Outdoor Activities

Redeveloped Shilshole Bay Marina – One of the Largest Marinas North of California

By Leslee Jaquette
Leif Erikson Plaza at  ShilsholeThe recently rededicated statue of Viking Leif “Lucky” Erikson stands sentinel at Shilshole Bay Marina, welcoming recreational boaters to one of the Pacific Northwest’s largest marinas. Not only has the 17-foot, reconditioned statue found a permanent home in the Leif Erikson Plaza, the bronze continues to symbolize the region’s Nordic heritage and the Port of Seattle’s recently redeveloped 1,400-slip facility.
Starting in 2004 and at a cost of $80 million, the Port reconfigured and rebuilt the piers to accommodate modern boaters’ needs for a greater variety of slip sizes and wider berths. Since then, the dated and world-weary Marina Building has been demolished and a new one built. Other big changes include remodeling the restrooms/showers, enhanced piers, security, garden and plaza and bilge and sewage pump-outs.
According to Linda Hupp, manager of Admiralty Yacht Sales (AYS) at Shilshole, visitors appreciate the marina’s extra cleanliness, beautiful amenities and that it’s so easy to walk to parks, pubs and restaurants. As the Catalina dealer and brokers for both new and used sail and power vessels, Hupp says guests gush about the redeveloped marina all the time, “They love that the marina is so user-friendly, spic & span and offers wonderful strolling and picnicking.”
Just the Facts – Moorage & More
If Lucky Leif had sailed to Seattle instead of discovering Greenland, Shilshole Bay might have a different name such as Lucky Leifland. Instead, the lucky Duwamish Indians resided on the eastern shore of the great estuary. They described it with a word that means, “threading a needle,” which might refer to the narrow opening where Salmon Bay (The Locks) empties into Shilshole Bay.
Shilshole is a quiet, friendly moorageThese days Shilshole serves as the hub of the Puget Sound boating scene. With the Olympic Mountains as backdrop and positioned adjacent to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, Shilshole is superbly situated for power and sailboats. From its location about eight nautical miles north of downtown Seattle, both monthly and guest moorage patrons enjoy easy access to all points in the sound and north to the San Juans.
The marina’s 4,000-foot breakwater, often populated by noisy, sunning sea lions, offers entrances and exits at the north and south ends. The fuel dock, small store and guest moorage is located on “H,” just west of the Marina Building.  The store is crammed with the last-minute provisions mariners inevitably need such as coffee, chips, batteries and beer.
“Visiting boaters describe Shilshole as quiet and safe but a little isolated,” Fuel Attendant Roy May reports. “If boaters want to be in the heart of Seattle, they need to moor at Bell Harbor Marina.”
Although Shilshole is pretty quiet during the week even in the summer, it often sells up to 2,000 gallons of fuel a day. If a big yacht fills up, that number can double.  While all types and sizes of vessels from 20 to 100-footers top off their tanks at the fuel dock, the most common length ranges from 30 to 50-feet.  The Port resized the docks to meet an increasing demand for this length of vessel.
A retired University of Washington Police Officer, May reminds boaters that the fuel dock is separate from the Port of Seattle and has nothing to do with guest moorage. To insure a seamless arrival, he suggests visiting boaters call the marina office on Channel 17 or 206-787-3006 or 206-601-4089 for transient slip assignments.
May offers boaters a couple of docking and departing tips.   “Pay attention to the wind and which pumps offer the kind of fuel you need,” says May. “Docking to windward is easiest when coming into the dock, but hardest to get off; docking to leeward is the opposite.”
Fuel dock at ShilsholeBeyond fuel and 2,700 linear feet of guest moorage for kayaks to megayachts, the improved marina invites expedition-size yachts up to 250-feet to moor at end ties. Shilshole provides a full service boatyard with Travelift, Small Boat & Sailing Center with three hoists and kayak launch, expanded dry moorage, 24-hour security and nearby boat yard and engine repair operations. Look for improved restrooms, showers and laundry as well as free garbage disposal, recycling, oil and HAZMAT collection. Free parking, free self-service sewer and bilge pump-out is available. In addition, guest dock boaters enjoy complimentary Comcast Cable TV and high-speed Internet. Advance reservations are accepted and advised.
Guest moorage rates are determined by length overall and payment is due upon arrival.
Rates fluctuate, depending on time of year and length of vessel. But, in general, high season runs from May 1 through Oct. 31 and off-season runs from Nov. 1 through April 30.
The Leif Erikson statue was first dedicated in 1962, the same year that the first Marina Building was completed just in time for the Seattle World’s Fair. As today’s visitors soon discover the Leif motif makes sense given that the Ballard community was originally populated by Norwegians who brought their seafaring and marine trade skills to the Pacific Northwest.
The Leif Erikson Plaza and surrounding temporary gardens serves as a focal point for boaters and land-based visitors as they stroll the promenade or head to the Marina Office to pay for moorage (cash or credit cards only, no checks) or shop the limited services. At the Marina Office boaters will find a professional staff ready to walk them through the Shilshole drill. The office is open Mon. through Sat. from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed on Sundays. A pay box is available for off times.
