Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where does this tour go?

The Alaska Ocean Wilderness Expedition is a destination free tour. We depart from (& return to) Thomas Basin in downtown Ketchikan and explore the waters surrounding the island based on the tides, weather, and wildlife activity. The lack of destination gives us the freedom to truly experience the magic of Southeast Alaska!

Q: What will we see?

Southeast Alaska has an incredibly diverse ecosystem. The fjords of the Ketchikan area are deep and experience tidal swings of over 20 feet (6.1 meters). These huge movements of water bring nutrients up from the deep and expose them to our long Alaskan days. This causes an explosion of life. Blooms of plankton feed small schooling fish like herring and needlefish. These in turn feed higher level predators such as Salmon, Mink, River Otters, Harbor Seals, Dall’s Porpoise, Harbor Porpoise, Steller Sea Lions, Killer Whales (Orca), and Humpback Whales.

North Pacific weather patterns brings in moisture from the ocean that collides with steep coastal mountains, producing one of the largest annual rainfalls in the world. Ketchikan averages over 150 inches (380 cm) of rain a year! This nourishes the largest temperate rainforest of Western Hemlock, Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar, Yellow Cedar, & Red Alder, as well as a dense undergrowth of Salmon Berries, Salal, Ferns, Huckleberries, several species of Blueberries, and broad leafed, spine covered Devil’s Club plants. The forest floor is full of life and carpeted with mosses in brilliant shades of green. This rainforest habitat is home to Black Bears, Sitka Blacktail Deer, Red Squirrels, Mink, Marten, and Wolves.

In our experience, when people ask, “What will we see?” they are really wanting to know what Charismatic megafauna they have a chance of observing. Our tours truly focus on the nature & wildlife of Ketchikan, and while we can’t guarantee any specific encounters, we strive to craft the best possible experience given the days tides, weather, and tour time.

Q: What is the difference between the tour times? Is there a better time for wildlife?

When it comes to wildlife viewing, there isn’t a tour time that is guaranteed to be better than others. The Alaska Ocean Wilderness Expedition has no particular destination by design, so we can tailor the experience to the tide and weather to maximize our chances of seeing wildlife. The main difference between tour times is the tide. At lower tides, more of the intertidal zone is exposed, allowing us to see sea creatures like Giant Green Anemones, Sea Stars, Sea Urchins etc. These colorful creatures are still present at higher tides, just less visible because they are under water.

If your itinerary is flexible, and you are interested in a tour time at a lower tide, you can consult a tide chart for your desired date. Otherwise, we recommend selecting a tour time that best fits your schedule!

Q: What are the chances of seeing a whale?

We see whales on approximately 75% of our tours, but we do not guarantee whale sightings. We will travel in areas where Humpback whales are known to feed, and where we have previously seen whales, but ultimately, they are wild animals.

Q: How close can we approach a humpback whale if we see one?

Federal regulations prohibit vessels from approaching within 100 yards of Humpback whales. For more information, visit NOAA’s page on Alaska marine mammal regulations and guidelines.

Out to Sea is a proud member of Whale SENSE, which is a voluntary education and recognition program sponsored by NOAA & Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Our participation means that in addition to following federal regulations, we are committed to responsible practices outlined by the program. Learn more about Whale SENSE.

Q: What are the chances of seeing a bear?

We have seen Black Bears on a handful of tours over the years, but it is not a common sight. If your goal is to see a Black Bear, we recommend booking a bear specific tour with one of several companies offering this type of activity in Ketchikan.

Q: What is a Zodiac?

A Zodiac is an open, inflatable boat. Specifically, we use fully inflatable Zodiac Milpro HD vessels which are designed with a low center of gravity, and redundant flotation chambers making these boats exceptionally seaworthy for their compactness. Without the barrier of windows, they are the ultimate platform for uninhibited marine exploration.

Our primary vessel for the Alaska Ocean Wilderness Expedition can comfortably seat up to 12 passengers and 2 crew. Guests sit on the side tube of the vessel with their feet under the foot strap, and a hand free for the lifelines.

