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WorldNorthern AmericaUnited StatesMassachusetts
42°18.000'N, 071°48.000'W Chart icon.png
Map of Massachusetts

Massachusetts is often popularly thought of as the area where the US was first settled.

However, the 1620 Plymouth settlement, the 1623 Gloucester settlement, the 1626 Salem settlement and the 1630 Boston settlement were all preceded by earlier settlements of Spanish in Florida, English in Virginia, and French in Maine.

In 1604, Champlain mapped most of what is now the coast of Maine to an accuracy still usable by cruising sailors. Basque fishermen were a century ahead of him, and Native American tribes had a 7,000 year head-start on all of them.

Nevertheless, after that not-quite-first beginning, much of early American history was, indeed, determined by and in Massachusetts coastal towns that today exhibit much evidence of that history in tourist-friendly ports.

For cruising purposes, except for the Atlantic coast from Newburyport to Cape Ann, relatively sheltered bodies of water host these ports. They are Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay (North of Cape Cod); and Buzzards Bay and Nantucket Sound (South of Cape Cod).

Stellwagen Bank, an underwater connection between the tips of Cape Cod and Cape Ann forming the seaward boundary of relatively shallow Massachusetts Bay, is noted as a Summer feeding ground for whales. (Approaching within 500ft of a whale is prohibited.)

The "South Shore" of Massachusetts Bay (Boston to Plymouth) is somewhat sheltered by Stellwagen Bank, but "Nor'easter" storms can affect this coast more than the "North Shore" (Boston to Gloucester). Gloucester's shape and "back to the Northeast" result in its reputation (since well before 1623) as "the most perfect natural harbor on the East Coast."

These sheltered bodies of water are easily connected without venturing into the Atlantic waters outside Cape Cod by using the Cape Cod Canal. It connects Cape Cod Bay to Buzzards Bay, which in turn is connected to Nantucket Sound by "holes" through the Elizabeth Islands between them (such as Wood's Hole, home of the famous oceanographic institute).


Chart No. 13278 (Portsmouth, NH to Cape Ann)
Chart No. 13267 (Massachusetts Bay)
No. 13246 (Cape Cod Bay)
Chart No. 13230 (Buzzards Bay)
No. 13237 (Nantucket Sound and Approaches)
Chart Sources


Coastal climate

The more extreme temperatures of the North American continent are (somewhat) ameliorated by the coastal ocean waters. Winter sea temperatures are under 40F, warming (S-to-N) to more than 60F in Summer. Winter can exhibit long periods where the temperature stays below freezing, and most days from January through March exhibit freezing at night. Boston averages 40in (1m) of snowfall per Winter. Summer can exhibit a couple of weeks of humid temperatures ranging from 68F (20C) at night to 95F (35C) in mid-day. Both Spring and Fall (Autumn) are more moderate and variable.

From late October through April, one extra-tropical cyclone after another is swept NE by the jet stream from Cape Haterras to Nova Scotia - the notorious "Nor'easters." July and August exhibit extended periods of light SW-lies and flat seas, punctuated by strong afternoon thunderstorms. Late May and June, and September and early October offer slightly higher average sea states, and good winds - often NW-lies providing Force 4-to-6 beam reaches up or down the SE-facing coast.

Having sufficient sail area to move your hull in 5kts of wind, yet having enough reefing points to reduce that area to handle 30kt winds, will cover most any conditions from May through October, except for short storm periods. (My 36ft fractional sloop has a 500sq-ft mainsail with 3 reef points; a 300sq-ft jib with roller furling; and an 850sq-ft asymmetric spinnaker.)

Sources for Weather forecasts
Current Weather Conditions
  • NDBC databuoys (realtime wind/wave data - offshore buoys in NE US waters)


List popular passages/routes, timing, etc.



Add here VHF channel for coastguard, harbor masters. etc.

Also see World Cruiser's Nets


Coastal MA Tides

Massachusetts tides South of Cape Cod (Buzzards Bay and Nantucket Sound) are typically no more than 3ft, and fixed docks are prevalent. Tides North of Cape Cod can reach 10ft (3m) in Cape Cod Bay, in Massachusetts Bay, and along the Atlantic coast North from Cape Ann to Newburyport, and floating docks are common.

The Cape Cod Canal

The Canal has strong tidal currents. Consequently, it must be traversed under power. Sailing in the Canal is forbidden.

(I have traversed the Canal on the flood current from Buzzards Bay at Bourne to Sandwich in Cape Cod Bay, making 11kts-over-ground on a boat-speed of only 6.6kts.)

The forecasts for the Cape Cod Canal Current provide an excellent passage-planning tool. Staging for passage times may be very comfortably done in marinas at Scituate or Plymouth (Cape Cod Bay) or at Onset (Buzzards Bay).

Tidal Currents

The flood current fills Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Sound, which the ebb subsequently empties back into Buzzards Bay.

The SW-flowing ebb out of the Canal against the prevailing SW'lies in Summer can create nasty chop in Buzzards Bay, especially in the 40ft-deep (fastest current) ship channel leading from Wing's Neck to the Canal entrance at Bourne. (Any vessel with less than 8ft draft is well-advised to stay outside of, and parallel to, the ship channel.) Peak Nantucket Sound tidal currents through Wood's Hole are justifiably notorious.

(I've had to spend 7hrs making the 4hr passage from Nantucket to Vineyard Haven while riding a normally speed-boosting 2kt ebb in Nantucket Sound, beating against a Force 6 W wind and the very close 4-6ft chop it created in those shallow waters.)


For entrance details see United States.


North(NH) to South(RI)


  • Trains
  • Busses


Contact details of "Cruiser's Friends" that can be contacted for local information or assistance.


List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)



Also see United States.


We welcome users' contributions to the Wiki. Please click on Comments to view other users' comments, add your own personal experiences or recommend any changes to this page following your visit.

  • I sail out of Newburyport, and typically do 1200-1500nm each season. In the Fall (Autumn), I head North to the Maine coast for several weeks (and approximately 1/3 of that mileage). However, until then, for about 1,000nm, I cruise Massachusetts waters, staying at marinas in the ports listed in this section. (Al - s/v Persephone)

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