Seal Beach Pier Cargo Ships
"I like big boats and I cannot lie"... Actually, I don't think those are the exact words to that song. But I really do enjoy watching those giant cargo ships out on the water. The only problem with my love of big boats is that I live in the desert. I've looked all around the Phoenix area in Arizona and I'm pretty sure that there are no big cargo ships here. That kind of makes it hard to enjoy a day of boat watching, so... "I don't always watch big cargo ships, but when I do, I go to the beaches of Southern California"!
One location in southern California that provides a good view of cargo ships is the Seal Beach Municipal Pier. The Seal Beach Pier is located in the town of... wait for it... Seal Beach! According to Google Maps, Seal Beach is about 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles as the crow flies or 30 miles if you're driving. Depending on traffic, it can take you anywhere between 40 minutes and 40 hours to drive there from Los Angeles :) Traffic can be pretty bad in this area. The town of Seal Beach is located between Long Beach and Huntington Beach.
I took a trip to the pier at Seal Beach in late October 2021. I brought my Nikon COOLPIX P1000 ultra zoom camera with me and really enjoyed taking pictures and recording video of ships. I'll describe my trip in this article and show some of my pictures. There's also a video at the end of the article which provides some great views of the pier and the views that you can get of the ships.
While waiting to get into the Port of Los Angeles, cargo ships often drop their anchor just off the coast and wait there for a while. That must be really boring for the crew, but it's great for cargo ship fans because the area where they anchor is close to Seal Beach. Some of the ships are far off the coast and some of the ships are pretty close. I suppose that your view of the ships from the pier or the beach depends on where the boats are parked that day.
I recommend that you bring binoculars or a zoom camera to Seal Beach. You should be able to see some ships with the naked eye, but if you want to see lots of them and see some good detail, then you you'll need some way to get closer to them. I tried waving and yelling to the ships to move closer to the coast so I could get a better view, but would you believe that not one of them moved? I guess they didn't see me :) I suppose you could also charter a boat at the marina in nearby Alamitos Bay to take you out to see the ships. Wait, that's actually a good idea. I might do that next time. Another option to get closer to the ships is... are you a good swimmer?
The other factor that will determine how many ships you will see is... how many ships are there. I know what you're thinking - "thank you Captain Obvious"! But the reason why I bring this up is that we now live in a time when global disruptions are getting more and more common. For example, when I visited the pier in October 0f 2021, the "Global Supply Chain problem" was in full effect. That means that there were a lot more ships than usual out there when I was thee so you'll see a lot of ships in my pictures.
If 2021 was a long time ago when you're reading this article, then perhaps I should explain that the latter half of 2021 was a time when the inhabitants of the Earth were having trouble moving things around the world. And that included unloading cargo ships at the ports. So in during that time in southern California, there were large numbers of ships anchored near the Port of Los Angeles, waiting their turn to get into the port.
The picture below shows a ship anchored off the coast. It was taken using the Nikon P1000's most wide angle setting of 24mm. At this wide-angle setting, you can hardly see the ship that we're going to zoom in on, so I drew a red circle around it. 24mm is a wider angle than the human eye (as far as I can tell), so when I was standing on the Pier looking at the ships without my camera, they appeared to be a little closer. The wide-angle setting on the camera is sort of like the side mirror of your car - things in the side mirror look further away than they actually are.
The next picture shows that same ship at a focal length of 3000mm, the P1000's maximum zoom. That's a magnification of 125 times! By using the P1000's full zoom range, we went from the ship appearing to be so far away that we could barely see it to being so close that only the front of it fits in the picture. Well, that boat should take a "bow"!... The front of the boat... a bow... OK, moving on...
I should mention that when I was on the Seal Municipal Beach Pier, it was a dark and cloudy day which resulted in dark and low contrast pictures. But you can compensate for that a little bit in Photoshop or your favorite photo editing software. Check out the next two pictures. The first one is straight out of the P1000 using the camera's automatic settings. It's untouched, other than adding the One Lens Two watermark and cropping it. The second picture is the result of some quick adjustments to tone, color, highlights, shadows and sharpness.
