How Long Does It Take to Sail Across the Atlantic?

It’ll be your greatest expedition yet on your boat: sailing across the Atlantic. You’ve always dreamed of doing this, and now you’re at the point where you’re starting to plan it out, too.

There’s just one question on your mind, and that’s how long does it take to sail the Atlantic? If you plan on sailing the Atlantic, you should expect the expedition to last 3 to 3 weeks one way. It’s possible to cut the trek down to two weeks, but this mostly involves knowing shortcuts, maximizing speed, and having experience in crossing the Atlantic.

Before you set sail, you need to have as much information as possible. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about sailing across the Atlantic. This includes the best time of year for doing so, how to use trade winds to your advantage, the level of difficulty to expect, and the best boat size for the venture. Keep reading!

What Is the Best Time of Year for an Atlantic Crossing on a Sailboat?

You have to anticipate spending at least a month on your sailboat if you plan on crossing the Atlantic. Given that most sailboats have open designs, this means you’ll be exposed to all the changing weather for nearly a month straight. You must be careful about when you decide to set sail, then.

Another factor you have to keep in mind as you choose when you set sail is the trade winds. These can change direction depending on the season, either helping you sail along smoothly or hindering your voyage.

Okay, keeping all that in mind, what’s the best time of year for this expedition? Well, if you plan on stopping at South America or the Caribbean, then you want to set sail in November, December, January, or February.

Now, we know what you’re thinking. Those are the coldest months of the year! Why sail then? Well, for starters, the Atlantic is one of the warmer oceans. In November, the average high water temperature is 82.9 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very comfortable. By December, the temps drop to 81.9 degrees. In January, the temps hit 81.4 degrees and in February, 80.8 degrees. You’re not going to be shaking and shivering if you set sail then.

There are yet a few more reasons to sail this time of the year. In this article on UK site Sailing Today, the author, sailor Chris Tibbs, mentions that the Canary Islands are more prone to hurricanes between June and November. Some sailors opt to leave from the Canaries and go to the Caribbean that way.

As you can imagine, sailing during hurricane season is exponentially more dangerous than voyaging during other times of the year. If you’re new to sailing, you do not want to test your faith. Wait until November is about over and then head out.

Also, the winds between November and February are in your favor. The Easterly winds and Mid-Atlantic trade winds will let you sail from the east to the west with more ease.

The Best Routes to Take to Cross the Atlantic Ocean

Throughout this article, we’ve talked about sailing routes to take when crisscrossing from the US to Europe or back again. What other routes should you consider as you cross the Atlantic?

Heading north is one recommended route. You want to maintain wind but not too much when riding this direction. Generally, faster boats can handle this route better. Somewhere in the middle of Atlantic, there is the risk of depressions forming, so that’s something to keep in mind if you choose this route.

You can also go southernly if you’re more comfortable with that. It’s less dangerous than sailing north because you don’t have to worry about the depressions or any northerly swells. The trade winds are also more consistent, so beginner sailors can rely on these for guidance as they travel.

If you wanted, you could even go east to west, but we don’t suggest you do the opposite. One sailor who did it wrote about their experience in Yachting World back in 2016. They called it a “very different experience” and one that was quite “challenging.”

How to Use Trade Winds as You Sail

Let’s talk a bit more about trade winds and how you can use them to your advantage. If you’re not familiar, trade winds typically come from a northeasterly direction and can push you along the equator if you’re sailing in the northern hemisphere. If you’re riding in the southern hemisphere, then the winds come from a southeasterly direction. These trade winds will start either southbound or northbound from the equator at respective angles of 30 degrees. The region created here is referred to as horse latitudes.

The air, which blows at a slant, coming from both the southern and northern hemisphere is known as the Coriolis Effect. Gaspard Gustave de Coriolis, a mathematician from France, learned a lot about the phenomenon before people really understood trade winds. Thus, the Coriolis Effect was named in his honor.

When higher pressure and the Coriolis Effect mix, the trade winds form along a belt that’s on either side of the equator. The wind near the equator cerates dry, hot air that stops ocean and air currents. This happens either five degrees to the equator’s south or five degrees to its north. This is a smaller belt that goes by the name the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, aka the doldrums.

The doldrums serve an important purpose, providing solar heat that keeps the trade winds nice and warm. In doing so, atmospheric air goes up, becoming cooler. That’s why the rainforests and tropics get storms that other parts of the world don’t, because they’re in that band from the doldrums.