Learn more about our boats.

Q: Where do I go for my tour?

The meeting location is: 124 Thomas Street Ketchikan, AK 99901

To avoid the crowds & chaos of the cruise ship docks, the meeting location is our outfitting space on historic Thomas Street in downtown Ketchikan. It is about a 10–15-minute walk from the cruise ship docks, and near popular attractions like Creek Street. Pickups from the downtown cruise ship docks are available upon request with at least 48 hours notice by calling +1 (907)-247-6441. For guests arriving at Ward Cove, we have ship specific instructions regarding transportation.

For guests staying in town and renting a car, parking is available on Thomas Street, or at the lot accessible from East Street (may appear as Inman St on Apple Maps).

Q: Is this a good tour for cruise ship travelers?

Yes! Our schedule is designed to have at least one departure time that will work for most ship port calls. We generally ask guests to arrive 15 minutes prior to their tour time, so they can use the restroom and put on rain gear. To avoid any stress about timing, we recommend that cruise ship travelers leave at least one hour from the time your tour returns and your all-aboard time. Not sure which tour time works best with your ship schedule? Call us at +1 (907)-247-6441 and we’ll set you up with the best option.

Q: How far are you from the cruise ship docks?

Our office & outfitting space is located in downtown Ketchikan on the south side of the Thomas Basin Boat Harbor at 124 Thomas Street. We are about a 10 minute walk (0.4 mi/0.6 km) from Berths 1 & 2, a 15 minute walk (0.6 mi/1 km) from Berth 3, and a 20 minute walk (1 mi/1.6 km) from Berth 4 & the Ward Cove shuttle drop off.

Q: I am arriving at Ward Cove, will this tour work for me?

Yes! While Ward Cove is a 25-minute drive from downtown Ketchikan, many guests from NCL and affiliated brands enjoy our Alaska Ocean Wilderness Expedition. For ships with short port calls (NCL Bliss & Encore) we will pick you up and drop you off at your ship terminal with a little bit of flex time built in to explore town. Guests with longer port calls can take the free shuttle into town at a time of their choosing to explore a little before their tour. Detailed instructions tailored to your ship will be sent to you after booking. You can also call us at +1 (907)-247-6441 to book a tour and arrange your ship specific Ward Cove transportation plan.

Q: How should I dress for this adventure?

We provide full rain gear (bibs & jacket), waterproof over boots to go over your street shoes, and a USCG approved life jacket. You should dress in warm layers* that can be removed and stowed in a provided waterproof dry bag if you get too warm. Keep in mind that even on warmer days, the temperature on the water and underway on the boat can be slightly colder. Most outdoor experts suggest wearing non-cotton clothing such as wool or polyester fleece when adventuring in our wet and often unpredictable climate. Sunglasses may be appreciated to keep sun and wind out of your eyes, and gloves & a hat can be nice for cooler days.

*Layers, Layers, Layers. You hear this a lot, but what does it mean? Generally, it is a system of clothing that consists of progressively thinner/thicker articles that can be added or removed to be perfectly comfortable for the current conditions and exertion level. Start with a thin base layer like a t-shirt or long-john top. The next layer is the mid layer and is usually a fleece, sweatshirt, or sweater. After that, if the weather is cooler, or if you are from a warmer climate, it is recommended to have an insulating layer like a puffy or thick winter coat. Often, our guests will bring this layer along in a drybag (provided) just in case. The last layer is the shell or rain gear layer and is provided by us. This layer blocks wind and keeps you dry, but doesn’t provide much insulation.

A note to the tough guys out there: If you do not dress in enough layers, it will not make you tougher. It will just make you a cold tough guy.

Q: What should I bring?

We recommend you bring your camera, a pair of binoculars if you have them (we have a few pairs on the boat), and any medication or personal items you do not want to be separated from for a few hours. Items can be placed along with any addition layers in the dry bags provided. While we provide a light snack, some parents may choose to bring additional snacks for the smallest explorers. Packs and larger items you do not wish to bring on the boat can be left securely inside our outfitting space.  

