If there was ever a time for cruising, this year’s shoulder season of September and October is it! For boaters whose schedules allow for cruising during the spring and fall, the rewards are many. This year should be especially desirable.

Canada’s border opening in early August to vaccinated American boaters was a welcome surprise that brought many boaters across the border to the already busy destinations in British Columbia waters. Likewise, Washington waters have been very busy. Nearly all of the marinas and boating destinations were busy during the prime season of July and August. It’s no surprise that many boaters are looking for some quieter, less-crowded boating and this fall’s shoulder season may be the answer.

After Labor Day, boating destinations on both sides of the border will likely see the normal decline in the number of boats. This decline is usually dramatic, creating plenty of available space at marinas, parks, and anchorages. With the increased number of boats and the pent-up demand to go boating, this fall’s shoulder season is expected to be busier than normal. There will certainly be fewer boats than the prime months of July and August, but not the “all-alone” feeling of past years.

Boaters should keep in mind that shoulder season cruising usually means reduced service levels at many boating destinations. Staffing can be a challenge since seasonal summer staff at marinas, resorts, restaurants, and fuel docks leave after Labor Day weekend. Reduced staffing levels most likely will be more pronounced this year than normal. Throughout the 2021 summer, staffing for all businesses was a challenge. The departure of seasonal staff will only add to the staffing shortages. Boaters should plan extra time in their schedule and be flexible when visiting destination marinas and using marina services. Shoulder season often means reduced hours for marina offices, fuel docks, and some restaurants so check with the marina for their off-season hours.

The good news is that marinas often have reduced moorage rates that start in September or October, and available guest space is usually greater. Often people have more time to share insider information about places to visit or things to do. You may find other cruisers more willing to visit and share quality time with you. And that Annual State Parks Pass will come in handy and likely be more useable. You will have your choice of prime spots in popular anchorages that now lend a peaceful, more private setting.

Beautiful sunset with a red glow on the water

Which areas are best for shoulder season cruising? South, Central, and North Puget Sound are some areas that start earliest in the season and run much later in the season. These areas are effectively year-round boating destinations. Next the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands, Vancouver B.C. destinations are good early- and late-season areas as well. Desolation Sound, north to and including The Broughtons, tend to start later in the summer and curtail operations by mid-September.

September and October can be a surprisingly good time of the year to cruise the Pacific Northwest waters from Olympia to Desolation Sound. Despite the occasional early fall storms that will have you sheltered for a few days, there can be some excellent fall cruising with settled weather, gorgeous sunsets, and empty anchorages.