Research Vessel Sea Explorer FAQs


Is your boat Coast Guard certified? 

The Research Vessel Sea Explorer is inspected by the United States Coast Guard annually. Inspections include review of the safety equipment, boat maintenance, and tests for the crew on man overboard and fire drills. We are pleased to say that we continually impress the Coast Guard officers with our professionalism and efficiency.

What is the life jacket policy on the Sea Explorer?

Life jackets are ONLY distributed in the event of an emergency.

Are trips ever cancelled? If so, what is the policy? 

If a cruise is cancelled due to extreme weather or some unforeseen event, your ticket will be refunded or you can reschedule the trip for a later date.

What time of year will I see whales/dolphins?

Although we can’t guarantee that you will see a whale, we do guarantee that you will have a great time on the water! Gray Whales pass by southern California between December and May and are most commonly seen in February and March while making their annual migration to and from the lagoons in Baja California and Alaska. Blue Whale season usually begins in late June and can run through October. Fin and Minke Whales can occasionally be seen any time of the year.

Four species of dolphin inhabit the local waters during various times of the year. Year-round we encounter Common Dolphins. They inhabit almost every ocean in the world and congregate into large groups that can number into the thousands. We also see Bottlenose Dolphins on a fairly regular basis. The more seasonal visitors are Pacific White-side Dolphins (late fall to winter) and Risso’s Dolphins.

As the ocean is ever-changing, no two trips are ever the same!

What type of other animals can I expect to see on my trip?

Here along the coast of Dana Point we have a rich diversity of animal life. Most of our trips start with a look at the local marine bird species, which may include Gulls, Pelicans, Cormorants, Rock Doves, Egrets, Herons, Black Oystercatchers, and Ospreys.

A large concentration of California sea lions inhabits the area year-round.

What do you do if someone gets seasick?

Our staff are trained to help make you feel comfortable during the trip. If you know that you or someone else suffers from seasickness, we suggest that you eat beforehand, as a full stomach helps relieve symptoms. Ginger root and over the counter medicines can also help with seasickness. Check with your health care provider about those options.

What should I bring?

The Ocean Institute requires closed-toed shoes. There are no food services available at the Ocean Institute or on the R/V Sea Explorer. We recommend bringing snacks, water and a light jacket and/or dressing in layers. Alcoholic beverages and smoking are not allowed on board.

What qualifications do the captains have?

All of the captains are Coast Guard certified and have the appropriate 100 ton license. Our captains have a wealth of experience in driving the Sea Explorer and a variety of other vessels throughout their careers. Our lead captain has been working on the Sea Explorer for over 15 years. You can be assured that our captains will provide all participants with a safe and enjoyable trip.

Who are the Research Vessel Sea Explorer staff on the trip?

All crew members have a college degree in biology, ecology, teaching, or other relevant field. On your trip, you will have a lead biologist/naturalist, as well as at least two other biologists narrating the adventure. All of our crew have been background checked and are on the Coast Guard drug testing program.

What makes the Ocean Institute’s whale watching trips different than other organizations?

You may notice that the Ocean Institute, including its vessels, is an educational organization. We frequently collaborate with other organizations and universities on their scientific research projects. We have the capability of deploying plankton nets, benthic samplers, a hydrophone, and an underwater camera to give our guests a unique experience while on a cruise. Overall, you will see that our staff are passionate and excited to share their knowledge of, and experience with, the fascinating ocean environment.

What is the maximum number of passengers on the trip?* 

The R/V Sea Explorer’s official Coast Guard-regulated capacity is 83, however we limit our Whale Watching and Bioluminescence trips to 60 people.

*Special event cruises may have lower or higher limits.