Here's a photo of some ships near the Seal Beach Pier at 50mm, which seems to be about the average focal length of many non-zooming cameras. It also looks to me to be about how big these particular ships looked with my naked eye as I stood on the pier. Gosh, it sure was dark while I was there, but I'll leave the picture as-is without any post-production adjustments so you can see what the scene really looked like that day.
The photo below is zoomed in on the ship at the center of the previous photo. We could've gotten closer to the ship by zooming in to 3000mm, but this shot at 1000mm frames the ship nicely. Or at least as nicely as I could make it on this windy day at the pier. It can be a challenge to keep the camera steady when it's hand held at these high zoom levels.
At 3000mm, we can see that this ship is the WAN HAI 507:
Once we know the name of a vessel, watching ships gets more interesting because now we can find out some information about what we're looking at. According to Vessel Finder the WAN HAI 507 was built in 2017 and sails under the flag of Singapore. It's 883 feet (269 meters) long and 105 feet (32 meters) wide. That's almost the length of THREE football fields.
You can also check out this page on Marine Vessel Traffic to see where the WAN HAI 507 is right now while you're reading this article. While writing this article, I saw that it had just passed through the Panama Canal. Interesting.
I found Seal Beach Pier to be a convenient and safe place to see big ships. While I was there in the offseason, it wasn't too crowded and there was plenty of open parking spaces in the parking lot, which is right next to the pier. I imagine that parking could be limited during the summer. You have to pay for parking, but my recollection is that it was only $10 or $12 for the whole day, which isn't too bad for parking in California.
The Police Station is at the base of the pier and there was a visible police presence in the parking lot and on the pier. The life guards were also patrolling the beaches. There were even reasonably clean restrooms underneath the pier.
The other nice thing about spending some time at the Seal Beach Pier is that there are restaurants and shops right across the street from the pier on Main Street. There you'll find quick service and sit-down restaurants to keep you fueled for a day of ship watching and there are some shops to meander through to break up the day. Main Street can also help you to convince your friends and family to join you for a day on the pier if they aren't the biggest fans of cargo ships!
Big cargo ships are not the only things that you'll see while you're on the pier. I also saw a big cruise ship out on the water. The Holland America Vista-class Zuiderdam is 936 feet (294 meters) long and 106 feet (32 meters) wide and can carry 1,964 passengers.
I also saw some smaller commercial boats, including a Manson tub boat and the Aqualink 1, a Long Beach Transit water taxi. By the way, if you want to get out onto the water for $10 round trip (click here to check the current fare), then you might want to take a ride on the Long Beach Transit water taxi that runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (as of the time that I'm writing this article).
You can also watch the surfers ride the waves! While I was there, the waves weren't too big and the surfers spent more time sitting on their boards waiting for a good wave, but it was fun to watch them.
And of course, since this is a pier, there are plenty of people fishing so you might just see someone catch something big!
My final thought is to reiterate that the ships are varying distances from the coast, with some of them being pretty far out there. If you want to see the names of the ships and some good details, then you should bring binoculars or a zoom camera. Most of my favorite shots from this photo shoot were taken at focal lengths between 500mm and 1000mm. If you want to see intricate detail and people walking around on the ships than you'll need to shoot with a focal length over 2000mm. But, it's also just fun to look out on the water with the naked eye and enjoy the sight of lots of ships out there.
Watch the Video
As you can see in the pictures in this article, the Seal Beach Municipal Pier is a great place to see giant cargo ships and other boats on the water. While I was at the Pier, I also recorded some video clips which show just how close to the ships the Nikon COOLPIX P1000 can get at 125X magnification. Spoiler alert - it's really close! And is there a dinosaur roaming the streets of Seal Beach?
Thanks for reading this article and watching the video! If you enjoyed it then check out some of the related articles and videos below. Or browse through all of my articles here.
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