On his second voyage, Cook had been looking for the possible existence of the Northwest Passage, and in 1791 Vancouver was commissioned to complete this search. He was also instructed to negotiate with the Spanish about the ownership of Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. He rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and visited New Holland (Australia), New Zealand, Tahiti and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) before reaching the Pacific coast of North America, about 110 miles north of San Francisco, on April 17, 1792, just a year after his departure.
He followed the coasts of Oregon and Washington northward, then entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Vancouver Island and the mainland. He intended to explore every bay and outlet of this region, and many times had to use boats to do so, because the inlets were often too narrow for his ships. He met a Spanish exploring party led by Dionisio Alcala Galiano and Cayetano Valdes y Flores, and for some time they explored Puget Sound together. Afterwards, Vancouver went to Nootka (on Vancouver Island), then the region's most important harbour, where he was to get any British buildings or lands returned by the Spanish. The Spanish commander Bodega y Quadra was very cordial and he and Vancouver exchanged the maps they had made of their explorations, but no agreement was reached; they decided to await further instructions. After a visit to Spanish California, Vancouver used the winter to further explore the Sandwich Islands.
The next year he went back to British Columbia, and explored the coast further north. He got 56 degrees north, and because the more northern parts had already been explored by Cook, he then sailed south to California, hoping to be able to fulfull his task regarding Nootka; however, Bodega y Quadra was not there. He again spent the winter on the Sandwich Islands.
In 1794, he first went to Cook Inlet, the northernmost limit of his exploration, and from there he followed the coast southward to Baranov Island, which he had also reached the year before. He then set sail for England, choosing the route around Cape Horn, thus completing a circumnavigation.
At the end of the exploration. Vancouver determined that the Northwest Passage did not exist at the latitudes that had long been suggested. Various locations around the world have been named after George Vancouver, including Vancouver Island (originally Vancouver & Quadra Island) and the cities of Vancouver, Washington, USA and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.