Stretching across kilometres of Pacific Ocean shoreline, Nanaimo is aptly referred to as the Harbour City. Those ocean waters are the source of many activities, including sailing, fishing, and kayaking. Spend the day paddling around Newcastle Island, or get out on a charter to become the next great angler. Take your adventure to new depths on a snorkeling or scuba diving expedition.
Test The Waters in Nanaimo, BC
The Harbour City is known for more than just its oceanfront. It’s also home to numerous fresh water lakes, and the city is intersected by coursing rivers and crawling creeks. Westwood Lake, ideal for a casual paddle across still waters or a raucous splash, is heralded as a local favourite. Rent a stand up paddle board, kayak or peddle boat and test the waters.
Learn about Nanaimo’s beaches and boating activities, below.
Our beaches provide a perfect escape on a hot summer’s day. Nanaimo’s long oceanfront makes this an ideal place for families, swimmers, and sun worshippers. Beaches at local ocean parks such as Piper’s Lagoon, Departure Bay, Neck Point, and Swy-A-Lana Lagoon, offer a myriad of opportunities for swimming, windsurfing, and snorkelling, complete with incredible sea life just below the surface.
Freshwater swimming: Westwood Lake and Long Lake, both offering large beaches and summer lifeguard service. Long Lake is also the home of the Nanaimo Canoe and Kayak Club, and a favourite motorboat and water skiing spot. Westwood Lake offers wonderful trail hikes and a children’s playground.
For something a little more adventurous, Nanaimo River offers some of the most exhilarating swimming opportunities in the city. The best swimming spots can be found about ten minutes south of town off Nanaimo River Road, and are always worth the trip.
Year after year, boaters return in droves to Nanaimo’s protected, scenic waters. Our city is the access point to central Vancouver Island—a hub for many travelling to Vancouver Island by boat. Tie up and spend a few days exploring what we have to offer.
There’s room for every type of vessel here, with moorage available at the Nanaimo Port Authority’s Visiting Vessel Pier, Newcastle Island, The Newcastle Marina, Stones Marina, and the Nanaimo Yacht Club. All Nanaimo moorage facilities are just a dinghy ride (or short walk) away from the heart of downtown.
Put down a crab trap at Maffeo Sutton Park’s fishing pier for Dungeness crab fresh from the Pacific Ocean or head out on a Salmon fishing charter. Fresh water anglers can explore Nanaimo’s many lakes (several of which are stocked regularly with trout) and the Nanaimo River.
For more information on boating to Nanaimo, visit Nanaimo’s community profile on AhoyBC.
Nanaimo and the surrounding areas are a paddling paradise. Launch a kayak or canoe and explore the harbour or the historical shores of Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park. You can bring your camping gear with you and stay overnight on Newcastle Island, using it as a base camp for your kayaking adventures. There are also a number of launch sites north or south of Nanaimo to paddle to a Gulf Island or meander along a quiet coastline.
Rent stand-up paddleboards and kayaks in the Nanaimo Harbour, at Westwood Lake and start exploring!
The Nanaimo Rowing Club, along with the Nanaimo Canoe & Kayak Club, are situated on beautiful Long Lake in central Nanaimo. Are you a rower or paddler from out of town? Stop in and see them or contact the clubs for more information! They are always happy to see a fellow paddler.
Nanaimo is also a gateway to the BC Marine Trails. The BC Marine Trails Network provides a map of kayak launch sites and ocean side camping areas in Nanaimo and the rest of Vancouver Island, as well as downloadable tables of paddling area information, paddling resources, and a directory of local paddling
Looking for boating information? AHOYBC is full of resources and links for pleasure craft boaters looking to make BC’s coastal waters their destination (including Nanaimo!) Check them out on their website or connect with them via social media on their Facebook page or Twitter.
Sea life abounds in the cold, clear ocean that surrounds Nanaimo, making it the ideal destination for scuba diving. Jacques Cousteau considered these waters “the best temperate diving in the world, second to only the Red Sea.”
Nanaimo is also home to 3 fascinating wreck dives. In 1997 The HMCS Saskatchewan, a 366-foot navy destroyer, was sunk off the shores of Nanaimo to create an artificial diving reef. The Saskatchewan was joined on the ocean floor by the HMCS Cape Breton, a retired Canadian Supply Ship, now recognized as the World’s Largest Artificial Upright Reef. In February of 2005, the Nanaimo Dive Association sank a third vessel, the RivTow Lion, a retired deep sea rescue tug. The Rivtow rests at a manageable depth of about 50 feet in Departure Bay, making it a great dive for beginners seeking some experience before plunging down deeper to the Cape Breton or Saskatchewan.
There are several professional dive shops in Nanaimo who will assist with all your dive needs, including certification, hire and charters.
What you’ll see on a charter:
Big Marine Life– Divers often spot octopus, sea lions, seals and wolf eels. You can snorkel with playful seals at Snake Island
Sunken Ships – Descend onto the HMCS Saskatchewan (Navy destroyer), the HMCS Cape Breton (supply ship), and the Rivtow Lion (deep sea rescue tug).
Brilliant Colour – See pink coral, purple starfish, and orange sea pens