There is an adventurer in each of us. How we choose to indulge this spirited part of us is what makes us unique. For the accomplished sailor, it probably means crossing an ocean.
Crossing the entire expanse of the Atlantic is no easy task. Often this desire manifests itself in a question: “How long does it take to sail across the Atlantic?”
Well, the short answer is don’t expect it to be the same for everyone. On average it should take a month depending on the route, ship speed and weather. More experienced sailors can reduce this to just over 20 days.
Different voyage lengths in the Atlantic depending on the type of ship
How long to sail across the Atlantic? First consider the ship or boat you will be using.
- For average monohulls with a wingspan of 30 to 40 feet, the Atlantic can be crossed in 3 to 4 weeks. This time can be shortened depending on the route, weather conditions and sailing ability.
- A longer, more modern yacht can potentially complete a transatlantic voyage in 2 to 3 weeks. Those who frequently travel back and forth between the Canary Islands and the Caribbean can tell.
- The time for an Atlantic crossing by ship is normally 7 days for a one-way trip. This figure is based on the travel time of ships making transatlantic voyages like the Queen Mary 2.
- Considering the engines powering such ships, they can potentially cut that travel time in half.
- Some people are also considering crossing the Atlantic on logistics alone. That’s certainly plausible, and what’s even better is that the luxury you can enjoy on cargo ships rivals that of cruise ships.
- If you are considering this option, it can take anywhere from 10 to 22 days.
- Naval ships like aircraft carriers and warships like corvettes will no doubt be able to reduce the transatlantic sailing time to just 3 to 4 days. As for sailing, these are undoubtedly the fastest.
- Did you know that sailboats up to 5 feet in size can also cross the Atlantic? Of course it will take much longer, but it is possible!
Based on historical data, the person who managed to do this had to sail more than 100 days.
Factors affecting travel time
The fact that there is no set duration for a voyage across the Atlantic is because many factors come into play. I’ve listed everything that affects travel time as follows.
1. The size of the boat
It is well known that boat length is directly proportional to speed. However, expect a 50ft catamaran to sail faster across the Atlantic than a 30ft monohull or something smaller.
If the monohull can travel 100 miles a day, the larger catamaran or a trimaran can potentially double the range.
2. Wind speed
When sailing the seven seas, you have to take advantage of the trade winds. These winds blow at an average of 15 knots, but their direction and strength change each season.
Just because I was able to get an exact number doesn’t mean you will enjoy that exact wind speed throughout your trip.
I’ve spoken to old salts who can attest to only averaging 5 to 8 knots on a solo transatlantic expedition. Expect the same variance to apply to most travelers.
3. Ability to sail
When crossing the Atlantic it is best to be very experienced at sailing first. This applies to the people you take with you, as long journeys can have a profound effect on anyone, and certainly novices.
By the way, you might want to know the solid proof that sailing skills matter most when sailing the ocean. Look no further than the great feat of Hugo Viglen, who crossed the Atlantic by boat in 115 days. The best part is that he did it on a 5ft device!
4. Weather and Sea Conditions
How long can you sail across the Atlantic in calm weather? You can complete the trip within the usual timeframes I mentioned above.
Typically sailors sail between November and February when routes are warmer. Others will say that the perfect time is between April and May.
Anything beyond that can increase your chances of being exposed to storms and hurricanes, which are natural forces you clearly don’t want to mess with.
The wind speeds and waves can be difficult – if not downright dangerous – when you’re dealing with inclement weather. For this reason, I recommend that you only sail during the ideal times of the year.
5. Place of Departure
Where you set sail will significantly affect sailing time across the Atlantic as there are places where the winds to windward are noticeably better. Based on historical data, it’s best to choose Bermuda as your base when flying from the west.
6. Keep ports
While some sailors manage to sail across the Atlantic without stopping at different ports, many people cannot. Any type of stop you make will add to the total transit time, no matter how long it is.
Examples of transatlantic passages
To give you an idea of how long a transatlantic crossing will take I have outlined the time it takes to get from point A to point B etc on the popular Bermuda and Canary routes.
