See orcas, humpback whales, and so much more wildlife in the San Juan Islands
See orcas, humpback whales, and so much more wildlife in the San Juan Islands

The basics

1. What do I need to bring to go whale watching?

See our list.

2. Is there a bathroom?

Yes! There is a large restroom on the Sea Lion, two comfortable marine heads on Osprey, and a standard marine head on the 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 Vessels, Sea Lion and Osprey.  We will ask parents of children under 2 years of age to stay in our windowed, heated cabin for safety reasons or use a "wear on them" 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 3-4 hours.  If necessary, our Classic Vessels can travel up to 40 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.

6. What is the schedule for the whale watching tours?

San Juan Safaris Sea Lion Tour
Feb 10-11, 17-18, 24-25 (Sat & Sun) Noon Tour
March 2-June 23 (Daily) Noon Tour
June 24-Sept 8 (Daily) Departs from Roche harbor
Sept 9-Oct 31 (Daily) Noon Tour
Nov 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, 24-25 (Sat &Sun) Noon Tour

San Juan Safaris Sunset Osprey Tours

May 18-20 5:30 Tour
May 25-August 26 (Daily) 5:30 Tour
San Juan Safaris Kestrel Tours
May 18-Sept 30 (Daily) 10:00 AM & 2:00 PM 

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.

There is so much wildlife in the San Juan Islands, like Orca Whales (Killer Whales) that you can view from one of San Juan Island Outfitters' tours
Go whale watching with friends, family, or charter one of our boats for a private event in the San Juan Islands

Group charters

1. Should I charter an entire boat?

For certain types of events, such as family reunions, wedding events, team building and more, chartering the entire vessel is ideal becuase your group will have the entire boat to yourselves! With a large group it might even be less expensive than individual boarding passes.

2. Our group of eight wishes to just be by ourselves. What is the best way to accomplish this?

A full charter can start at $3495 for our 24-passenger vessel Kestrel, and includes the captain and naturalist/first mate. Read more about custom charters and private whale watch tours here

3. 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.

4.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.

Rare tufted puffin sighting during a San Juan Outfitters Whale Watch Tour from Roche Harbor
See orcas, humpback whales, and so much more wildlife in the San Juan Islands

The Whales & Whale Watching

1. How do you know where to find the whales?

San Juan Outfitters belongs to a "spotting network” with the Pacific Whale Watch Association. 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. 90% or more during the peak season months of June through September!

2. Do you guarantee whale sightings?

While we do not guarantee whale sightings on our tours, 20 years of sightings data shows that we do have a 90-95% chance of seeing whales during the peak months of June – September. 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 a 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.

3. 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 the Canadian Gulf Islands. 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.

4. Where are the Southern Resident Killer Whales most of the time?

Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) have a habitat that spans from central California all the way to Alaska.  During the summer months they are typically found in the waters surrounding San Juan Island feeding on the summer salmon run to the Fraser River.  The rest of the year they are usually found on the outer coast of Oregon and Washington.  SRKWs go where the salmon are!

5. 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.

6. What about sunset whale watch trips?

We are one of the few operators that offers a sunset tour. Approximately mid-May to mid-August we offer a whale watch tour at sunset from Friday Harbor. At this time of year in the Pacific Northwest the sun does not set until approximately 9:30 pm and it stays light until 10 pm. The sunsets are romantic and breathtaking. Read here to see why our Sunset Tours are a guest and staff favorite!

7. 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 encounter humpback and/or minke whales. Read our Guide to Wildlife in the San Juan Islands for an overview of our marine creatures. 

8. What is the best month to see the whales?

Peak season for orcas is considered June - September, during which time sightings are typically in the 90% (or more) range, but every year is different.  There are whales year round in the San Juans, but during non-summer months whales can be harder to find as they travel more erratically and typically in smaller groups.  We encounter the highest number of humpback whales during the spring and fall.

9. Why don't you offer whale watching the remainder of the year?

For two main reasons: orcas’ travel pattern and the weather. The orca whales are not usually in the vicinity of the islands after October.  The SRKWs are typically found on the outer coast during the winter months anywhere from California to Alaska.

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. 

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