If you have questions, it's highly likely other boarders have them too. With that said, here is a list of frequently asked questions.
When is the sailing season?
For most people, the windsurfing and kiteboarding (sailing) season usually starts in March with the advent of Daylight-Savings-Time; and it is usually reliable into September/October. During this period you can sail almost every day if you are willing to do a little driving. Winds during this period will range from the mid-high teens to occasional "nuclear days." There are many "boardheads" in the windsurfing and Kiteboarding communities that sail all year long! That will require sailing before, during and after winter storms, which usually results in gusty and sometimes rainy conditions. Additionally, the wind can shut-off with little warning. See below for info on where to sail during storms.
What are the common wind patterns?
The common wind pattern during the spring and summer is for the coast to be cool and the inland to warm during the day. The temperature gradient also results in a pressure gradient, which drives (or sucks) the wind, causing air to flow from high pressure (cold temps) to low pressure (warm temps). This air flow also contributes to coastal fog in the summer. Once the fog moves in overhead, the wind will drop drastically. If SF and the Peninsula are fogged in head east to Berkeley Alameda or the Delta.
In the spring after a storm front passes we will sometimes get clearing winds as high pressure builds up. These winds can be quite strong.
A more complete discussion of the wind patterns can be found on Ken Poulton's windspeed info.
How cold is the water and what kind of wetsuit do I need?
At the beginning of the season in March and April, the water in the Bay is quite cold, low 50's, and a full wetsuit, 5/3 or 4/3 is needed. As the weather improves the water warms up so a lighter full wetsuit or a convertible (short sleeves, long legs) can be used at some locations, though it is strongly advised to wear a full wetsuit when sailing in an area affected by Bay currents. If you spend a lot of time in the water or sail far from shore a very warm wetsuit is recommended. An equipment breakdown can result in spending a long time in the water and hypothermia can set-in rapidly. Sailing the coast at any time of the year requires a heavy-full wetsuit.
What size sails/kites do I need?
Windsurfing: For most people their bread & butter windsurfing sail is 5.0-5.5. Of course, if you are much lighter or heavier than average your most frequently used sail will differ. A full quiver will generally include sizes as small as 3.5 and as big as 6.0 to 7.0.
Kiteboarding: As in windsurfing, the typical Bay Area kite quiver depends upon ones size, weight and kiteboarding ability. On average, a quiver might contain three or four kites ranging from 5 sq. meters up to 13, 14 or 15. For example, a small woman of intermediate ability might carry three kites: a 5, a 7 and a 9; whereas a man of intermediate ability and medium build might carry a 9, 11 and 13. Again, kites might be in even sizes (6, 8, 10, 12...), depending upon a manufacturer's base surface area.
Where can I take lessons?
Many shops offer lessons for first time beginners up to advanced sailors. Information on how to contact them is listed on the SFBA Shops page. Great places to learn windsurfing and/or kiting include Alameda, Shoreline Park, Foster City Lagoon, and the Delta.
Where can I rent or demo equipment?
Most shops have equipment for rent or demo. Note that many shops do not rent wetsuits. Information on how to contact them is listed on the SFBA Shops page. Places that you can rent right at the sailing launch include Crown Beach Alameda (Boardsports School), San Francisco (Boardsports School), Coyote Point (ASD), Foster City Lagoon (California Windsurfing), and Shoreline (Spinnaker Sailing).
Where can I get info on wind conditions?
There are many resources on the net that have a variety of weather/wind conditions and forecasts. The SFBA Links page has a large list of sites. Among the best are iWindsurf and Windsight. Additionally, there are some public windtalkers that are useful. See the SFBA Windtalkers page for the numbers. The SFBA has a windtalker Berkeley. The phone number for this is for SFBA members only and are not released to the public.
Where is the best sailing?
