A visit to the San Juan Islands is not complete without at least some time spent out on the water! On our spacious and comfortable flagship vessel, M/V Sea Lion, a cruise around the islands is always a treat. With a walk-around deck and inside, heated cabin, M/V Sea Lion offers the ultimate in wildlife viewing as well as comfort.

Guests traveling with children in the San Juan Islands often ask if our tours are suitable for families. Overall and resoundingly, YES! We love getting kids out on the water to experience the magic of seeing wildlife in the wild. Through over twenty years of experience running tours we have found tried and true ways to have a great time out on the water with your kids. Here are our top ten suggestions!

1) Dress Appropriately and Pack Layers

Even during the hottest summer days, it gets cold cruising in the Salish Sea! The water around the islands stays a brisk 45 degrees year-round, so even a slight breeze over the surface makes for a chilly ride! I always recommend long pants and close-toed shoes, with lots of layers, such as fleece, on top. For the hottest days in the summer, when your child wants to wear shorts, I recommend packing a pair of loose sweatpants that you can easily pull on over any clothes if your child gets cold. Even on bluebird days, pack a raincoat for your child. Raincoats act as great wind-breaking layer and can protect your child from any sea spray that we might experience. As a rule, we always recommend packing more layers than you think you might need for your child. I’ve never been upset having more, rather than fewer, layers packed than I wanted out on the water!

2) Pack Easy-to-Eat Snacks

We do not offer anything for purchase on any of our boats, so we always recommend packing snacks! If you are traveling with children I like to recommend that the snacks you choose be easy to eat and clean up after. Sliced apples, cheese sticks, and granola bars are all awesome choices. Popcorn, goldfish, trail mix, and other loose snacks tend to get spilled on the dynamic moving platform of the boat. I also recommend packing a reusable water bottle for your kiddos! On M/V Sea Lion we have a filtered water tap that is great for refilling bottles.

3) Everything might get wet!

Pack belongings that will not get ruined if they meet some water

This might not be the activity to pack a beloved blanket or priceless plaything. Everything onboard any boat can and might get wet. Talk with your child about making decisions to protect those favorite toys.

**BONUS: We have a children’s library onboard for you and your children to enjoy!

4) Read about Marine Science before you get to the Boat

While planning your whale-watching excursion, engage your child and get them excited for their upcoming trip by checking out some marine-themed books from the library. Some of our tried and true favorites for younger children are Davy’s Dream, Storm Boy, How Deep is the Sea, and Baby Whales Drink Milk. For the older child I recommend The Northwest Coastal Explorer, and The National Audubon Society’s Guide to Marine Mammals, both are easy field guides with great pictures.

Recommended Whale Books

5) Visit the Friday Harbor Whale Museum 

Did you take the early ferry on to the island? Are you looking for a fun activity to absorb an hour of time AND to get your children thinking about whales and wildlife? Look no further than the Friday Harbor Whale Museum! This small museum offers interactive displays and great background information on the whales that call our waters home. The Whale Museum is open seven days a week 10:00am-4:00pm. Check in for your tour at our office and we’ll point you in the right direction!


6) Talk to your child about wearing a lifejacket

(or bring your own!)

Your child’s safety is very important to us. A safe ride on a boat is a fun ride on a boat. Even if your child is a, “great swimmer,” we ask that children 10 years old and younger don a lifejacket for the duration of their trip. Talk to your younger children about this prior to arrival so that they are not surprised in the moment! We have lifejackets onboard for your children, but if your child has a lifejacket that they are already comfortable wearing we welcome you to bring that along! For families traveling with infants, if you expect to move around on deck with your little one we offer hands-free baby carriers for loan onboard our vessels, or you are more than welcome to bring one from home.

Youth Lifejacket Naturalist Fitting a Lifejacket

7) Set Realistic Expectations for your Child

Explain to your child that wildlife is wild, and just because we want to see a certain animal doesn’t mean that we will definitely see it. We cannot control animal behavior or even if we get to see them. That unknown is super fun, making everyday an adventure!

We see whales on about 90% of our trips from May through September, which means that we don’t see whales everyday. The special thing about joining us for a trip in the San Juan Islands is that we see so many other wildlife species beside whales! Seals, sea lions, porpoise, bald eagles, jellies, and all sorts of other critters call our islands home. There is so much to see and look for besides whales… get your kiddos excited about the whole ecosystem, not just the possibility of seeing whales.

California & Steller's sea lions Active bait ball Bald eagle in the setting sun

8) Encourage your child to ask the Naturalists questions!

Our Naturalists love to engage with kids! Take a few moments in the weeks leading up to your tour to sit down with your child, helping them to come up with a list of questions to ask the onboard Naturalists. Frequently children ask the best questions, and giving your child time to prepare and think about questions beforehand will lead to a great experience on the water.


9) Help your child engage with Junior Naturalist Programming

San Juan Safaris is the only company in the San Juan Islands to offer Junior Naturalist Programming. Each child joining us on the water receives a custom Junior Naturalist handbook with information and activities about the ocean, wildlife, and fun ways to protect the ocean. Younger children might need help with their activity book. As an adult, engage with your child to complete the workbook… maybe you’ll learn something too!

Junior Naturalist Handbook


Spending time out on the water is fun! Relax and enjoy the wildlife, your kids will follow your lead!

L55's with little L123 Lazuli

We look forward to hosting you and your family in the San Juan Islands and helping you to make great memories that will last a lifetime. If you have any questions about joining a trip with your child, please give one of our Reservation Specialists a call today! We’d love to see you, and your child, out on the water!

1 (800) 450-6858

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