Heading out to sea to explore the hidden treasures of its watery depths is an exciting pursuit. And with Father’s Day just around the corner, it is a great way to spend some quality time with your dad. Instead of scratching your head shopping for the perfect gift, treat your dad to a whale watching voyage that will take you under the impressive and historic Deception Pass and past the scenic, rocky coast of the San Juan Islands in search of the region’s show-stopper, the world-renowned orca whale.

However, it’s paramount that you’re prepared when seeking out the magnificent creatures that call the Pacific Ocean home. For landlubbers and seasoned sailors alike, here’s our ultimate packing guide that will take your first whale watching adventure to the next level.


A camera

Your camera lens may not be as long as this, but you can still capture beautiful moments. Photo: Curtis & Renee
Your camera lens may not be as long as this, but you can still capture beautiful moments. Photo: Curtis & Renee

There’s a delicate balance when it comes to picture taking and whale watching. While you want to make sure you’re spending enough time out from behind the lens, you will also want to capture those magnificent moments when a dorsal fin pierces through the water. Keep in mind that movements are quick and sightings can be brief, so be prepared to take your shots quickly and utilize a wrist strap for easy access. Since you may be snapping from a fair distance, be sure your camera has a great zoom.

When braving the seas, be sure to pack a waterproof case for your camera to protect it from potential rain or salty spray. This could be anything from a hard shell case to a simple plastic sandwich bag. While the latter might not seem like the most sophisticated option, if conditions allow, you may be able to continue taking pictures through the bag while still protecting your camera from the elements.

A rain poncho and hat

With the proper clothing your trip will be smooth sailing, no matter the weather. Photo: Scott Meis
With the proper clothing your trip will be smooth sailing, no matter the weather. Photo: Scott Meis

With multiple convergence zones and storms that can roll in off the water at a moment’s notice, the Pacific Northwest is notoriously fickle when it comes to the weather. Even if the forecast calls for clear skies, bring a rain poncho and waterproof hat on your whale watching adventure. It may not be raining when you set out, but be prepared for sudden showers as well as the sea spray that will kick up during your voyage.


You'll be kicking yourself if you miss a sighting just because it's off in the distance. Photo: valeriiaarnaud / Shutterstock.com
You’ll be kicking yourself if you miss a sighting just because it’s off in the distance. Photo: valeriiaarnaud / Shutterstock.com

As you make your way around the boat taking in the sights, you will hear exuberant shouts from the onboard naturalists as they catch sight of the creatures of the Pacific Northwest. However, the whales and their brethren can be a little skittish when it comes to people and loud boat motors. Pack a pair of binoculars so you don’t miss out on a grand sighting, even from a distance. Don’t have a pair or forgot to bring them? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. You can easily rent a pair when onboard the San Juan Clipper.

Warm clothing

It may be warm on land, but the water has its own rules. Dress to be too warm from head to foot as winds tend to pick up as you cruise over the ocean. We recommend you wear multiple layers and carry an extra sweater, so you can peel off any clothing that may get wet along the way.

Waterproof shoes or boots

The triple decked San Juan Clipper provides the perfect viewing platform for wildlife. Photo: Scott Meis

While flip flops may be a good choice for relaxing at the beach, they’re not the best option for whale watching. Wear sturdy waterproof shoes or at least thick socks underneath to keep your toes warm and dry. Be sure that your shoes also have rubber soles so you don’t slide around should the deck become slippery.

Sunscreen and sunglasses

You don't want to worry about glare when you're witnessing that might orca glide out of the water. Photo: Scott Meis
You don’t want to worry about glare when you’re witnessing that mighty orca glide out of the water. Photo: Scott Meis

Many of our packing recommendations are based on cold, wet conditions, but it’s also important to prepare yourself for the warmer elements. Pack sunscreen and sunglasses so you’re comfortable and protected against the sun’s rays. The glare off the open ocean is more powerful than you may think, and you don’t want to risk getting burned or missing any activity that’s happening out on the water.

Just in case

If you’re prone to motion sickness (or even if you’re not), pack some form of medication just in case. Depending on what you’re comfortable with, choose from medications like Dramamine, patches or bands. Ginger is also an effective natural remedy for motion sickness, so consider bringing some ginger candies along for the ride. Forgot to bring them along? Our crew can provide you with both on board.

When it comes to your first whale watching tour, do like the Boy Scouts do: be prepared and bring the proper gear with your on your tour. Whether you’re heading out for the day or as part of an overnight stay, you will enjoy an experience of a lifetime.

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Feature Photo: Pierce Hanley