Routes and Landmarks

Richardson Bay is just a small part of San Francisco Bay, but to the the newly certified rower heading out for the first time, it looks plenty big!  Learning the favored routes is a big part of your first months of rowing. For experienced rowers with rough-water certification, the number of possible routes to explore is larger still.

Choosing a route

Hang around our dock as rowers return and you’ll hear the same question repeated, “so… where’d you go today?”  Each section of the bay has its own character and it’s own response to our changing weather and tides.  Sharing tips on routes and the conditions of the day is a favorite pastime for OWRC rowers.

Your choice of route will determine the amount and intensity of exercise, the water conditions and winds, and the scenery and traffic too. We love the variety that our bay offers;  it means we can tailor our row to the day and our mood, but only if you know the special character of each area.

Speak to the staff and experienced rowers, of course, and read through these pages.  We’ve assembled some route suggestions with detailed descriptions, suitable for any experience level.


A word about wind and tide conditions.

Actually, two words about wind and tides, “they matter.”  Quite a lot in fact.

Every part of our rowing area is effected by the winds and the tides, and they change by the hour. In addition to considering  “how far do I want to row?” and “where do I like to row”, you will be thinking, “what are the tides and wind doing right now?”  Some areas are more effected by conditions than others, and there is almost always some good rowing water within reach, but learning to read the conditions is an important part of your open-water skills.

To get around the bay, and find your way back, you will need to learn the landmarks, so let’s start there.  Then we’ll look at route ideas and tips for various experience levels. Even if you are not yet rated for rough water, read ahead and get a look at the great rows that await you!


Bay Landmarks
(click for full size map)

Landmarks, Channel Marks and other “Marks”

Since these are just about the only things in SF Bay that are not in motion, they are very useful and important to know. They’ll help you find you way and track your distance, and challenging water conditions are often tied to a specific (and relatively small) location.  We have detailed maps and descriptions available to help.

Richardson Bay / Novice Limits

Richardson Bay is our primary rowing area, our  “home zone”, and a great asset for OWRC.  This special section of San Francisco Bay offers smoother (and faster) and more predictable rowing conditions, spectacular scenery, and room enough for long and satisfying workouts.

It’s not really the “novice area”, as many of our most experienced and strongest rowers choose to do all their rowing within Richardson, but we do limit new rowers not certified for “Rough-Water” to this area.  Learn more about the best routes within Richardson here.

Angel Island & Raccoon Strait

This beautiful area offers  a fantastic variety of conditions; a great place to start exploring when you are first certified for rough-water. Maps and route descriptions here.

Yellow Bluff & Golden Gate

Rowing to the bridge can be exciting, but the area has some risks to keep in mind.  Rowing beyond the bridge, for club boats, is strictly limited to organized rows and training sessions with a coach.  Learn where and when to row in this zone here.

Paradise and Red Rock

The eastern shore of Tiburon and the little island of Red Rock can provide a warm and protected row for those ready for longer distances. Learn about this long-distance route here.

Alcatraz and San Francisco Waterfront

It’s a thrill to row by these iconic landmarks, but the area has special challenges (shipping lanes, for example) and it’s a long way over there. Read our route descriptions for tips and suggestions.



Routes Organized by Experience Level: (Coming soon!)

  1. Beginners – Your first months on the bay
  2. Novices – Stretching your wings
  3. Newly Rough-Water Certified – Some easy tests
  4. Experienced – Pushing your limits


Download a Google Earth file of important marks, landmarks and rowing routes:

This is a “kml” file (compressed into a “kmz” file) which can be imported into Google Earth. Just use the File/Open menu item to open the kmz file in Google Earth. The list of  rowing landmarks and routes will be incorporated into the “My Places” list in the left-hand sidebar.

File of Rowing Landmarks and Routes

Download Google Earth (free!) here.