Important! – Rat Island is temporarily closed due to a bird flu outbreak.
Rat Island is located just a little over two miles south and a little east of Port Townsend, just across the bay. It sits right in front of Indian Island to the east of the naval base. Visiting Rat Island by small boat is idyllic and has a been a favorite for generations of Port Townsend small boaters, and native residents long before. It is a joy to visit, no matter how many times you go. Another friend said that despite having sailed the length of the Inside passage, Rat Island is still his favorite destination by small boats. It is just a very pleasant little day adventure, where you can always expect to see a large variety of sea life and bird life. You can leave late in the morning, bring a lunch, and still be home for dinner.
Tips For Visiting Rat Island By Small Boat
Below find helpful tips for boating to Rat Island. Too see more pictures see this story about a recent adventure to Rat Island.
Getting To Rat Island
It’s only 2.3 miles to the south tip of Rat island from the Port Townsend Boat Haven Marina. If you have a sail it does not take long to cross the bay in a typical northwest wind. Even rowing my little CLC Skerry dinghy it normally only takes 30 minutes.
If there is a northwest wind, getting back can take a bit longer, particularly if sailing, as the wind likes to come directly from the Boat Haven. Occasionally you get a south wind, and things are reversed. With south winds the waves can kick up a bit more.
The currents across Port Townsend Bay are generally not very strong, unless there is a very big tide. As you get closer to Rat Island you will find stronger currents, which you can read about below. If you are taking off from Point Hudson Marina, there can be stronger currents close to the point.
Where To Land
The water all around the island on the northwest side is very shallow, and the shore is a bit rocky. Normally boaters come to shore on the south side of the island, where there is a steep sandy beach. This can be a little tricky at times because the current coming in and out of Kilisut Harbor passes around Rat Island, mostly through the deeper narrow channel on the southwest tip, but also over the very shallow flats to the northeast side of the island.
If you have a shallow draft boat, with your boards up, it can be fun to ride a fast current over the shallows to the north, but generally it is to be avoided.
If the current is too strong to sail, row, or paddle against, you can land on the southern tip, and walk your boat around the corner, through the current to the beach.
Navigation & Current Timing Resources
48°05′08″N 122°44′10″W (middle of Rat Island)
NOAA Electronic Chart – US5WA28M – This link goes to an agreement page. You must read it and click OK at the bottom of the page. This will trigger a download of a zip file that contains the electronic chart.
NOAA Paper Charts – 18464 (PDF)
Tide & Current Chart
NOAA Tides & Currents For Port Townsend
Marine Weather Forecast
NOAA Marine Weather For Port Townsend Bay
There are no facilities here. Pack it in, and pack it out.
Proceed at your own risk. The information on this page is not guaranteed to be accurate, and should not be used for navigation. If you capsize, or fall into the water, you most certainly could die within a few minutes from cold water shock, particularly if you are not wearing a life vest. Even in late summer. Even if you are very fit and a great swimmer. Always wear a life vest, and have the recommended safety equipment. Always check the weather and tide forecast, and proceed based on your skill set and the capability of your boat. It is better to travel with others, and to let someone on shore know your plans.
Learn about cold water shock, which is more dangerous than hypothermia.
More About Rat Island
Rat Island Is A Wildlife Preserve
Rat Island is a nesting bird sanctuary, and seals can also be found resting on the sandy shores. So it is best to stay on the beach, and leave the birds their peace on the island top. It is not a place to bring a dog. You can find Canada Geese nesting in the early spring, seagulls also nest here, as well as terns.
And where there are strong currents, there is life. And there is a regular flow of current around Rat Island, pumping back and forth a couple of times a day. So you will nearly always see a lot of harbor seals around the island, and some sea lions, particularly in the faster water channels, looking for a fish meal. Eagles nest on the bluffs of Indian Island just to the south, and can also be seen fishing.
Although a traditional a clamming area, parts of Rat Island are closed to clam, mussel and oyster collecting. See more here.
Are Rats Part Of The Wildlife?
Rat Island is named that because it sort of has the profile of a rat, not because it is infested with rats. As you can imagine, there are lots of rat islands around the world, some notable ones in Alaska and Australia, which do have a history of rats.
It Was Not Always An Island
Rat Island used to be the distal end of a long spit extending off Marrowstone Island. But the story goes that in the 1940’s the military was doing training exercises in the area, and were dragging boats across the shallow spit, which caused enough erosion that the current started to cut through, and it never recovered, turning it into an island. Although at a low tide you can walk across from Fort Flagler. Just don’t get caught as the tide is rising, because the current can flow very fast over the shallow areas.
If you enjoy sculling, consider joining the Rat Island Rowing & Sculling Club, right here in Port Townsend. They even do a race around Rat Island.
Rat Island Spoilers
You can see what the island looks like, and what you can experience here.
Return to the Port Townsend Small Boat Day Trips page.