "crouched" standing position, never lock your knees). Standing in the tray enables you to use your knees and hips as shock absorbers and absorb the pounding you will inevitably take while at speed in the ocean. It also enables you to move up and back in the tray to further control your craft (more weight at the rear of the craft usually brings the bow out of the water a little more resulting in a little more speed). Note that you can get bucked off in either riding position. If you are caught off guard by a wave and you are at speed, your backside can come down, hit the seat and the seat will act as a spring that can propel you forward and potentially off the craft so be aware. Be especially aware to watch and read the ocean in front of you and oncoming waves or chop. There is a rhythm to the channel, so do your best to anticipate what that chop or wave will do to your craft and adjust accordingly. Be safe and have fun! 

Taking on Water Into The Engine Compartment?

Proactive measures: First, salt water in the engine compartment is a very bad thing! Avoid this issue at all costs. Inspect the craft before you leave the dock. A likely place of water entry into the engine compartment is where the exhaust exits the craft (Gasket) or around the ride plate. On some older craft, sponsons can be an issue. If you have concerns that you have a leak, get your craft to a dealer. A way to test your craft yourself is to put your drain plugs in then put a small amount of fresh water into your engine compartment while the craft is on the trailer and not running (avoid so much water that the level will touch your carbs or air intake). Look for where the water is coming out - that's probably your leak. Another way to test your craft is to pull your seats and storage compartments after your craft has been sitting at the water at the dock for 10 minutes or so, inspect the engine compartment for water. If you see water, do not make the trip and get your craft to a dealer. Consider an after market bilge pump and/or Quick Drain system accessories (see accessory list on this site). 

If you have a leak while on the water: The safest thing to do is get towed in. 1) Get back to shore ASAP. 2) If you are taking in a small amount of water, forward momentum (moving forward as you proceed back to shore), the factory bilge pump and gravity while moving forward should keep water flowing out the back end and keep water in your engine compartment at levels that will not reach your air intake or carbs - so keep moving forward. Water usually gets into the craft while the craft is not in motion (during breaks or stops). 2) It is critical that your carbs and air intake stay out of the water! 3) If you are off shore, and have an after market bilge pump, while your engine is off, turn the bilge pump on and put your weight on the back on the craft which will move the water to the bilge pump for easier extraction. Remove your seat and inspect the engine compartment. Once enough water is out of the craft (away from carbs and your engine's air intake), turn your craft back on, return the seat and return to shore with the bilge pump still on. Note, when you get back to shore and have the craft out of the water, cover up your air intake and spray your entire engine compartment down with fresh water and salt away. Salt water in the engine compartment can cause multiple issues and should be avoided at all costs. 

This website is informational only. Consult with the US Coast Guard prior to riding in the ocean on a PWC / JetSki.  The US Coast Guard is the authority.  This site is intended for the review by adults only. No representation is made or warranty given as to its content. User assumes all risk of use., its owners and its suppliers assume no responsibility for any loss or delay resulting from such use. Warning - although PWC riding is great fun, riding personal watercraft (PWC) in the ocean is not for the beginner and is for adults only. Offshore PWC riding can be extremely dangerous resulting in serious injury or death. The information on this site is for adults and strictly the opinion of the writers on this site. We are only PWC enthusiasts - please do your own research and make your own judgments regarding what products you purchase and how & where you ride your watercraft (PWC). We are not certified safety experts, we are not certified mechanics nor are we certified mariners or certified maritime navigators. Do not take anything you read on this site as guidance from a "professional." By reading this site, you agree to take whatever information or input you receive on this site at your own risk. If you are inexperienced or a beginner we recommend against riding in the open ocean. We encourage you to take a boating safety course and consult with the Coast Guard regarding PWC, boating, rider safety and maritime navigation before you consider riding PWC offshore, in the ocean. For more boating safety information, go to the Coast Guard's website at for more information. Have fun and be safe and never ride in the ocean unless you know what you are doing.