Most of all, you should bring your curiosity, love of the ocean, and a sense of adventure! 

Q: What kind of weather should I expect in Ketchikan?

Ketchikan is located in the Tongass National Forest which is the largest temperate rainforest covering almost 17 million acres of Southeast Alaska. On average, this area sees 12-13ft (3-4 m) of rainfall annually, so there is a good chance you will encounter rain while visiting Ketchikan! We would not have the beautiful emerald forests and abundant ecosystem without it.

The majority of our visitors arrive during the summer season (May-September), when the temperatures average around 50-60° F (10-15° C). Temperatures tend to be cooler at the beginning/end of the season and can climb to over 80° F (26 ° C) at times during the summer. The weather varies and conditions can change quickly, so it is best to prepare for everything with good gear & dressing in layers.

Q: Does this tour operate in the rain?

Yes! We like to say that you haven’t seen Ketchikan until you’ve experienced it in the rain. Imagine the smells of cedar & spruce as you inhale the fresh ocean air while raindrops fall on a lush rainforest landscape, and misty clouds rest against steep mountainsides as you explore along rocky shorelines and secret coves…this is Southeast Alaska.

Worried about getting wet? We have you covered. Literally. You will be dressed from head to toe in quality name brand rain gear. That being said, like any excellent adventure, there may be times of discomfort. We are visitors in a truly wild place. Some days might be cold and wet and bumpy. Some will find this exhilarating and fun, others not so much. The reason we like exploring via open Zodiac is the ability to experience this incredible environment uninhibited by the barriers of an enclosed boat, and sometimes that means exploring in the rain!

Worried about seeing wildlife? While we can’t guarantee specific wildlife regardless of the weather, marine wildlife is already wet! In Ketchikan, it rains over 200 days/year, so the wildlife is used to this rainforest environment.

Q: When do you cancel for weather?

We operate in any weather, rain or shine, as long as the sea conditions allow safe exploration. Occasionally, we may have to cancel or delay a sailing due to rough seas and high winds. If we cancel your excursion, we will communicate with you as soon as the decision is made. In the event of a cancellation, you will have the choice of a full refund or re-booking for a different day. The safety of our crew and guests is our number one priority.

Q: Will the water be rough? Will I get seasick?

Despite the name Out to Sea, we will not be going out to open ocean on our day tours. The waters surrounding Ketchikan are considered part of the Inside Passage, and are relatively protected from large ocean swells. That being said, sea conditions vary, and we may encounter choppier water at times. Many guests find that riding in an open boat with a view of the horizon prevents the seasickness that they have experienced on larger/enclosed vessels, but if you are prone to severe motion sickness, we recommend taking necessary precautions to ensure you will be comfortable on the water.

Q: What refreshments will be provided?

We provide locally roasted hot coffee, hot water for an assortment of teas or hot chocolate, and a light snack.

Q: Who can participate?

We recommend participants be at least 5 years of age for the Alaska Ocean Wilderness Expedition. Due to the unpredictable weather conditions and potential for rough seas, this tour may not be suitable for everyone. Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have about accessibility, or if you or a loved one will require accommodations to enjoy our tour.

Q: What is your cancellation policy?

Standard Tours:

Guests will receive a full refund or credit with 24-hour notice of cancellation. Guests will also receive a full refund or credit in case of operator cancellation due to weather, cruise ship, ferry, or flight delays/cancellation, or other unforeseen circumstances. Contact us by email or phone to cancel or inquire about a cancellation. No-shows will be charged the full price.

Private Tours

Guests will receive a full refund or credit with 14 days’ notice of cancellation. Within 14 days (up to 24 hours prior) of the tour departure, refunds will be processed minus a $250 cancellation fee. Guests will also receive a full refund or credit in case of operator cancellation due to weather, cruise ship delays, flight cancellations, or other unforeseen circumstances. Contact us by email or phone to cancel or inquire about a cancellation. No-shows will be charged the full price.

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