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Frequently Asked Questions

Q The San Juan Islands seem so protected. Why do you make it sound so hazardous?

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.

Q Where can we go to have the best chance to kayak with whales?

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!


Q Do I really need to wear a wetsuit or a drysuit?

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!

Q Is there water at the different camp areas?

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.

Q Do the campsites have use fees?

A Yes, most of the camp areas are managed by Washington State Parks and have use fees that range from $10-$15/night.

Q Are there stores, or places to reprovision, out in the islands?

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.

Q What if I want to take a kayak out on the ferry, but want to leave my car in Anacortes?

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 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.

Q Will you help us plan our trip?

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!

Q What is your cancellation policy?

A You must cancel your kayak or SUP reservation 48 hours or more before your scheduled kayak trip to receive a full refund, minus tax and transaction fees. If you have a group (more than two kayaks) you must cancel at least 1 week in advance. If there is a weather related issue on the day of your trip that causes us to be closed, we can reschedule your reservation or issue a refund.

Safety First

These rules and guidelines are for your safety, and for the safety of our staff. Please consider them before deciding to rent from us.

When renting our Kayaks or Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs) you must adhere to our rules, guidelines, and restrictions. Waivers (Release Forms) must be signed by everyone using our equipment, and waivers for minors must be signed by a parent or legal guardian. Only people who have signed the rental agreement and have also signed the waiver are permitted to use our equipment. We do not sub-lease our equipment.


Kayaks and Paddleboards must not be taken towards Deception Pass, or Deception Island!

Paddling south (left) out of Bowman Bay is strictly prohibited. The currents are strong as you enter that area and at certain stages of the tidal cycle it is stronger than you can paddle against. This is no joke. Anyone who enters this area (intentionally or by accident) and needs extraction will incur a minimum fee of $350 per kayak or paddle board. Any damage or loss of the equipment will be paid for by you as well. Any additional costs for rescue or extractions will be the sole responsibility of the party who goes out of bounds. We will not make exceptions to this rule, so be aware of where you are at all times. If you do not think that you can abide by this then please do not rent from us. This rule is for your benefit, we want you to have a safe and enjoyable experience.


Kayaks must be used in accordance with the recommended weight limits. The maximum capacity of the boats is 400 pounds, including all gear.

Kayaks are meant to be used as singles and doubles. Two adults and a small child is acceptable, provided that the weight limit is not exceeded.

Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs) have a maximum weight capacity of 240 pounds.

All of our SUPs are intended for one person only. You may not bring a child to ride with you on paddleboards.

It is very important to be honest about your weight, and not to exceed the weight limits. If you show up for your reservation and are over the weight limitations then you will forfeit your reservation at your expense. So once again, please make sure that you do not exceed any of the specifications listed above or below. This is for your safety and for the longevity and structural integrity of our kayaks and paddle boards. Damage done to any equipment due to misuse or exceeding any limits explained will be at your expense.


Age limits for kayak use are 13 years old for single kayaks, and must be accompanied by an adult. All minors paddling their own boat or board must stay within Bowman Bay. Small children may accompany adults in tandem kayaks but we recommend staying within Bowman Bay where the water is more protected.

Reservations and rentals will not be made to minors who aren’t accompanied by their parent or legal guardian. School groups are the exception to this rule and other written permissions apply. Please do not make reservations for minors, or groups of minors, to take trips without their parents or legal guardians with them.

Age limits for paddleboards are 18 and over, or 13 and older with an accompanying parent or legal guardian per teen. You may not have a child ride on a SUP with you. They are a one person craft. We do not allow groups of teenagers to go out on paddleboards without adult supervsion. Please do not plan for paddleboarding birthday parties for your kids unless their parents can sign both the waiver and rental agreement. Parents with other peoples’ children may not use the paddleboards, unless their parents fill out the appropriate paperwork. Remember that Paddleboards are a single occupancy craft, and should be used based on the manufacturer’s recommendations. They are not made for two people. All of these rules and regulations are for the safety of our customers, our staff, and for the longevity of our equipment.


We do not allow you to rent kayaks or paddleboards and transport them yourselves without prior arrangements. All transportation must be done with a suitable vehicle with the appropriate equipment to safely secure the craft.


Fishing is not allowed from any of our Kayaks or Paddleboards. We are not a fishing outfitter. Any damage or mess created from fishing will incur additional charges, up to and including the cost of replacement.


Alcohol consumption is not allowed on our kayaks or paddleboards. Drug use, including marijuana, is not allowed on our kayaks or paddleboards. It isn’t safe, folks! Enough said.


We do allow coolers on our Kayaks within a reasonable size. A small 6 pack size cooler is fine. They must not be full size coolers or any cooler that will interfere with the normal safe operation of the craft due to its size or weight. We do not allow coolers on Stand Up Paddleboards at all. We do not inspect coolers, so you will be on the honor system!


Keep in mind that this is a water sport, so you should expect to get wet. You have the potential of falling into the water so you should have the ability to swim. PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices or Life Jackets) must be worn at all times. In the state of Washington you need one life jacket per person on a water craft. Please understand that our rentals are not intended to be diving or swimming platforms and your safety while on the water is your responsibility. We understand that at some point you may be in the water for what ever reason. Please be safe at all times by being mindful of the depth of water, conditions, and other water craft.


Any damage or loss of the equipment will be the sole responsibility of the renting party. Do not allow the kayaks the crash on rocks, or rub against barnacles along the shoreline. Do not drag kayaks or boards over sharp rocks. Never stand on the paddle boards unless they are in deep enough water to protect both the board and the fin underneath. Always step off of the boards in deeper water. When not in use, all boats, boards, and equipment should be stored well above the waterline. Waves and rising tides can take things quickly.