Yellowbanks and Smugglers

photography cruise
Yellowbanks anchorage is an arresting sight at sunrise. We anchor here frequently and have taken hundreds of pictures of this scene. It’s a great place to start a photography cruise
Yellowbanks Lat:N34-00.8 Long: W119-32.8 Last visit:Dec 2023
Smugglers Lat:N34-01.2 Long: W119-32.3 Last visit: Feb. 2021
Tide/Sun/Moon/WX Dist: 9 Prisoner’s Harbor WX
Chart 18729 Anacapa Passage NPS Alerts
Skipper: Capt. Dan Boat: S/V Sancerre Capt. Dan Channel Islands
Landing Permit No Local Notice to Mariners

Heavy-weather Go To Anchorages

NOAA chart
NOAA chart 18729

Yellowbanks and Smugglers  is one of our favorite spots, particularly in strong westerlies. There’s a sand bottom and a mountain between you and the wind. Not that the breeze doesn’t sneak by. We spent a night in there and registered gusts over 50 knots. We were buffeted hard all night, but there was little wave action and with 10:1 scope (all chain), we didn’t drag. Nor did we sleep. It was too damned noisy with the wind whistling through the shrouds and the in-mast main banging against the inside of its housing. But, unless there is a southerly swell, this is a smooth and very comfortable spot when the wind is less than 30 knots. When it’s blowing more than 30 out of the west, it’s the very best place to be

Our favorite spot, particularly in strong westerlies, is in Yellowbanks, just to the right of center, north of the prominent canyon in 35′ of water.

If you’re trying your hand at your first overnighter, this is the best place easiest place to begin your indoctrination if there are no Santa Anas in the forecast.

In reality, Smugglers and Yellowbanks constitute one big anchorage, but everyone has a strong preference for one or the other. No matter which becomes your favorite, we’re pretty sure it will be your “Go To” spot when the WX is making life uncomfortable.

Seeking refuge from 45 knot winds in Yellowbanks.
Seeking refuge from 45 knot winds in Yellowbanks.

I know, it’s Southern California and it is rarely terribly inclement, but there is nothing like the feeling of blasting down windy lane aimed at Point San Pedro. Maybe you’re shivering a little bit, but as soon as you round the point you’re in a whole new world. Hats come off, jackets are stripped. Though the distance from the point to your favorite anchorage is only a few miles, it’s like going to a new hemisphere.

Sancerre and REscape ride to anchor in Yellowbanks. Not riding sails ... good to have in a blow.
Sancerre and REscape ride to anchor in Yellowbanks. Note riding sails … good to have in a blow.

You usually have to motor if you round the point close aboard, but by the time you’re at your anchorage, your sails are doused, you’ve got a beverage in hand and you’re feeling much better than you did a few miles back when you were wondering why you’d made the decision to leave the long johns at home.

Gale-force winds approaching Smugglers ©Marie Delight
Gale-force winds approaching Smugglers
©Marie Delight

Weather Considerations

With a west wind and swell, both places are great. An east wind is deadly.

If it gets warm and dry and the wind starts blowing from the east, get underway. If you see smog at sea, get underway. You’re about to meet Santa Ana.

A south swell can make both spots uncomfortable, with Yellowbanks feeling those effects first.


Looking south, Pt. San Pedro isin the foreground, Yellowbanks far left in the back.
Looking south, Pt. San Pedro is in the foreground, Yellowbanks far left in the back.

From the north, you’ll round Point San Pedro and shape a course toward the farthest headland. You’ll pass several small anchorages. Eventually, Smugglers will open to your right, the olive grove is unmistakable.

The north side olive groves at Smugglers
The north side olive groves at Smugglers

Aim for the center of either anchorage and stay far enough off to avoid the ground swell. Caution, there is a small reef between the anchorages that can be identified by the low lying point.

From any other direction, you’ll drive toward 1808 ft. El Montanon peak — the most prominent peak on the east end of the island. Look somewhat north near the shore and find the olive groves. Smugglers is right there and Yellowbanks somewhat to the left.


We usually anchor on the north side of Smugglers somewhat outside the CGmooring buoy.
We usually anchor on the north side of Smugglers somewhat outside the CG mooring buoy.

Another nice thing about this place: one hook. That’s all you’ll need in the sand and shell bottom. But it can get a bit crowded in here. Most everyone likes to snuggle in pretty close to the beach. The depths don’t really require that. You can find 25-30 ft. quite a way out and stay out of the heavy traffic. The closest I’ve gotten to having trouble in this anchorage is when I snuggled in. I hadn’t given the spring tide enough consideration and found myself listening to the surf get louder as the tide ebbed. I’d anchored in 25+ ft. and ended up nearer 15 when the tide went out, the wind died and we drifted toward shore.

Kelp, absent for almost a decade, is beginning to make a comeback on the south side of Yellowbanks as well as Middle Anchorage and Sandstone Point. It used to extend for a mile from the island but is now a scant few hundred yards, but growing. And that’s good for the ecosystem.

Going Ashore

Kayaking is great in the anchorage, but going ashore can be hazardous.
Kayaking is great in the anchorage, but going ashore can be hazardous.

Going ashore can be very interesting. If my pal Randy shows up, you might get to see his dinghy surfing techniques. I think the score stands at Randy 2 or 3 the dinghy 10 or 12. The dinghy wins when it gets ashore without Randy.

Pick your spot carefully, wear your life jacket and a helmet is not  bad idea.  Tie everything to the boat that you want to keep. Bag everything you want to keep dry. The beach gradient is fairly gradual in close, which means your motor will get kicked up pretty far out.

Smugglers beach looks benign, but I've made it in dry 31 of 73 attempts.
Smugglers beach looks benign, but I’ve only made it in dry 31 of 73 attempts.

There’s always at least a little surf. Based on my observations, about half of all attempts to land and get underway from the beach while remaining dry are very damp failures. The bottom near the shore where we landed was fairly free of obstructions, but the beach is very rocky. Wear shoes or sandals. But going ashore can be worth it. After looking up at the olive groves for years, I finally hiked a bit of the island and realized that looking down provided some fantastic vistas. And there is one historic sight at this end of the island: Smugglers Ranch. The 1889 ranch house is worth the row … if you manage to stay dry.

Permits not required


The chart of the anchorage shows several rocks in both Smugglers and Yellowbanks that uncover near datum as well as a dangerous wreck in Smugglers. The rocks in Smugglers are close to shore, but the Yellowbanks hazards are in somewhat deeper water and are marked on the chart. There is also a small reef between the anchorages. Stand-off 200 yards and you’ll avoid it. And the wreck near the CG buoy – well, we’ve never detected it.

Though kelp has not been a factor for many years, it is making a big come back at the southern edge of Yellowbanks. And the old field that stretched out a mile and more  from Yellowbanks is starting to come back as well. Good for the ecosystem, bad for navigating directly to Yellowbanks/Smugglers from the south side of the island.

It’s your national park. For information about camping ashore, guided tours and facilities, go to Channel Islands National Park


If your next day includes a trip west toward any of the anchorages on the south side of the island, leave the anchorage and head south. Keep a lookout for kelp, which sometimes gets very thick near Sandstone point at the SE corner of Santa Cruz.


If you have new or amplifying information concerning this anchorage or the surrounding area, e-mail Capt. Dan.


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