Our ultimate guide on things to consider if you're planning to sail across the Atlantic

Heading the other way? Leaving the Caribbean for cooler climates? Check out our 16 top tips on crossing back to Europe


The Atlantic crossing season occurs every winter. In the months leading up to Christmas, some 4-5,000 sailors will cross from Europe to the Caribbean on one of the biggest sailing adventures of their lives.

In most cases, the crossing is the culmination of years of planning and preparation. But if it’s your first time, are you missing something? You might be.

Here is a list of my top 15 tips for an Atlantic crossing, which I’ve drawn up both from my own ocean passages in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and from talking to hundreds of transatlantic sailors over the years. So what do you really need to consider when planning your Atlantic crossing…

1. You don’t need a special boat

Time was when a proper bluewater cruiser had chines, a ketch rig and self-steering gear at the stern. That was a perception, and perceptions change. Numerically, the most common transatlantic yachts these days are ordinary production cruisers with standard kit.

Bavaria 39 CruiserThere’s no black art to sailing 3,000 miles downwind. Generally, the toughest part of an Atlantic crossing is getting across Biscay. So whatever boat you have right now, the chances are that with a bit of extra prep she’ll be fine for an Atlantic crossing.

As for a watermaker, generator, SSB radio, etc: they’re all useful, but every additional item adds complication and service cost/time. Apart from a sound boat, all you really need is water, food, fuel and a (paper) copy of ‘North Atlantic, Southern Part’.

2. Keep it simple

A smart crossing is all about consistent speed, 24 hours a day. The key is not to have downtime.

There’s no need to fiddle around with twin headsails, Twistlerig or expensive new asymmetric spinnaker; a main and poled-out genoa ‘barn doors’ set-up will do fine. In fact, me and my other half won the ARC rally overall one year after sailing wing-and-wing almost the entire way.

Just keep an eye out for chafe, and be sure to set up a preventer on the boom and a foreguy topping lift and downhaul when poling out the headsail so you can furl in quickly when that night-time squall hits (which it will).

Tor Johnson sailing

3. Revise your energy equation

Whatever power you think you’ll use on an ocean crossing, add on another third. Nav lights, radar, radio scheds, autopilot, watermaker, fridge, freezer, computer, fans – you name it, they all add up.

Increase the means of generating electricity with a diesel generator, larger alternator, solar panels and/or a towed turbineandlook at means of making savings, such as fitting LED lights.

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  • Roman Kogalin

    hahaha we can imagine.. funny.

  • Buy your fruit and vegetables from the farmers market, supermarket produce will have been chilled and will go off quicker
    I stored some cheeses below the waterline “to keep cool” and then had a nasty mess to clear up when it melted as the sea got warmer.

  • khizar_07

    A P&O Cruiser can do it in 7 days.
    10 days for a super yacht doing 10 knots.
    The Atlantic is a harsh environment. You will have to take engineers with you to ensure

    the thing does not break down.

  • CaptainDoomster

    In 1989 I crewed a 46 foot boat from Southampton to Antigua. We left Southampton in October (wrong end of the season). The Bay of Biscay was without doubt the worst stretch of the entire voyage – beating into four Force 10/ 11’s all the way down to Morocco with 30 – 40 foot sea.

    I went from never sailing a boat in my life to rounding Cap Finisterre alone at the night helm with big shipping in extreme gale force conditions….a true baptism of fire….and one of the finest most memorable moments of my life.

    Once in the Trade Winds the crossing was easy…..in fact I would almost call it boring….apart from seeing whales, dolphins, flying fish and the magical phosphorescent after 21 days the crew began talking about Hamburgers and Beer.

    I remember 500 miles off the coast of Africa we encountered two boats no bigger than 22 feet in size sailing together….so it is a myth when people say you cannot cross the Atlantic in small boats. In fact in the 60’s 25 – 30 foot was the norm and all those boats were basic….no water makers etc. Modern boats are cluttered with so much unnecessary crap.

    From my experience keep the boat simple, uncluttered and as the author stated maintain the momentum. Buggering around with complex sail arrangements in a squall or in the middle of the night is an annoyance.

  • Adam christ

    Thank you, happy sailing 🙂

  • This one here is a gold mine. Thanks for sharing this sailing
    guide list. Nowadays, only few sailors who genuinely blog their sailing experience.
    Every sailors and yacht owners guide before sailing. J