What I've seen reading this board is that these questions keep getting asked again and again by people looking to buy boats. It's an important question, and dealers aren't likely to give you a straight answer. Now, I am in no way an expert captain, and am just repeating a lot of what I learned in safety classes, so this thread is more for open discussion, and hopefully experienced captains will contribute. But I think we still do need a thread like this. Definitions Deadrise: Deadrise is the amount of V-shape on the bottom of a boat’s hull, measured in angles at the transom of planing powerboats. In general terms the larger the degree of deadrise the more V-shape of the hull, so a flat bottom boat will have a deadrise of 0 degrees, while a boat with 24 degrees of deadrise will have a deep V hull. The higher the deadrise, the better the boat will slice through the waves, but at the cost of being less stable at rest. Self-Bailing Cockpit: A self-bailing cockpit is a cockpit with drains planted on the floor, usually at the back of the boat. These drains automatically suck water out of the cockpit, should it become flooded. In combination with a bilge pump, a self-bailing cockpit prevents the boat from taking on too much water and becoming swamped. Automatic Bilge Pump: An automatic bilge pump is a pump built into the boat, which pumps water out of the boat's bilge, which is the air filled compartment of the boat sitting below the deck, right above the water. When a boat takes on water, it will leak into the bilge, which causes the boat to become heavier & easier to swamp, over time. An automatic bilge pump removes water from the bilge. Open or Closed Transom: A closed transom boat is a boat that is closed on the back side. Most boats are closed on the back side, but not all of them. For example, the following is an open transom boat: Now you might ask: why would anyone open the transom? Isn't that dangerous? The answer is yes, it's dangerous, but it also has a benefit - you don't need a self-bailing cockpit when the transom is open because the water will just flow right out. However, you can also just fall right out, and when facing a following or quartering sea, an open transom can be very dangerous as waves ride straight into your cockpit. Jon Boat: A jon boat is a flat-bottomed boat constructed of aluminum, fiberglass, or wood with one, two, or three bench seats. They are usually used for lakes. They have low sides, low deadrise, no self-bailing cockpit, and no built-in bilge pumps. Fortunately they usually do have a closed transom. But in general, they will not stand up to the challenges of the ocean. Bay Boat A bay boat is a center console boat with low sides and medium deadrise. They do typically come with self-bailing cockpits and bilge pumps. Most designs will have a closed transom. They are designed for use in bays and flats - a huge deal in places like Florida - and near shore waters. Due to the lower deadrise and lower sides, they are not ideal for open water, but can still be used as long as you pick your days & don't mind getting wet. Offshore Center Console An offshore center console boat is a boat with, typically, high sides and high deadrise. They come with self-bailing cockpits and bilge pumps, and usually a closed transom. The high sides protect you from waves offshore, and make it harder for you to fall off the boat in rough conditions. The high deadrise allows you to cut through waves while sailing. A center console, due to not having a cabin, will usually be difficult to overnight in. It also won't protect you from the weather or from getting wet in case there is spray coming from the waves. Pilot House A pilot house boat, like a Parker, Radon, Anderson, etc., is a boat with typically high sides, medium or high deadrise, and a small cabin built in the front of the boat from where you pilot the boat. Their main advantage over offshore center consoles is protection from the weather & from wave spray, saving you from getting wet. You can also sleep in the cabin allowing you a longer and more comfortable stay out in the ocean, but still no longer than 2-3 days due to limited fuel & places to put supplies. Express Fishing Cruiser Express fishing cruisers are large boats, usually between 30 to 60 feet, which are built for long distance cruising and fishing. Imagine a pilot house, but with a much bigger cabin, a much heavier hull, and typically diesel engines. The main advantage over a pilot house is the size of the boat, the larger fuel capacity, and the comfort it offers: Recreational Trawler Otherwise called a party boat. Recreational trawlers are long, slow boats with a tremendous amount of fuel capacity & the ability to carry many people. They are built to be big, stable, and not very fast. They have higher sides than your typical private boat and will not pound because they travel by displacement, rather than by jumping on top of waves. These types of boats can go thousands of miles offshore but are expensive to purchase, maintain, and fuel. With all those definitions out and done with, we can now talk about which boats are suited for which kind of waters in California. No More Boring Definitions, Where Can I Go With What? Protected Waters: harbors, enclosed