1. What do I need to bring to go whale watching?
See our list.
2. Is there a bathroom?
Yes! All our our vessels have a marine restroom on board. Even our Adventure Vessel, Kestrel!
3. What is the age limit on your vessel?
We take any age. Families with children 7 years and younger can book whale watch tours aboard the Classic Vessel, Sea Lion. We will ask parents of children under 2 years of age to stay in our windowed, heated cabin for safety reasons or wear on them in a baby carrier. Children ages 8 years and up are permitted on our Adventure Vessel, Kestrel. Are you whale watching with kids? Read our Top 10 Tips for having a great whale watch tour expereince with your children!
4. Will your vessel accommodate a person in a wheelchair?
We can accommodate the person but not the wheelchair. Due to safety considerations we cannot place a wheelchair on our boat because all seats must be anchored to the boat itself. If the person can stand, walk up two steps on the outside of boat, then one on the inside, we will do our best to pre-board them. Please let us know when booking so that we can plan ahead.
5. How long are your whale watching trips?
All of our excursions are approximately 3-3.5 hours. If necessary, our Classic Vessel Sea Lion can travel up to 50 miles roundtrip and our Adventure Vessel up to 70 miles roundtrip, we can almost always get to the whales, spend time with them and the other wildlife, and get back within that time frame.
Check out our Whale Watching Tour Schedule.
7. Can I make a reservation online?
Yes! Make your reservation here.
8. What is your Cancellation Policy?
No shows are charged full price. See our complete cancellation policy for additional details.
9. Should I charter an entire boat?
For certain types of events, such as family reunions, team building and more, chartering the entire vessel is ideal because your group will have the entire vessel to yourselves!. With a large group it might even be less expensive than individual boarding passes. Read more about our custom charters and private tours here.
10. Our group of eight wishes to just be by ourselves. What is the best way to accomplish this?
A full charter can start at $1195 for our 18-passenger vessel Kittiwake, and includes captain and naturalist/first mate. See our boat charter page.
11. Do you take school groups, Scouts and kids clubs?
We sure do! We love to teach kids about the whales, wildlife and the ecosystems here in the islands, and what they can do to help protect these resources. We are known as the small group specialists.
12.What is required to book the whole boat?
A 50% non-refundable deposit at time of booking; the balance is due 30 days prior to the charter.
The Whales & Whale Watching
13. How do you know where to find the whales?
San Juan Safaris belongs to a "spotting network.” This network includes spotters on land, out on the water and sometimes in the air. Our captains also have their own "network of friends" they rely on for tips about where the whales are on any given day. Combined, these networks give us our high percentage of sightings.
14. Where do we go?
Wherever the whales are! Sometimes that might be out toward Canada, or down to the very south end of the island, or north to what is known as the “coal docks.” Occasionally, the orcas are not around San Juan Island, but you can depend on this: they go wherever they want to go, and can easily cover 100 miles in a day.
15. Do you gurantee whale sightings?
While we do not guarantee whale sightings on our tours, 20 years of sightings data shows that we do have a 90% chance of seeing whales during the peak months of June – September. In recent years, March – May and October – November, have had similar sighting success. As industry leaders, we are key members of a proprietary sightings network known as the Pacific Whale Watch Association. Through our experience, we're aware of sightings in the area and our two locations are ideally positioned to reach whale and wildlife sightings throughout the region. While some larger companies offer whale guarantees, they often fall short on follow through by providing a rain check for future trip onboard the same vessel with 85-250 passengers. We focus on the quality of our guest experience and encourage guests to "not put all your eggs in one basket", meaning sign up for two trips where your chances are 90% and you're likely to see whales on at least one trip. We provide discounted packages for these guests. You will have a great experience with our local naturalists and captains with a one-on-one educational experience found nowhere else in the San Juan Islands.
16. What is the best time of day to see the whales?
Our sighting percentages are high any time of day. Go when it fits into your schedule best.
17. What about sunset trips?
We are one of the few operators that offers a sunset tour. Memorial Day through late August we offer whale watching at sunset. At this time of year in the Pacific Northwest the sun does not set until approximately 9:30 p.m. and it stays light until 10 p.m. The sunsets are romantic and breathtaking. And many restaurants stay open late in the summer to accommodate an after-cruise meal. Read why the sunset tour is a staff and guest favorite!
18. What are we likely to see besides orca whales?
The Salish Sea ecosytem is rich with wildlife. Each tour is unique, but other common animal encounters include lots of marine birds, harbor seals, sea lions, otters, and porpoises. Plus many of our tours enncounter humpback and/or minke whales. Read our Guide to Wildlife in the San Juan Islands for an overview of our marine creatures.
19. What is the best month to see the whales?
There really isn't a best month. The orca whales are generally around the islands May - September. Sightings are typically in the 90% (or more) range, but every year is different. Because our trips start on San Juan Island, where most sightings occur, and because of our boats travel at 18 knots with passengers, we are usually able to get to the whales, spend time with the whales, and spend time viewing other wildlife during the 3 to 3.5 hour time allotted per tour.
20. Why don't you offer whale watching the remainder of the year?
For two main reasons: Orcas’ migration pattern and the weather. The orca whales are not usually in the vicinity of the islands after November. Some of our resident orca whales have been spotted as far south as Monterey, California, in the winter months.
Additionally, weather and water conditions are less than desirable in the winter months. Winters are windy (30 to 50 mph), rainy and cold. Wind makes for less than ideal water conditions.