1. Bermuda (Western starting point or Northern route)
- Sail through the Caribbean to Bermuda (takes approximately 5 to 8 days).
- Then drive from Bermuda to the Azores (takes approximately 14 to 17 days). This is the longest stretch of the crossing.
- Finally, you can dock in Portugal from the Azores (takes about 4 to 8 days).
2. Canary Islands (eastern starting point or southern route)
- Depart Portugal and then sail to the Canary Islands (takes 5 to 7 days).
- Then turn your ship from the islands towards Cape Verde (journey time is between 5 and 8 days).
- From there you can now make the transatlantic crossing to the Caribbean or any available port in Brazil (takes around 16 to 21 days). Crossing southern Cape Verde is generally considered to be the shortest route.
Adding up the number of days will likely give you a more accurate estimate of how many days you have to sail across the Atlantic. Note that these timeframes do not take into account any port stops you make.
Which of these routes is the safest? Well, based on most sailors I’ve asked, the Cape Verde Passage is less risky than the Bermuda Passage.
By the way, do you know the total distance these trips will cover? It’s approximately 6,800 nautical miles in a single voyage, which is undoubtedly a monumental achievement for any sailor!
Here’s a glimpse of an actual trip
If you want to take a look at a transatlantic crossing there are videos on youtube which I highly recommend. The following two-part series was created by a solo sailor:
It took him a total of 23 days to complete the journey on his 28-foot sailboat. This proves that this journey will be a breeze every time you know how to play your cards right.
I personally know skippers and sailors who have made this trip more than 30 times! It’s important for me to depart within the safest weather window.
Well worth watching as the video serves as a visual diary of what the whole experience is all about, what conditions to expect and a clear testimony that nothing is ever certain when it comes to deep sea voyages.
What you should consider when sailing across the Atlantic
Whether you are planning to complete this ocean excursion yourself or are just curious about the full scope of the voyage, it doesn’t hurt to know what sailors consider when traversing vast oceans like the Atlantic.
What is certain is that you should plan months in advance if you attempt this. I recommend you to gain solid sailing experience as well. For example, learn to be prepared to go on longer sailing expeditions.
1. Prepare yourself and only bring skilled hands
Long sea voyages are reserved for those used to the challenges of unpredictable marine environments. These endeavors require discipline, willpower and patience so it is always best to only work with a professional crew, assuming you are not sailing alone.
For example, be prepared to not sleep optimally every day. I’m talking about the possibility that some nights you only get three hours of restful sleep because you have no choice but to be tossed this way and that by powerful waves.
Be open to the advice of others, including the ones I’ve given here, but ultimately use your own judgment.
2. Provision for at least 4 weeks
Keep a supply of necessary food, drink, clothing, and medication to keep you going throughout the estimated duration of the trip. Of course, if you have a larger ship, you can go beyond that.
The point is, it’s better to be safe than sorry. In the worst case, do not hesitate to call for help and rescue.
(Which isn’t exactly unusual, mind you, given the entire record of catastrophes on transatlantic passages only). This brings us to the next point.
3. Check the records of disasters
This isn’t meant to scare you, just to give you a sobering idea that what you’re trying to undertake is no small endeavor at all.
Checking the records should also tell you the months to avoid, provided you are unable to sail during the safest window mentioned above.
4. Don’t hesitate to complete your journey
I can say the same thing if you’re trying to sail across the Mediterranean or the Pacific because you’re much less likely to encounter stormy or generally bad weather that way.
Remember that delays also affect your boat. This is true when it comes to the maintenance and repairs that you may need to carry out after completing your crossing.
To sum up all the points above, it will take you 4 weeks at most to sail across the Atlantic in a traditional sailing boat. Other ships may shorten or lengthen this duration depending on their size.
Numerous factors influence sailing time. Likewise, countless considerations must be made to complete it safely.
Now that you know the answer to your question, “How long does it take to cross the Atlantic?” Do you still have the guts to earn this once-in-a-lifetime achievement?
“From day one when I created Boating Basics Online, my intention was to offer as much help as possible to boaters who want to experience their first safe and comfortable journey. So don’t hesitate to join us and share your beautiful trips to the sea!”