This higher, cooler air travels to the poles and then descends. When it does, it lands close to the horse latitudes. This affects the trade winds, calming them down without precipitation. Then the cycle can begin again.

Back in the old days when ships from around the world would venture to the Americas, these sailors relied heavily on trade winds. So too is the case for many modern ships and other vessels. You can do the same by following the trade winds and letting them guide you to your destination.

Some sailors recommend special accessories for trade wind sailing. These include sheet-to-tiller steering if you’re going downwind, as it will keep you on-course. You may also consider an electronic steering system or a windvane steering system, as both can help you sail the trade winds more efficiently.

How Big of a Sailboat Do You Need to Cross the Atlantic Ocean?

Back in 1993, a sailboat named Father’s Day as sailed by Hugo Vihlen crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The boat was only five feet, four inches long. It set a World Record for the smallest boat of its kind to cross the Atlantic, a record that remains standing today. You can find the Father’s Day sailboat at the National Maritime Museum.

Trust us when we say you don’t want to try to replicate Vihlen’s success yourself. A sailboat that’s under six feet long is far too small for safely crossing the Atlantic. Instead, you need a sailboat that’s at least 30 feet long, preferably 40 feet. Otherwise, you can’t guarantee your boat can withstand rough waves and stormy weather.

Ideally, your sailboat should also have durable sails that you can control without difficulty, especially in a case of emergency. A fixed keel does well in ocean travel while suspended rudders do not. It’s best if you can get a mono-hulled sailboat over one with more than one hull, as the latter may give you more headaches when the weather turns bad. You want to focus on your route and have as few distractions as possible, so opt for a mono-hulled sailboat if you can.

What is the smallest Boat that Has Ever Crossed The Atlantic Ocean?

It is reported that smallest boat that have crossed the Atlantic was only 5 ft, 4in long and it was made of stainless steel just as a submarine in order to keep the captain safe. 

The captain, Hugo Vihlen, was 61 years old at that time. His crossing took him 106 days to make the crossing successfully, although he expected to reach the other side in 75 days. This delay was caused by lack of wend to push him forward.  

How Hard Is It to Sail the Atlantic Ocean?

Okay, so that brings us to another great question. Just how difficult is it to sail the Atlantic Ocean? This is one of those questions that’s tough to answer, because it won’t be the same for everyone. I have written a more in depth article answering this very question. Read here.

A more seasoned sailor, even if they’ve never crossed the Atlantic, should still have enough experience under their belt that they might not find this trip too difficult. Beginner sailors, on the other hand, should familiarize themselves with sailing in their own neck of the woods before attempting to cross an ocean. 

Having a sturdy boat that you’re very comfortable using is another crucial part of succeeding at this trip. With today’s tech, including boat GPS, it’s harder to get lost, which is a plus. That doesn’t mean you can’t get knocked off-course though, so you can’t get lax in your own duties as the captain of the boat.

There are several things you can do to make the trip more difficult for yourself, and we wouldn’t recommend that. For one, like we just mentioned in the above section, you can try sailing the Atlantic from west to east. Also, you could go out during hurricane season, when the winds will whip more unpredictably and going solo as opposed to having a good experienced sailor with you onboard. . 

By planning a route, following the trade winds, and maintaining your speed, you will reach your destination sooner than later. Just always have a backup route and even a secondary backup route ready after that. Flexibility is good, since wind patterns and weather can always throw your original plans out the window.

How To Prepare For Your Atlantic Crossing?

Crossing the Atlantic ocean is the dream of most sailors, but it requires a lot of preparation before you actualise this dream. To make this happen, you will need to be knowledgeable, skilful and have already gained some years of experience sailing.

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss in detail how you should prepare for the voyage, but here we will give you a general idea of what it takes to make the crossing successfully. 

To begin with you will need a thorough plan of your journey. Besides, you will need to make sure your boat is seaworthy and in a good shape. Choosing the best routes and appropriate time to leave port are very crucial steps that must not be taken lightly. For sure this crossing is not advisable to be done solo, although many sailors have crossed alone.

Here are some of the essential equipment you need to have for this voyage: 

Whether your next boat trip is two miles out or 2000, there are certain must-have items you should never go without. This equipment can ensure the safety of all passengers onboard your boat, not to mention yourself. 

