There are risks associated with recreation on San Francisco Bay. The Bay is one of the world’s busiest ports, influenced by tides, currents, and weather. Calm conditions can quickly turn to gusting winds. Low tides can expose wide mudflats that can prohibit returning to shore for hours.

The following tips will help you stay safe, but above all, be prepared, use good judgment, and take responsibility for your safety. The U.S. Coast Guard has seen a rising trend in the number of people requiring assistance.

Visit the Bay Conditions icon located at the bottom of each page for real-time weather, current, and tide information to help you plan prior to launch.

Know before you go

  • Seek instruction and practice boating rescue skills.
  • Plan your trip based on weather, tides, current, wind, and your own capability.
  • Prepare for the unexpected flip or fall into cold water. Cold water can kill quickly.
  • Inform someone you trust of your trip plan.
  • Always label your  gear with name and contact information.

Essential Gear

  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device and keep it snug.
  • Wear a wetsuit and/or other insulating gear.
  • Have emergency equipment such as radios, flares, whistles, and repair kits.
  • Bring drinking water and fuel for your body.
  • Carry lights if you will be out in low light conditions.

On the Water

  • Always pay attention to what is around you and use common sense.
  • Review maps of shipping lanes and stay out of traffic. Understand the navigation Rules of the Road from the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Carry a waterproof map and compass. Fog can reduce visibility to zero.
  • Scan for potential hazards and changing weather conditions.
  • Travel with a companion or group.

In a Group

  • Know the skill level of others in your group.
  • Take responsibility for yourself.
  • Communicate effectively.
  • Stay close in hazardous conditions and when crossing shipping lanes.


The San Francisco Bay temperature ranges from 45⁰ – 60⁰ F and can lead to death in as little as 30 minutes.

Hypothermia is a dangerous and potentially fatal condition that results when exposure to cold temperatures cause the body to no longer maintain its core temperature. This can happen very quickly in cold water. Be aware that hypothermia causes the body to lose dexterity, making swimming difficult or impossible.

Cold shock is a dangerous and sometimes fatal condition that can result when someone is suddenly immersed in cold water, like an unexpected fall into the water. The sudden exposure of the heart and chest to cold water typically causes an involuntary gasp for air, sudden increases in heart rate and blood pressure, disorientation, and possibly cardiac arrest.

The best prevention is to “dress for the swim” and practice your rescue skills before you need them.

See the American Canoe Association tips for more information about how to prevent and treat hypothermia.

Tips from the Coast Guard

Put your name and contact information on your gear, boat, and board. The U.S. Coast Guard often finds boats, boards, and gear on the Bay. By having your contact information on your gear, the Coast Guard can contact you right away to make sure you are safe, preventing them from making a search effort if it’s not needed, and can reunite you with your lost gear.

Contact the U.S. Coast Guard if you lose your gear. Once you are safe, call the Coast Guard at 415-399-3451 to report your missing gear. This step will save the Coast Guard time and money that might otherwise be spent searching for a missing person they fear has been separated from their equipment and needs rescue.