There is no one answer. The great thing about the sailing in SF is the variety of conditions. Everyone has there own favorite places. The SFBA Site Guide shows the major sailing spots. Coyote Point, 3rd Ave and the Delta have great "bump & jump" conditions. Candlestick is great for flat water drag racing and practicing jibes. Crissy Field has spectacular urban scenery and the opportunity to sail near or under the Golden Gate Bridge. Waddell Creek is the main surf sailing spot for Northern California.
Where should I go for storm sailing?
Typical winter storms are accompanied by winds out of the southwest. The two main locations that have good conditions during storms is Alameda and Pillar Point Harbor at Half Moon Bay. Alameda will have big chop and swells, while Pillar Point will have flat water because it is protected by a breakwater.
How safe is the water?
In general, ocean water is the cleanest. Water quality in the Bay is not bad and you shouldn't be worried; however it can vary from location to location, it can change with tidal influence (the more mixing and tidal exchange the better the flushing) and one should always observe and consider for themselves whether or not there might be a problem. It is a good idea to have your tetanus booster shot up to date. Also, any cuts should be disinfected with hydrogen peroxide immediately after sailing. The water quality in the Delta may be worse than the Bay because of the runoff of pesticides and fertilizers from the agricultural fields.
After heavy rains the water quality in the Bay can be markedly worse because of runoff from the storm sewers. Also, wastewater collection systems and some treatment plants can discharge partially treated water if its system becomes overloaded because of heavy rainfall. Local agencies will usually post warnings if this occurs. Note that the City of San Francisco is unique in the Bay Area in that it has a combined wastewater and stormwater system, which includes large storage-treatment boxes surrounding the City and two extra dedicated wet-weather treatment plants. During wet weather events (light to heavy rain), with the exception of extreme storms, all the combined wastewater/stormwater receives at least primary treatment and disinfection prior to discharge into the Bay and/or Ocean.
Info specific on the water quality at Crissy Field can be obtained at:
(415) 242-2214 or toll free 1-877-SFBEACH.
Where can I get info on local racing?
The SFBA is not normally a sponsor of local races. The local race series is the Cal Cup. Their website has the complete schedule. Many of the shops, including ASD and Berkeley Board Sports, are involved in sponsoring races. Information on how to contact them is listed on the SFBA Shops page.
What about the tides?
The tides can give you much grief if you don't pay attention or have an equipment breakdown. This can result in the "walk of shame", a long walk carrying your gear back to the launch or a rescue. Normally the best sailing is during an ebb tide, where the water is flowing out of the Bay. Here the current is in the opposite direction of the wind. This increases the apparent wind, makes it easy to stay upwind and can cause big swells. This situation duplicates the typical summer conditions at the Gorge. When the tide is flooding staying upwind will usually require a lot of work. Get a tide table at a shop (they usually have then for free) or check out the tides on web.
Should I be worried about sharks?
There has been only one reported attack by a shark, probably a great white, of a windsurfer. This occurred at Davenport, which is located near Waddell Creek. There are much bigger problems, like drowning, getting bonked by your mast, getting run over by a boat, etc., than getting attacked by a shark. However, the area from Pt Reyes, to the Farallons to Ana Nuevo (near Waddell) is known as the "red triangle" because of the high concentrations of great whites.
You shouldn't be worried at all about sharks inside the Bay.
What should I carry in a safety kit?
Sailing far from shore in offshore or sideshore winds can be potentially hazardous in the event of an equipment breakdown. SFBA strongly recommends sailing with a buddy. In addition we recommend carrying a safety kit, which should include 3 flares, 30' of line, a loud whistle, a waterproof strobe and a waterproof VHF radio. Many of the shops carry strobes and line, and marine suppliers such as West Marine (Palo Alto, South SF, Sausalito, Oakland and Alameda) and Svendson's (Alameda) carry flares and waterproof VHF radios.
Where can I buy or sell used equipment?
Many shops sponsor swap meets throughout the season. The swaps at the beginning and end of the season are usually the biggest. You can also post messages on the wind_talk email list. iWindsurf has online classified section for used equipment.