The following safety equipment is required to have: 

  • Sound signalling devices
  • Visual signalling devices
  • EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon)
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Throwable flotation device
  • Personal flotation device
  • Life Raft
  • Grab bag: Best place to store all your items such as survival gear, signalling device, first aid kit, SOLAS flares and as it is waterproof and floatable.
  • Watermaker
  • Patching Materials in case you need them. 
  • Marine Compass
  • Handheld GPS
  • Water Cans
  • First Aid & Medical kit 

These items are highly recommended as well:

  • Refrigerator
  • Diver down or skier flag
  • Powerful flashlight & Headlamp (ideally with rechargeable batteries) 
  • Snorkel mask (if you have to go in the water)
  • VHF radio
  • Safety Harnesses and Tethers
  • Warm clothing
  • Sunglasses
  • T-shirt long & short sleeves
  • Foul Weather Gear
  • Shoes, Trainers & Water Shoes
  • gloves, Socks & hats
  • Large towel

Although there could be many other essentials added to the list above, however this list forms a solid starting point.

How Long Would It Take to Sail from New York City to London on a Charter Boat?

In the next few sections, we want to talk about specifics, such as from sailing from one part of the ocean to another. Let’s say for now that you wanted to go from New York City to London. This would involve you sailing from the United States to the United Kingdom and using a charter boat to do it.

Charter boats are either yachts or sailboats, but they can include other vessels as well. You may opt for skipper or bareboat chartering. With skipper chartering, you sail with several other people, including perhaps a professional sailor. If you do bareboat chartering, then you’re in charge of navigating the boat yourself.

If you left port at New York, it’d take you 3,290 nautical miles to reach London. As you recall from this blog, a nautical mile is 2,025 yards or 1,852 meters. Converting a nautical mile to standard miles, the equivalent is 3,786 miles.

Okay, so that’s quite a bit of ground to cover, err, sea. How long would the journey take you? It depends on several factors. You’d have to maintain speed, traversing the water at about 8 knots. This is the equivalent of 9.20 miles per hour (MPH), so it’s a leisurely yet determined pace. It’s not impossible to keep up, but it could be a little tough for beginner sailors.

Should you travel along at that speed for the duration of your trip, you might get to London from New York via a chartered boat in 17 days.

How Long Would It Take to Sail from the United States to Spain?

What if your destination isn’t London, but somewhere like Spain instead? You’re still starting from the US, but this time you’re using your own sailboat or a similar vessel. How long would it take you to get to Spain?

There are a lot of factors at play here. For instance, what type of boat are you using? Is it a sailboat, a cargo ship, a cruise ship, or even a frigate? That will influence your traveling speed.

Sailboats may reach 10 knots at most, which is about 11.51 MPH. In a cargo ship, your speed is a little greater, between 12 and 14 knots. That converts to 13.81 to 16.11 MPH. Cruise ships may travel at a speed of 18 to 20 knots or 20.71 to 23.02 MPH. Frigates would be the fastest boat here, traversing the waters at 28 to 30 knots. That’s about 32.22 to 34.52 MPH.

Besides the speed, we also have to ask, where in the US are you disembarking from? Is it New York City, somewhere in California, or a different coast in the country entirely? We don’t need to tell you that the US is a very large place, so where you leave from definitely matters.

Let’s say you were starting at New Bedford, Massachusetts and arriving in Vigo, Spain. That’s 2,800 nautical miles. If you traveled at a consistent speed of 10 knots across your entire journey, that’s about 280 hours, which means it would take you 12 days to get there.

How Long Would It Take to Sail from Europe to California?

What if you want to start in Europe and go to California? You’re almost reversing the above trip, although not exactly. In Europe, it’s best to leave from Cape Horn or Panama, particularly the latter if speed is a consideration.

By following the Gibraltar-Canaries-Cape Verde-Caribbean route and maintaining a speed of only 5 knots, you’re traveling about 8,100 nautical miles. This means you’d sail for roughly 67.5 days, which makes this quite a lengthy trip!

That said, there are plenty of factors that can impact the duration of your voyage. Again, where you’re sailing from matters. The type of boat you use is important, too, as is the route you take. Traveling faster can also shorten how many days you spend out at sea.


Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean is quite a feat, but it’s an attainable one. If you want to follow in the footsteps of many sailors before you, you must begin by planning a route. There are lots of ways you can traverse the Atlantic, but you want a route that’s easy and manageable. You should also use the trade winds to your benefit. Make sure your boat is appropriately sized as well.

Wish you all the best on your sailing trip!


I am the owner of sailoradvice. I live in Birmingham, UK and love to sail with my wife and three boys throughout the year.

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