Boating Near Marine Wildlife - Sailors for the Sea

Boating Near Marine Wildlife

Ensure that you have a memorable experience without disturbing marine wildlife by following a few simple guidelines. 

Join Our Green Boating Community

One of the many joys of boating is being able to see marine wildlife. However, encounters with boats can be dangerous or deadly for these beautiful creatures, and sometime hazardous for the boat too!

Before you go out boating research what types of marine wildlife may be living in or near your local waterways. Remember, some species are migratory. Here are some guidelines to follow to ensure that you have a memorable experience without disturbing wildlife.

How to view marine wildlife?

  • Remain at least 100 yards (300 feet) away from all marine wildlife.
  • Depending on the region in the U.S. and the species, there may be stricter guidelines or laws (e.g. Under federal law, boats may not approach within 500 yards of a North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species with only around 330 individuals remaining). 
  • Limit your viewing time to no more than 30 minutes. You may not be the only boat during the day to view the same animal. If another boat is already viewing, wait your turn and don’t crowd the animal. Be careful not to trap the animal between yourself, other boats and the shore.

whale, breaching

  • If a marine mammal approaches you, reduce speed and put your engine into neutral. If sailing, drop your sails and put your engine on in neutral. Do not re-engage until the animal has vacated the vicinity.
  • Never chase an animal. Try to stay behind them at all times and avoid sudden changes in speed and direction. Remember that whales and other marine mammals may surface in unpredictable locations.
  • Be especially vigilant if you spot a mother and her young, and try not separate them.
  • If the animal exhibits behaviors that indicate it is stressed (erratic swimming pattern, aggressive behavior, prolonged diving, etc.), leave the area immediately.  
  • If you see a sick or injured animal, DO NOT attempt to aid or rescue it yourself.

How to view seabirds and shorebirds?

  • Use binoculars to observe birds from a safe distance.

bird watching, puffins, seabirds

  • Do not touch any bird. In most cases it is illegal for you to touch or otherwise physically disturb an active nest.
  • Nest sites are especially vulnerable to human disturbance. If young birds are disturbed close to fledging, this often causes them to leave the nest prematurely.

Why is feeding wildlife harmful?

  • Consuming unsuitable food endangers their health.
  • Feeding changes their behavior, their migratory activity and decreases their need to forage for their usual food sources. These behaviors may be passed down to their young and other social group members.
  • They lose their natural cautiousness of boats and humans and can become conditioned to receiving handouts. Some can then become aggressive and have the potential to become dangerous towards people when expecting food.

What can you do for stranded or injured marine wildlife?

  • For any entangled marine animals at sea, immediately call U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16 or the NOAA Marine Entanglement Hotline at 1-800-900-3622 or 866-755-NOAA.

seal, entanglement, fishing gear

  • For stranded marine animals, contact local authorities in your region specializing in:

                         o   Marine Mammals
                         o   Sea Turtles

sea turtle, entanglement, fishing gear

  • Be prepared to provide the following information:

                       o   Your name, address and phone number
                       o   Location and time of incident
                       o   What you saw (photos, video or a detailed description are invaluable)
                       o   Identification of animal if possible (include any marks or scars)
                       o   Animal’s condition (weak, thin, etc.)
                       o   Weather conditions

What should you do if you have a collision with a marine animal?

  • Immediately hail the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16
  • Document as many details as possible. 
  • If the collision is with a whale, report the incident to the International Whaling Commission. The reports are confidential and are used to better understand migratory whale behavior. 

Did you know?

  • The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) protects all marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, manatees, dugongs, sea otters and polar bears within U.S. waters. It illegal to take marine mammals without a permit and people may not harass, feed, hunt, capture, collect, or kill any marine mammal.