bays, small to medium lakes, and ponds are typically protected waters, in that they are protected from swells and heavy wind by structures like break walls and mountains. Protected waters are typically calm, with almost no ground swell, and rarely generate significant chop except during very bad weather or due to the displacement of a ship. They are considered the most safe water outside of the swimming pool and the bath tub. Examples: Newport Harbor, Alamitos Bay, Long Beach Port within the break water Compatible Boats: Jon Boats, Bay Boats, small Center Consoles Near Shore: near shore, or inshore, waters are waters within a few miles of shore. Such waters can be dangerous when there's a significant wind chop or ground swell, since they are not protected. But since they're so close to shore, rescue is also easier, and you can also just run into protected waters when the weather starts getting rough. Examples: Santa Monica Bay, Horseshoe Kelp, Izors Reef, generally within around 5 miles of shore all along the coast Compatible Boats: Any, but be prepared to get wet or to get dumped in the water when you go out in a Jon boat First Island Chain: the first island chain off of California, within 25 miles of shore, can be considered the inner islands. Getting to these islands requires sailing past a deep water channel, which represents actual, offshore conditions, but the weather & conditions are usually not that bad, especially for Catalina and Coronados. The inner islands will usually also have island harbors where you can hide from rough conditions, and a lot of boat traffic and cell phone access, making it easier to get rescued in case you do run into trouble. Examples: Catalina, Coronados, as well as any location around 20 miles offshore, which would include the 14 mile bank, the 279, 277, 209, etc. Compatible Boats: Bay Boats and above, but you will likely get wet in a bay boat when the winds come up in the afternoon, and the ride won't be comfortable Second Island Chain: These are usually within 60 miles of shore, and represent conditions that are more dangerous than the first island chain. You probably won't have cell phone access at most of these islands and the waves are bigger, with no safe harbors. Examples: Santa Rosa, Santa Clemente, Santa Barbara, as well as any location around 50 to 60 miles offshore, which would include the Osborne Bank. Compatible Boats: to go 60 miles and back with the one third rule, you need an effective range of around 180 to 200 miles, which rules out most small bay boats and center consoles. You can go in a larger bay boat, but have to pick your days as the ride is even more rough. Most of the 22 feet and above center consoles and pilot houses can make it without a problem, but the bigger is better because comfort comes into play. Anything above is also suitable. Outer Waters: the outer waters are the most challenging waters off of California, which are still accessible by many private boats. These are islands or banks within 100 miles off shore. Conditions can be rough, with an average of 6 to 8 feet swells and 15 to 20 miles winds being normal. Any trip to the outer waters would have to be planned for relatively calm days. Examples: San Nicholas Island, Tanner Bank, Cortez Bank, and generally within 100 miles offshore Compatible Boats: you need a boat with an effective range of around 300 miles. Medium sized center consoles, pilot houses, express cruisers, and recreational trawlers are suitable, but again the bigger the better as bigger waves = less comfort on a small boat. You'll want two engines when possible to avoid being stuck out there in case one engine fails. Guadalupe Island, Alijos Rocks, and Beyond: there are always people who just can't be satisfied with what California has got to offer, and who, dreaming of giant tuna and exotic fish, sail for distant shores. Whether it's Guadalupe Island, the Alijos Rocks, the Hurricane Bank, or all the way to Panama and Hawaii, the only limit is your budget. Compatible Boats: express cruisers of 35 feet and above; long range recreational trawlers But But But, I Saw This 18 Feet Boat at Tanner Bank! Does Size Actually Matter? That's what she said- Oh, we're talking about boats. Well, the answer is that size, unfortunately, does matter, but that offshore safety is a combination of different factors: the size of the boat, the captain's experience, and the size of his balls. You can go anywhere with any boat, as long as you're willing to take the risk and don't mind the comfort. But don't expect the risk to be the same on a 14 feet Jon boat than on a 35 feet express cruiser, and don't expect the comfort to be anywhere close. To this end, this post is more about reasonable safety and comfort, than absolute necessity. You can sink in 20 feet of water with a 85 feet recreational trawler, and you can survive 100 miles offshore with a Jon boat. But for most people, the margin of comfort and safety is such that they won't want to go 100 miles offshore with anything less than a 25 feet boat with high deadrise, high sides, a self-bailing cockpit, bilge pumps, more range than is necessary, and on a nice day. You could be different, in which case, do share your amazing adventures because I'd love to hear about them.