Many of the other Marina Building occupants are longstanding, including Admiralty Yacht Sales, Windworks Sailing Center and the Seattle Sailing Club still in business. Located adjacent and to the north, Auxiliary Engine Service and Seaview West Boatyard offer a full range of services.
Launch ramp at ShilsholeRamp it Up 
Trailer boaters can launch their craft at the City of Seattle Parks and Recreation Ramp at the north end of the marina. The handy pay station makes change and takes credit cards. For more information:
Within Walking Distance 
Shilshole is a walker’s paradise and its nearly mile-long promenade offers boaters a heavenly opportunity to stretch their sea legs. Walking north from the guest dock, they discover several iconic Seattle hangouts: Little Coney and Golden Gardens Park.  Located just north of the Corinthian Yacht Club and dry storage, Little Coney beckons visitors to indulge in the oft-disparaged food groups, grease and sugar.
It's a short walk from Shilshole to Golden GardensThis is the place to grab a bite, park at a picnic table and watch as boaters bungle launching various craft at the ramp. Little Coney is notorious for its burgers and chili fries, shakes and malts and incredibly over-priced, but awesome on a hot night, chocolate and vanilla swirl, soft cones.
After dabbing that last morsel from the lips, boaters recommence their walk across the four-lane ramp and wander out on the fishing pier adjacent to the north exit/entrance. There they can watch locals wrestle crab pots and cast for salmon. Appreciating a fair-weather northerly, they continue a short ways along the blacktop path to Golden Gardens. With its sandy and cobble beaches that give way to shallow tidelands, Golden Gardens provides extraordinary views of Puget Sound and the Olympics. Sea lions can be seen patrolling the shoreline while kite sailors prep for a wild reach. It also offers visiting boaters and locals alike a marvelous place to walk their dogs on a leash, stretch out in the sand for a nap, picnic or exhaust the kids building sandcastles or playing beach volleyball.
Early morning walkers will naturally gravitate south to one of Seaview Street’s home-style coffee shops. So far there are no Starbuck’s anywhere near Shilshole, in keeping with Ballard’s brand of Scandinavian non-conformity. All in the same little block just south of Seaview Boat Yard, look for The Purple Cow and Maka Coffee, West Marine, Quantum Sail Design Group, Ballard Sails & Yacht Services and of all things – Surf Ballard (surf boards!).
Still well within easy walking distance, boaters find some excellent dining at Ray’s Boathouse, Anthony’s and a bit more distant, The Canal, poised at the mouth of the canal just west of The Locks. If boaters walk this far, they can easily trundle on a few more paces to prowl the Locks and Gardens (circa 1917) and camp at the Lockspot chowder house.  From here all of Ballard with its funky shops, pubs and restaurants are within your domain.
Insider’s Insights
Shilshole is one of the largest marinas on the West CoastIf you have kids or grandkids in tow, reward them for being such great little adventurers with a stop (bring you pocketbook, Grandma!) at Archie McPhee retail shop (1300 N. 45th St., Seattle, WA 98103; 206-297-0240; known as Seattle’s signature purveyor of weird stuff.  Since 1983, Archie McPhee has been the place to buy the kind of over-priced, tasteless and eccentric gifts and toys that older generations adored such as rubber chickens, plastic skeletons and potato guns. The current generation need not worry. Archie’s continues to uphold its reputation as an avant guard reservoir of hard-to-imagine objects such as the popular ceramic smoking baby, an inflatable meatloaf or an emergency yodel button.
The drinking age kids will be relieved to discover that Ballard is home to lots of fine and funky saloons, including the Sloop Tavern (2830 NW Market Street, Seattle 98107). Across the street from the Lockspot, the racing sloop mural inspires thirsty boaters to order a “Slooper” (Bud, Bud Light, Widmer, Mac and Jack and others) for an indecently cheap price. To accompany the brew, choose the fish and chips and play a few pull-tabs. For a different take on spirits, try the Noble Fir (5316 Ballard Ave. NW, Seattle 98107) for a fantastic beer and cider draft selection in an outdoorsy setting.
What’s happening?
Shilshole offers lots of large, wide berths for visiting boatersYacht clubs and boating associations are encouraged to rendezvous at Shilshole. Group rates and reservations are available.
If boaters visit Shilshole during mid-November, look for the Ballard Jazz Festival ( Then, in July bring your appetite for crustaceans and salmon to this fresh seafood community for the Ballard Seafood Festival ( It features samplings of all things seafood, a salmon barbecue, local musicians and a lutefisk-eating contest.
No matter what season brings boaters to Shilshole, this enormous and sedate marina makes it easy for visitors to relinquish their tight hold on the tiller and relax ashore with a long walk, a refreshing pint and a great dinner. Overlooking the bay, Leif would probably agree, “Enough ravaging and pillaging, already. Take it easy fellow Vikings!”
For more information:
Shilshole Bay Marina
7001 Seaview Ave. NW, Suite 100
Seattle, WA  98117
206-787-3006; 206-601-4089; VHF Channel 17;