Recently someone said they felt the Freighter and Tug Surfing we do sounds frightening as the boats are so big, going so fast, how could it be safe?  Truth is, it’s actually quite safe as we are quite a distance from each boat when the waves arrive. We’re never in the shipping lanes, block marine traffic or take unnecessary risks.The number of us surfing these waves are just a handful especially in non summer months.  The waves take work, patience and skill once the wave comes (not having a prior wave to show where it breaks or how it’ll break).

Freighter Waves

Using we track freighters coming into Puget Sound on the AIS system.  We like boats going over 17 kts for a bigger wave of course resulting in a better ride and longer duration wave sets.

After the boats pass West Point (see diagram), it takes the wave nearly 20-30 minutes to arrive to the shore where we’re waiting.  That said, the boat may actually be 5-10 miles from us in Ballard when the wave arrives. On the faster boats going 23 kts the boat may be passing Three Tree Point (Burien, WA) when our wave arrives.  Southerly winds and/or an ebb tide can slow the wave. Northerly and/or flood tides can speed it up.  Strong outgoing current from rain emerging from the Locks adjacent to our break can flatten waves coming in.

Learn more about our Freighter Wave Surfing class.

Freighter Wave Surfing Diagram

Tug Waves

Our tugs come out usually as a pair and pass through Shilshole Bay in a curve originating from the Chittenden Lock, passing West Point and then head south towards Harbor Island to pickup a load. Then they cruise up the Inside Passage to Alaska for 2 weeks.  If I have students out I’m in touch with the tug company to confirm we’ll have a boat during our class time.

We catch the boat wave about .25 miles from their outer curve in the Bay. This is several hundred yards from the boats.  Like all boats big or small, their waves leave each side and push out forward but away form the boat.  Even if we were on it’s stern, the water pushes at great force out thus pushing the boat forward.  There’s no way we could get in there if we wanted to.  In a Seattle Times article on our surfing a few years ago, concerned folks who commented on the online page felt we were endangering ourselves and thus costing tax payer money for rescues.

Basic physics of how boats move forward work here thus there are no way we can get sucked into the props. At any rate we’re quite far from this section of the boat.  And we’ve never been rescued. But wedo get wet, but that’s standard in surfing.  Our crew wear PFDs, leashes (sup) and dress for immersion.

The tugs can put off large waves but are very safe in that they don’t put the gas on when there’s other boats nearby. We don’t have a tug day if rec boats are nearby.  If free of such boats, their standard wave at full speed can be up to 5′ tall. We get 3 waves which we have to work dropping in.  On a good day we can surf nearly a half mile to West Point. Note our inside track vs the tug path.  This path is in a non boating area partially due to submerged rocks near shore at lower tides.

Tug Surfing Diagram


Any questions give me a holler: / Seattle / 206.465.7167
Check out our SUP classes in Seattle – Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips