What to expect from the Drake Passage

Back in the heroic era of polar exploration the Drake Passage was a feared adversary. It's been a hard reputation to overcome, despite the fact that nowadays ships with advanced stabilisation systems and GPS technology sail through safely through all season. 

  • It takes around 48 hours to cross the Drake Passage by boat, but you can fly it in under 2 hours.
  • Around 1 in 4 crossings will experience turbulent seas.
  • Captains are experienced and well equipped to avoid the worst weather, and change course regularly for the smoothest path.
  • There's a wealth of wildlife to be found here, including albatross, dolphins and whales.

Crossing the Drake Passage

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Loli says

If you add up all the voyages, I've spent nearly a year crossing the Drake back and forth. I love this part of the journey, it gives you time to build anticipation, learn about what you’ll be experiencing in Antarctica. Going out on deck, breathing the cold air and sighting your first icebergs is magic.

Loli Figueroa Polar Specialist

Crossing the Drake Passage

What is the Drake Passage?

The 500 miles between Cape Horn and Livingston Island (part of the Shetland Islands) is the shortest distance from Antarctica to another landmass. The powerful Antarctic Circumpolar Current squeezes water through this small gap towards the Scotia Sea and South Atlantic Ocean, and as you cross over to Antarctica, you're traversing this current at right angles. 

There's no 'perfect' time to cross the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula, the weather can be extremely unpredictable throughout the season. However, captains don't set sail blindly, and accurate systems are used to predict what's coming, and to allow them to change course. Your crew will brief you on what to expect during your journey, and you can even check the predictions in advance on weather websites.

The Drake Passage

Sunset over the Drake Passage

Drake Shake vs Drake Lake

Believe it or not, some people have a completely smooth crossing to Antarctica. With good conditions the Drake Passage can be wonderfully calm, and even enjoyable. If you're lucky enough to experience the 'Drake Lake' you can expect to be lulled by small swells and soft winds, and to spend your time out on deck spotting your first albatross.

The far more famous experience is the 'Drake Shake'. Wind speed and direction both play a part in a rougher crossing, and swells can reach up to 8 metres, enough to cause discomfort to most. To minimise sea sickness, it's worth picking a ship with a more sophisticated stabilisation system, and stocking up on medication in advance. 

The Drake Passage

Crossing the Drake Passage

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Claire says

Trust your captain! On our return, the expedition staff warned us about an impending storm, and to prepare for the worst the Drake has to offer. But through a Herculean effort of our captain, we took a few detours, swerved the tempest and all we felt was a little gentle rolling.

Claire Betts Polar Specialist

Drake Passage sea sickness

The Drake Passage

Sea sickness is a huge problem for some, others will happily stroll the decks of a rolling ship. Be prepared by researching the tablets, wristbands and patches in advance, and talk to your doctor if you're worried. If it suddenly hits,  your qualified onboard doctor will be able to prescribe medication. 

Help prevent sea sickness by keeping hydrated, eating small amounts regularly (ginger, dry biscuits and green apples are good), being well rested and sitting where you can see the horizon. Some say restricting alcohol can help, for others a stiff drink worked better than any patch or pill they tried. If sea sickness is a real problem, consider avoiding the Drake with a Fly and Cruise trip.

Choosing the right ship

Do your ship research carefully. Some ships, such as the Island Sky, Hondius and MS Expedition, are blessed with superior stabilisation systems which greatly reduce the rocking and rolling in bad weather, and lots of bright relaxation spaces where you can focus on the view.

If you are going to be confined to your cabin counting down the hours until Antarctica comes into view, picking a comfortable space with a large window, or even a balcony, means at least you'll be able to relax with some fresh air and a view of the horizon. 

The Drake Passage
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Alex says

I always end up being a little disappointed by the Drake Passage. I wait excitedly for Poseidon to roar from the depths, alas, its always been quite calm when I have crossed.

Alex Mudd Polar Specialist

Can I avoid the Drake Passage?

Fly and Cruise

There is a shortcut to Antarctica, ideal for anxious sailors, or those who want to maximise their time. Instead of spending two days sailing, you can fly to Antarctica in two hours by plane. On landing in the South Shetland Islands, you'll board a ship and get straight out onto the water, ready to spot your first whale.

The luxury of flying does come at a higher price, but gets you right to the action. Worth considering for anyone nervous about the Drake Passage.

How to get to a luxury Antarctica cruise

King George Island, Antarctica

Fly and Cruise trips

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What our customers think

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Look for the patches you can put behind your ear for sea sickness. Read the full review

Sarah Gillett Switzerland December 2019

It was refreshing to know that everyone onboard was an expert in some way on Antarctica, the wildlife, the ocean / climate, etc. We had really good lectures during times we were sailing, which helped to pass the time but also was very informative. Read the full review

George Parson Australia February 2020

A beautiful vessel. Even as we crossed the Drake enduring 9 hours of a level 9 on the Beaufort, I never was afraid. The captain, his crew and the ship herself instilled the confidence needed. Read the full review

Laura Butterfield United States Of America February 2020

Great, inspiring. Didn't have any expectations, except that the seas might be rough, and they were, for a short while. Read the full review

Jim Tietjen Malaysia February 2019

Crossing the "Drake" was more arduous than I expected, and quite uncomfortable in both directions. My wife and I did not get sick, but we had the patch first, and then another med suggested by ship doctor, which seemed to work better. Read the full review

Vincent Micelotta United States Of America November 2018

Be prepared for seasickness and unpredictable weather. The challenge of getting to Antarctica is what makes it an adventure. Read the full review

Shawn Faessler United States Of America November 2017

How can I cross the Drake Passage?

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