In the DC area, we are fortunate to have a relatively slow moving river that offers sailing opportunities without having to drive an hour or more on weekends. There is nothing better than being out on the water 20 minutes after leaving downtown DC. While convenient, the Potomac River doesn't have the wide open sailing areas found on the Chesapeake. You won't have a 4 mile beam reach but you're on the water cruising. So what do you need to know?
The Potomac is tidal - When there is a good breeze, tide is a minor consideration unless you are racing. However, in light winds, knowing the tides will dictate your course and time to turn around. There are tide charts available online as well as pocket tide charts at West Marine. River sailors should always be factoring in the tide.
Current can be a factor - April rains and tropical depressions can create significant currents on the river. Currents will be strongest north of the Wilson Bridge where the river is narrow. Along with the current, be on the lookout for debris coming down the river. During the dry summer months, the current is minimal.
Winds - We monitor NOAA Tidal Potomac Key Bridge to Indianhead for our predicted winds. If Annapolis is getting 12-14 knots, we get 10-12 on the river. South of the Wilson Bridge, the river widens considerably and the winds are usually more consistent.