Frequently Asked Questions – Kayak Adventures in the San Juan Islands

San Juan Sea Kayaking


You probably have some frequently asked questions about your sea kayak adventure in the San Juan Islands that are answered in this faq.

Here at Sea Quest Kayak Tours, our goal is to make your kayaking adventure a fun and wonderful occasion. If you can’t find the answer to your questions here, please email us from our Contact page or call us at 360-378-5767.

Your checklist was great and my husband was given complete and polite answers both times he phoned with additional questions. We were surprised at how stable our kayaks were as it was our first experience with this sport. We stayed perfectly dry too. Not only in the kayaks but also in our tent when it rained. The guide was outstanding…full of information about everything we saw, great sense of humor, articulate, and conscientious about everyone’s safety. This was the most fun and exciting experience our family remembers from any vacation. We’ve been raving to everyone about it. We plan to return on a longer sea kayaking trip next year! Our heartfelt thanks to you.

Judy Fessenden, Camarillo, CA

San Juan Islands Kayaking Trips FAQ

No experience is necessary! The San Juan Islands are the ideal location for learning how to sea kayak. The inland waters here are protected and sheltered from surf, swell and other ocean conditions.
The majority of our guests have never used a kayak before. If you are in average physical condition you can join a kayak tour. It’s as easy as hiking and bicycling. You don’t even need to know how to swim!
Regardless of age or experience, you will find that our San Juan Island kayak tours are safe and enjoyable. We will teach you sea kayaking skills and safety procedures before leaving shore. Our professional and encouraging guides will be with you the whole time to keep you progressing in the right direction.

Your safety is our top priority. Our instructors are skilled professional kayak guides and will be focused on your well-being. We can proudly say that there has never been a serious incident on a Sea Quest tour since we began operating more than 25+ years ago. Statistics show that sea kayaking is usually safer than most other outdoor sports.

The “double” kayaks we use are over 20 feet long and are very steady craft. Tandem kayaks are much more stable than solo kayaks. Our tandem kayaks, when fully loaded with gear, are very difficult to capsize, even intentionally! Fewer than 1 out of 1000 Sea Quest guests tip over thanks to our excellent kayak designs and smart guides. These rare capsizes are almost always caused by water fights or ignoring the guide’s instructions. More details on our sea kayaks are shown at the bottom of this page.

