Looking for Whales

Choosing a Whale Watch Boat

In the San Juan Islands, you can find whale watch boats that carry anywhere from 6 to 285 people, so choosing a boat that suits your needs maybe the most important decision that you can make before heading out on the water. Hopefully this page will help you make an informed choice that will enhance your experience and make you want more!

Many of the boats in the San Juan Islands whale watching fleet were designed for other purposes (old fishing boats, passenger ferries, plain old recreational boat, etc.) that were then modified to carry whale watch customers.

Island Adventures’ Island Explorer 3         Island Adventures’ Island Explorer 4

If you are looking for comfort, a good whale watching boat will have an upper viewing deck and a full walk-around lower deck. The best boats have full walk-around upper viewing decks as well. This allows for easy movement around the decks to view wildlife. It also ensures that everyone has a place “at the rail” for the best viewing.

If the boat doesn’t have adequate rail space, then you better hope that you are taller than everyone else! Many companies will assure you that there is plenty of room, but you can do the math. A 55-foot boat that carries 55 people, without an upper viewing deck, can’t possibly accommodate everyone when the whales come by, where a 100-foot boat with 2 decks provides over 400 feet of rail space for viewing.

Many of the better boats offer food service and multiple bathrooms (a very nice amenity when you need it).

On the large vessels mid-ship doors facilitate easy movement of guests in case the whales suddenly appear on the other side of the boat.

Boats designed for the fishing industry years ago often have poor visibility from the only protected cabin area. If they carry more than 20 people you are likely to miss out on a lot of the great scenery along the way. Being able to move inside and outside while on a tour can be a very important portion of enjoying your time out on the water. For whale watching, travel on a boat that was specifically designed for wildlife viewing — it makes all the difference in the world.

We recommend a boat that either has the speed and comfort to deliver you to the whales efficiently, or has wide walk-around decks with an upper viewing area. Why would you want to limit your experience with anything less?

Both Island Adventures and Port Angeles Whale Watch Company run boats that are great examples of what a whale-watching vessel should look like.