Checking Out Charters in the San Juans

The San Juan Islands have a handful of locally based charters.
San Juan Islands

Hikes with a View

Some people visit the San Juan Islands for the hiking trails alone. Charter-yacht captains can plan itineraries that line up with various treks, no matter whether guests want a mild or strenuous level of difficulty. iStock/philotera

Yacht charter in the Pacific Northwest often includes itineraries in scenic Alaska or British Columbia’s Desolation Sound, but it’s worth the effort to look a bit farther south, between Seattle and Vancouver off the Washington State border. There, you’ll find the San Juan Islands, a region that is much less-traveled by charter yachts but that is absolutely brimming with wide-open views and outdoor adventures.

Yachts that charter in the San Juans are typically based there during at least part of the year, because tax laws make it unfavorable for out-of-region yachts to move into the market. The downside of that reality is limited supply — charter clients have to book early to get the best yachts — while the upside is having captains and crew with virtually unlimited local knowledge. They usually know the captains of the local whale-watching fleet, to get the scoop on pod positions. They know the harbors that remain empty come sundown, to ensure a quiet night on the hook with a good view. And they’re familiar with local fishing fleets, which provide the chef with the freshest catch.

Want to wet a hook yourself? Charter yachts here usually have fishing and crabbing equipment, and tow center consoles with fish boxes and other gear. Guests can leave their own rods and reels at home but will want to pack a favorite pair of hiking boots, as well as clothing that can be layered. Early morning climbs can lead to stunning views in the crisp air, followed by gunkholing or paddleboarding in a bathing suit and T-shirt under the midday sun.

San Juan Islands
Reflections Karina Jean Northern Light
This 106-foot Broward, like the other yachts below, is part of the Infinity Yachts fleet. ­Reflections takes six guests in three staterooms. She had a $1.2 million refit at Delta Marine in 2003. Six guests share three staterooms aboard this 114-foot Crescent. The aft bulkhead in her salon has nearly sole-to-overhead glass doors with additional glass panels for wide-open views. Hatteras Yachts built this 74-footer, which accommodates six guests in three staterooms. Her top-deck seating area can be enclosed with see-through panels for comfort in cooler weather.
Infinity Yachts

Pro tip: Think layering when researching charter yachts too. Those with open as well as enclosed lounging areas will let everyone enjoy the views in any weather.

About the San Juan Islands

Remember the little guys: While most activity in the San Juans takes place around the four biggest islands — San Juan, Orcas, Lopez and Shaw — there are actually 172 islands and reefs to explore.

Arrive by seaplane: A 45-minute flight from Seattle can land guests right at the harbor where the charter yacht awaits at anchor.


Watch the whales: The orcas are generally around from spring through autumn, as are the sea lions, bald eagles, porpoises and, well, charter yachts.


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