Summer weather in the San Juan Islands is characterized by long warm droughts and we can go weeks without any rain. We do everything possible to keep you comfortable, warm and dry throughout your tour. Your lower body usually up to your knees does get wet entering and exiting the kayaks.
Despite Washington’s reputation for gray and rainy skies, the San Juan Islands boast near-perfect camping and paddling weather from late May through early October. High temperatures average in the low 70’s, there is little rain, and the winds are usually light. The San Juan Islands of Washington State are particularly dry, due to their location within the “rain shadow” cast by the Olympic Mountains. This unusual archipelago boasts the driest microclimate of the Pacific Northwest region. Here, a careful observer will notice tiny cactus growing beneath the same towering trees found in temperate rainforests!
You might be surprised to never once apply insect repellent on our San Juan Island kayaking trips. Bug problems are minimal to nonexistent due to the summer droughts. Mosquitoes appear briefly at only one of our campsites in late spring but are gone by mid-July, are few in number, and the local species is not an aggressive biter. Better yet, you will not encounter ticks, venomous snakes, poison ivy or poison oak on our kayak tours in the San Juan Islands.
We are very proud of our sea kayak guides in the San Juan Islands. Nearly all are biologists and environmental scientists, and all have received extensive safety training. Sea Quest guides are excellent educators, naturalists, camp cooks, and trip leaders. We put them through the most difficult and extensive training curriculum of any company on San Juan Island. This is a rigorous two-week course where they learn sea kayaking safety techniques, navigation, weather interpretation, and much more. Most other outfitters in this region spend only one to three days in preparing their guides for this demanding occupation. Some don’t provide any training at all! Here at Sea Quest, we make sure your guides are properly trained, educated, and fun to be with! This link takes you to our Sea Kayaking Guides page for more information.
People a lot like you! The common thread shared by all is a love of nature, being outdoors, and traveling without motors. You will meet people from all walks of life on our kayak tours, but they all like to be active and stimulated. The ages of most of our guests range from the mid-twenties through early sixties. A typical group has an even number of solo travelers, couples and friends. You can come alone and still have a great time as our intimately-sized groups encourage lots of personal interaction. Normal group size is about six to eight persons with a few tours reaching the maximum of twelve guests per guide.
There is no upper age limit, but if you are over 65 it would be wise to advise us of your physical condition before reserving a kayak tour. Custom trips can bypass these limitations so call us or click here for custom kayaking tour options. Children as young as five years are allowed to participate on day trips. Camping trips require children to be at least twelve years of age, except in the case of custom trips. To paddle in a tandem (two-person) kayak a child must be physically fit and weigh at least 100 pounds. Smaller children will need to paddle in triple-cockpit boats with two other full-size paddlers, including at least one parent or much older sibling. We have a limited number of triple-cockpit kayaks so be sure to request about availability and reserve in advance. Exceptions sometimes can be made by arranging for a custom tour. Parties that desire to include young children are encouraged to schedule custom trips or to participate in expeditions designed especially with families in mind. Call us to discuss this and we can help match your family or group with another of similar interests and ages!
Our San Juan Islands kayaking trips are considered to be “moderate” exertion. We usually move at a steady pace with frequent floating rest breaks each hour. Total paddling time for a day tour is about three hours while four to six hours is typical for a camping trip. We stop on shore every one to two hours to stretch our legs. But some trips run into stiff headwinds that can’t be avoided. Headwinds demand stronger exertion much like hiking up a hill. People who enjoy hiking, bicycling, or swimming will definitely enjoy sea kayaking, too. Depending on your condition, it may be wise to spend a couple of weeks doing some upper body exercise such as rowing, swimming, or calisthenics.
No. Our kayak adventures are participatory events. If you are fit enough to participate in a kayak tour you are fit enough to carry your own bags and to share in the carrying of camp gear or miscellaneous items. Your kayak must be lifted and carried a short distance from the rack to the beach and back again at the end of the trip in a process that takes a minute or two. Kayaks must also be lifted and carried a few yards each time they are launched or landed at lunch beaches and campsites. All lifting is done with teamwork so no one has to bear more than 25 pounds of weight if the kayak is empty. If you have with a medical condition that prevents you from lifting you will be exempted.
Absolutely. Our instructors are can teach you many skills to improve your sea kayaking abilities. Be sure to communicate to them your interests. You might ask them for tips on navigation, how to choose a kayaking route, interpreting data on tides and currents, how to brace, etc.
No, but our rate of whale sighting is the best, as our kayaks trips are designed for orca whale watching encounters. We spend the maximum amount of time on all of our kayak tour lengths in the orca whales primary feeding and traveling zone. Longer tours and the peak months give you better chances than anywhere else in the US! Some lucky guests see killer whales on every day of their kayak tour but other folks will not see a single killer whale. Please refer to our Washington whale watching page for more details and read the individual trip pages for monthly success rates.
Yes, and it is a thrill that you will never forget! Orcas are incredibly smart, observant, and remarkably agile for their size. They never bump into kayaks or act aggressive in any way. They simply go about their business as we respectfully enjoy their company from our raft of sea kayaks. Please visit to our Washington whale watching page for more information.
Our kayaking adventures definitely generate healthy appetites so we provide hot and hearty meals for breakfast and dinner. Fresh nourishing ingredients are the basis of our healthful, tasty meals that include baked goods, vegetables, salads, fruits, and edibles we’ve gathered from land and sea. Our kayak guides put a lot of energy into cooking super meals you are sure to enjoy. The post-trip evaluations that we receive from guests repeatedly mention how impressed they are by the high quality of our camping menu.
The campsites are selected for their beauty, access to whale watching waters, and ease of camping and landing kayaks. Our campsites in the San Juan Islands are a mix of marine state parks, water trail sites, and privately-owned retreats. Some are included in the National Monument and are within sight of National Wildlife Refuges.
Bathrooms are available at launching and landing beaches, and in Friday Harbor. Public showers are located in Friday Harbor. Once we depart in the kayaks we have access to outhouses in campsites but no showers. Fortunately, kayaking is a much cleaner sport than most and we don’t get very dirty or sweaty. Some people take a brief swim in the chilly water to rinse off, but most make do with a sponge bath to stay clean.
Your kayaking gear is provided by Sea Quest, as are tents and camping equipment if you are doing an overnight tour. Campers do need to bring a sleeping bag and pad, but if this is inconvenient we have some to rent for a nominal fee. Regardless of trip length, you will need to wear and bring the same kind of clothing that you would for a hike on the beach. When you reserve your trip, we send you a thorough checklist with packing instructions. If you follow this guidance you will be comfortable during your kayaking adventure in the San Juan Islands.
It’s the best in the world! We want your first experience to sea kayaking to be exceptional. So we supply kayaking gear that is comfortable, safe, and high-performance. Our kayaks are very new, frequently inspected, and maintained with pride, like the rest of our gear. Click here to read more about our modern sea kayaking equipment.
We use tandem (double) kayaks on all of our adventure tours. Three-person kayaks are offered for families with little children. Triples can also be used to accommodate people who can’t exert themselves but wish to join a kayaking trip with two able-bodied partners. Any kayaking company whose priority is a safe trip has the same guidelines. The superiority of tandems and triples is described below:
Speed – When it comes to kayaks, length equals speed. The long waterline of a tandem makes it much speedier than a solo kayak. Triple kayaks are even faster! Speed is vital when we are faced with crossing an open body of water in deteriorating weather.
Stability – Tandems are wide enough to create superior stability. You’ll like this if we encounter any rough water. Its also helpful to stay steady when watching or photographing whales. The inherent stability of tandems affords us the freedom to kayak in a wide range of sea conditions.
Flexibility – Tandems offer the flexibility of pairing paddlers of different strengths so the group can travel at the same speed and prevent straggling behind. Tandems are also great for giving someone a break if they get tired while their partner paddles on. This can be really helpful if an illness or injury occurs during the kayak tour. Rest assured, when you come with a partner you can anticipate sharing a tandem with them for the whole trip! The requirement to switch partners happens very rarely, and usually only for a short episode of the tour!
Sometimes we get requests to use a solo sea kayak. There are exceptions to our common rule of using tandems. If you’ve completed a sea kayak rescue skills class from a highly regarded program and can supply proof of success from your trainer, it is feasible to use a solo kayak on our San Juan Island tours. Solo kayaks may be limited, may need to be shared during the adventure, or restricted to sheltered locations in difficult sea conditions depending on abilities.
Use the left sidebar menu to to check out detailed information on a variety of San Juan Island kayaking tour topics or use the top menu. Call 360-378-5767 to speak with us or email your questions from our Contact page.
Go to our Make Your Reservation page. It will take you through the simple process of joining a kayak tour.