SantaCruz Harbor

Home » Harbor Operations » Launch Ramp Information

Launch Ramp Information

Harbor Entrance Can be Dangerous

The Santa Cruz harbor entrance can experience heavy breaking surf, especially on the western side. This can be true even when the entrance is dredged to 20' or deeper, due mostly to the configuration of the western jetty and the shallow water immediately outside the entrance.

The harbor entrance area is also subject to shoaling. The sandbars that build up create the danger of running aground and can create extreme danger from the surf as waves break harder and more frequently in shallow water. During shoaling, surf can break all the way across the channel, creating hazardous conditions. The 1986 acquisition of the Port District's own dredge substantially reduced the amount of time in which the harbor entrance is dangerously shallow, though shoaling and dangerous entrance conditions can still exist.

All boaters are encouraged to check with the harbor office before launching for the current swell, channel depth, and tide conditions. Always use patience and good sense in deciding if it is safe to pass through the entrance. Should any boater choose not to go out of the harbor entrance after launching, the launch ramp fee will be refunded without question.

Dredge Passing Instructions

When the dredge "Seabright" is operating in the harbor channel, obstructions to navigation may sometimes occur. Please approach the dredge slowly and observe the "pass" signs with arrows and only pass on the side indicated. In addition, it is recommended that the dredge be contacted on channel 16 or 9 VHF radio to advise of your passing.

Free Shuttle Service

A shuttle service is provided to and from overflow parking lots located at the J-dock area and the corner 7th and Brommer to the launch ramp. This service is provided from 5:30 a.m. to midafternoon on most weekends and major holidays.

Free Water Taxi

Memorial Day to Labor Day there is a free water taxi service that operates on weekends and holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The water taxi transports passengers throughout the harbor, and brings visitors from remote parking areas to the south harbor area. Loading is at A-dock, X-dock and at the launch ramp.

Remote visitor parking is available in the north harbor near X-dock.

Launch Ramp Fees

View the launch ramp fee chart.

Rules of the Road

There are several, basic rules which all vessels must abide by within the harbor.

  1. Your vessel cannot cause a damaging wake or exceed 5 MPH.
  2. All vessels must keep to the right side of the channel, or give way to avoid collision.
  3. No vessel has the right of way over another to the point of collision; all vessels must give way to avoid collision.

For detailed information on inner-harbor rules of the road, refer to the Port District brochure, "Policies Governing Inner-Harbor Vessel Traffic -Ordinances 217 and 217.1. "

In addition to these rules, two buoys are placed in the entrance area between May and October. One buoy is a black and white striped cylinder buoy placed in-between the red Coast Guard lighted buoy and the green Coast Guard buoy. This buoy is a mid-channel marker and vessels should always pass it on the port side. The next buoy sits approximately 100 yards outside the Santa Cruz Harbor entrance. This is a 5 MPH speed zone buoy. Please be advised that the 5 MPH rule extends to this buoy except when surf is breaking in the entrance; then, boaters may use whatever speed is deemed safest to transit this area. Please be aware that many small craft, such as kayaks and rowing shells, use Santa Cruz Harbor. Please give these boats the distance they need and do not create a wake which will swamp them.

Other Rules

  1. The City of Santa Cruz, by ordinance, requires that boats or craft operate at least 300 yards from shore, within the city boundaries (west harbor jetty to Natural Bridges State Beach), and limits operating speed to 5 knots in the in-shore area between Lighthouse Point and the west harbor jetty.
  2. The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects mammals from harassment with a minimum $10,000 fine and/or jail term.
  3. The Harbors and Navigation Code prohibits the operation of vessels in a reckless or negligent manner, or while under the influence of alcohol or illegal substances.
  4. The Harbors and Navigation Code limits operation of vessels within 200' of a swimming area throughout the State of California. Surfing areas are considered swimming areas.
  5. By county ordinance, Hpersonal watercraft" (i.e. Jet Skis) may not be operated within 300 yards of shore. A designated operating zone is described in the "Motorized Personal Watercraft" brochure by N.O.A.A. Personal watercraft vessels may only be launched at the harbor launch ramp.

PDF Document Download the Launch Ramp Information Brochure

Map of Launch Ramp Area

View Larger Map

Recycle Please consider the environment before printing this page. We appreciate your help!