A It is true that the islands are protected from some of the extreme conditions found on the outer coast, but that does not mean that significant hazards are not present here. We enjoy very stable weather during the summer months, which is why the San Juans have become a world class sea kayaking destination, but there are still days when strong winds blow. Add to that the occasional presence of “gap winds” blowing more fiercely in narrow passageways between the islands, and the presence of very strong tidal currents, and you have a perfect recipe for disaster if you are not prepared. The water is also quite chilly, around 50 degrees fahrenheit, which can create dangerous conditions of hypothermia even if you are not immersed. We also get foggy conditions which reduce visibility and make crossing channels quite dangerous. Boat traffic is also a concern, most of the larger bodies of water are reasonably busy shipping lanes and recreational boaters sometimes create problems with their wakes. These are just a few of the ways that a fun kayak outing can turn into an epic adventure with the possibility for negative conclusions.
It is not our intention to scare anyone, but rather to educate and inform you of the risks that are inherent while paddling on the sea. If you are not skilled and experienced enough then you can find yourself in trouble. If you are in doubt as to your ability to rent a kayak on an unguided trip then we strongly recommend a guided trip with the award-winning folks at Anacortes Kayak Tours.
If you would like to talk with one of us about your plans then please call us. Although you are ultimately responsible for the decisions you make, we are happy to give our opinions and offer our local knowledge of the area.
A The San Juan Islands a provide kayakers with some of the best chances in the world to kayak with Orca whales. Certain kayak tour companies would have you believe that the only way to view them is from the west side of San Juan Island, but this is just not true or accurate. The Orca whales continually move throughout the San Juans, sometimes more than 100 miles in a day. Kayakers encounter them in Rosario Strait (near Anacortes), around Orcas Island, off of San Juan Island, and near Lopez Island quite frequently. It really just depends on the timing of when you are transiting the area. Statistically speaking, they can be found often on the southwest side of San Juan Island but that does not mean that they will be present when you are in the area. If you want up to date whale information before you depart then be sure to ask us. We have lots of contacts within the whale-watching industry and tend to know where they are virtually every day of the summer.
Remember that you need to know the current federal laws regarding boating around these endangered species. You can incur big fines by getting too close!
A You need to decide that for yourself. Thousands of people go kayaking in the San Juan Islands every year, and many of them wear nothing but shorts and t-shirts without any trouble. At Blue Otter Outfitters our position is that we like to be prepared for an immersion event and so we recommend immersion wear if you are going on an unguided trip in a rental kayak. Unless you are very familiar with the waters that you will be paddling in you can easily find yourself in a compromising position which could potentially cause you to capsize. It doesn’t take much time in the water to help you realize how nice it is to be prepared for immersion!
A Not all of the camp areas have water, you will want to research that before you go. We would be happy to talk about your proposed itinerary while you are planning and we can answer those kinds of questions for you. We know where you can get water along the way as well.
A Yes, most of the camp areas are managed by Washington State Parks and have use fees that range from $10-$15/night.
A Yes, and some of them are very conveniently located for kayakers. Orcas Island has a great store right next to the ferry dock, as does Shaw Island. Friday Harbor has a big store right in town. We would be happy to point these out to you on your chart of the San Juan Islands before you depart.
A People do that all the time. You will still need to be able to get the kayak to the ferry terminal, and you can park the car there for the duration of the trip. The tricky part is getting your kayaks and gear on to the ferry. You’ll either need to have many hands to help you, or you will need to use a kayak cart (we can rent you one) to pull it onto the boat. Depending on the timing of your trip, you may find that it is just as easy to bring your car on the ferry.
A We are more than happy to share our knowledge of the islands, and to give you our honest opinions of your planned itinerary. However, we cannot make decisions for you. You are solely responsible for what happens on the trip and for determining whether this activity is appropriate for you. Renting kayaks for unguided excursions on the sea is not for inexperienced people. Thanks for understanding!