Whale Watching FAQ's

  • Are there bathrooms?

    Yes, the Western Explorer II (2.5-3 hour tour) has a basic marine restroom. Please keep in mind that you will have gear on over your clothes to keep you warm, so it is usually best to plan restroom breaks before or after the tour. But it is available if needed.

  • Can I smoke or vape on the boat?

    No, there is no smoking or vaping allowed on either vessel at any time.

  • Do I need to bring my passport?

    You do not need to bring a passport along for your tour. We may pass through Canadian waters during our tour, but will not need to clear customs. It is, however, always a good idea to carry a valid ID with you.

  • Will I get seasick?

    It is very rare for people to get seasick on our boats. Both boats are very stable and the Salish Sea, where we operate, is relatively protected and is not subject to the large ocean swells one experiences out on the coast. However, some people are very susceptible to motion sickness. If you are one of those people you may want to take a non-drowsy (unless you want to pay for a nice long nap on the boat) motion sickness medication. We also have Sea Bands on board for guest use. Just ask the naturalist when you board.

  • What should we bring?

    While the San Juan Islands have some of the best weather around in the Summer, we are still in the Pacific Northwest and you can always plan on it being about 10-15 degrees cooler out on the water. So, layered clothing is the key and remember you will be on a boat, so sensible shoes are best. Also, don’t forget to bring a camera (300 mm lens or bigger recommended for shooting wildlife), binoculars (we also have loaners available), sunglasses, and sunscreen. Most importantly though, bring a fun attitude! This will make your whale watching trip all the more enjoyable.

  • How close do you get to the whales?

    There is always an urge to experience the whales and wildlife as close as possible. However, we have to remember that we are viewing these animals in their environment and it is best to see how they live without our interference. With this in mind we operate under guidelines and regulations that are in place to help ensure that we don’t change their behavior or interfere with their life cycles. Our guidelines change from year to year based upon the most recent scientific research. What you can expect is that we will not approach the whales within 200 yards in US waters and 200 meters in Canadian waters when we are viewing them. However, keep in mind that these distances on the water will still offer an excellent viewing experience when you are viewing a close to 30 ft long animal.

  • What time is best for whale watching in the San Juan Islands?

    In the San Juan Islands, we always like to say that no two whale watching tours are the same. That is the honest truth. It is hard to say whether the morning or the afternoon is going to be better on a given day. Usually, if we have whales in the area we will see them on both trips. Also, whale behavior does not change based on the time of day. In the end, there really isn’t much difference between sightings and activity in the morning or afternoon. The best way to decide what time to go whale watching is to look at your schedule and plan accordingly.

  • What happens if we don’t see Whales?

    Well, it doesn’t happen very often, but don’t panic if it does. Some of our best tours have been encounters with Porpoises, Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, and Steller Sea Lions. Of course, we are always looking for whales, as well as other wildlife, during our trip and there are often times when we leave the dock without a whale report only to find some along the way. With the best crew around, we strive to make every tour the very best it can be and if there are whales in the area we will make every effort to share them with you. And, don’t forget that the beautiful island scenery alone is worth the price of the tour.


    With that said, guest satisfaction is our primary goal. No one can control wildlife and weather. They are completely up to mother nature, and there are never any guarantees. However, in addition to all the other beautiful wildlife of the San Juan Islands, we want to give you every opportunity to experience the wonder of encountering and learning about whales in their natural environment. That is why, in the rare occurrence that you don’t see whales (Orcas, Humpbacks, Minkes, Grays, Fins, etc.) on one of our tours, we happily invite you to come again on a regular tour for free. You will receive a voucher code after the tour good for the number of people in your party. Vouchers are not transferrable but have no expiration. This whale sighting policy does not apply on our heavily discounted private charters.

  • Can I bring a camera on the boat?

    Yes! The Western Prince is a wonderful platform to take images from as you are a little higher above the water. Like any boat, there is always potential to catch a little salt water spray depending on the conditions, so plan accordingly.

  • Can I bring a camera on the boat?

    Yes! However, there is always potential to get some salt water spray, especially when we are running at speed. If you have a dry bag, waterproof bag, or camera sleeve that is a great option. Many people have their camera around their neck, then tuck it into the cruiser suit while we travel.

  • What is the best time of the year to see Orca whales?

    San Juan Island (90 miles north of Seattle) is the best place for orca whale watching as we are located in the heart of Salish Sea. Orca whales range through the San Juan Islands the most between March and October and you can expect to see them on the vast majority of our tours during that time, although we do have sightings throughout the year. We also regularly encounter beautiful Humpback Whales (through November) and Minke whales in the area. Faster boats, flexible trip duration, and our departure location help ensure that our sightings are as high as, or higher than, other companies in the area. Also, keep in mind that the Orca whales we see do travel completely out of the area, to the Pacific Ocean, from time to time and that every year is different depending upon what is happening in the ecosystem. Even the few tours that don’t include whales are worthwhile with beautiful island scenery, Bald Eagles, Porpoises, Seals, Sea Lions, and lots of interesting sea birds.

  • Are there bathrooms?

    Yes! Western Prince II (3-4 hour trip) does have a very basic restroom.

  • Can I eat and drink on the boat?

    Yes! You may bring food or drink (no alcohol) on either boat. Western Prince II also has snacks for sale such as candy bars, trail mix, water, tea, coffee, and soda (cash only).

  • Can I eat and drink on the boat?

    Yes! Western Explorer does not have food for purchase. If you do want to bring a snack, consider a granola bar or something similar as this boat moves at a high speed which may make eating a challenge. Beverages should be resealable.