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Conditions in the Channel: What to Expect
The Channel Islands of California encompass a 160-mile stretch of the Pacific Ocean, from San Clemente Island in the southeast, to San Miguel Island in the northwest. The variety of ocean conditions one might encounter during a swim in this region is vast.
That being said, there are a few rules of thumb to consider:
- On average, the further northwest in the Channel Islands region you go (toward Point Conception), the more difficult swimming conditions you will experience -- i.e., colder, windier, and choppier.
- On average, August, September, and October offer the friendliest swimming conditions. Water and air temps are at their warmest, the weather is relatively settled, and the persistent marine layer of early summer is gone.
- On average, a one-way Anacapa-to-mainland swim will have water temps two degrees F cooler than a Catalina swim on the same day, with slightly higher winds and slightly more surface chop.
- Winds in the channel tend to pick up in the early afternoon, intensifying into the early evening, and then laying down after midnight. For this reason, the SBCSA recommends starting your swim early enough that you can finish before 2pm.
- Winds in the summer months are predominately from the West to Northwest. The phenomenon of winds being funneled around Point Conception and across the northern coasts of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz Islands in a narrow 6-mile wide band is known as the "windy lane."
Current wind conditions in the Channel can be viewed on our Live Conditions page.
Water temperatures in the Santa Barbara Channel tend to peak in the high 60s F (~20C), mid-to-late September. They tend to bottom out in the low-mid 50s F (~12C) in March-April. Here is a chart showing water temperatures for NOAA Buoy 46217, located about halfway between the east end of Anacapa Island and Oxnard. The chart represents a summary of 11 years of data (2002-2012), to give you a sense of the range of possibilities for given seasons.
Current water temps in the Channel can be viewed on our Live Conditions page.
Surface currents in the Santa Barbara Channel are difficult to predict, but in our observation they tend to be strongest near an island, and further northwest in the Channel (e.g., swims from San Miguel or Santa Rosa).
Current surface currents in the Channel can be viewed on our Live Conditions page.