So you’ve booked Maui’s best whale watching tour! Check! .. And like any other adventure, it takes a little preparation for you to fully enjoy the experience!

What to wear whale watching is one of the top questions for many of our guests. If you know what to wear whale watching, it keeps you comfortable in all weather and ocean conditions.  

The right attire can make all the difference for your first whale watching encounter, so it’s best to do some homework! We put together some useful tips on how to dress for whale watching in the Maui Nui Basin on the island’s west coast:

Know It’s a Seasonal Affair

From December through April, humpback whales in the North Pacific migrate from Alaska to Hawaii. They spend all summer eating in Alaska and then return to Hawaii to mate and give birth. 

Most of the humpback whales that return to Hawaii reside in Maui, where the reef, water depth and temperature provide the optimal setting for mama whales raising their young. We operate our whale watching tours from the Lahaina Harbor in the Maui Nui Basin, the place of choice for these magnificent creatures to spend their winters with less threat from predators or weather variables. 

The waters in this area – and anywhere in Hawaii, for that matter – range from 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit all year.These warm waters allow humpback whales to spend their winters in Hawaii without eating, using their blubber (layers of fat) that keep them warm in Alaska’s cool waters, as food and energy when they are in Hawaii in the winter. 

Consider the Weather

Being a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Maui has a variety of climates that can change frequently and quickly. Although our temperatures are fairly consistent, wind, tropical rain and swell changes hourly and the temperature of the water mixes with the air temperature, creating its own weather conditions.

Lucky for us, the weather does not affect the whales! Humpback whales show active surface behavior in all weather, rain or shine. 

For whale watchers, the weather can have more of an effect, so it’s important to prepare for both sunshine and rain and wind, as tropical climate can vary on the ocean. There is even a chance you may get wet from rain or ocean spray on your whale watch, so layering your attire is key!

Understand the Different Vessel Sizes

 Our Zodiac small group rafts are one of the best options for whale watching. A better understanding of these vessels can help you decide what to wear for your whale watching tour.

At 27 feet long, our rafts can seat up to 24 guests. However, we do not seat more than 16 adults on a whale watching trip, keeping it comfortable for all passengers. Our vessels are also lower on the water, making encounters with whales at eye-level. These raft boats have a shade cover of about 60% as well. With these details in mind, expect the vessel to be open to the elements of sunshine, tropical rain and sea spray and dress appropriately.

Take Note of the Activities

While whale watching is mostly a viewing sport, you want to make sure you are dressed comfortably. The boat can be an adventurous ride and bringing a water resistant jacket can keep you comfortable if there is ocean spray on the low to water zodiac. 

You will be sitting and watching whales for the duration of the 2 hour tour. Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are ideal accessories for this outdoor activity. Occasionally, you may lean over the side of the boat to put your GoPro in the water for some epic whale video footage. So be sure not to bring too many extras or carry anything that can get in the way if you plan to move around and take photos.

What to Wear Whale Watching in Hawaii

Now that you’re familiar with how the weather, vessel type and activity style can affect your experience, here are some ideas to get you started in choosing the right gear for whale watching!

Find the Best Hats for on the Water

As mentioned earlier, the boat will provide some shade but the shade moves as the boat travels. Wearing a hat can help provide more shade for you during the tour!

Wearing a hat with a chin strap may be your best option for keeping your hat on when the boat is underway or if there is wind! Waterproof material and brimmed hats are great choices.

Bring Sunglasses for Protection

With Maui's tropical weather, there can be a sunny glare on the water's surface. Wearing sunglasses can add sun protection and may help you see the humpback whales better! Are there specific types of sunnies to wear? Yes! We recommend sunglasses with uv protection and polarized lenses. Maui Jims are one of our favorite local sunglass brands and have a shop right in Lahaina town!

Wear Proper Clothing

The basics: A shirt with a light jacket is recommended, paired with shorts or pants. Sometimes there can be tropical rain or ocean spray so having a rain jacket or a poncho can be helpful!

Life jackets are not required by the Coast Guard to be worn on the boat because the water is warm in Hawaii, but they're available on the boat and will be distributed to guests in case of an emergency. 

Don't Worry About Shoes

Our whale watching tours are barefoot charters, so wear shoes you can easily kick off and store at the harbor slip. If you have a medical condition that requires you to wear shoes, we can accommodate that as well.

Choose Reef-Safe Sunscreen 

If you need sunscreen, please bring reef-safe only. This would be a sunscreen without the chemicals oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene, octisalate, homosalate and octinoxate (Octyl Methoxycinnamate). We also provide reef safe sunscreen complimentary, in case you forget your zinc or mineral based product. 

Enjoy Watching Humpbacks

Now that you know what to wear whale watching in Hawaii, there's just one more thing left to do: Show up on the day of your booking in your well-prepared attire, and look forward to some unforgettable whale sightings!

If you still have questions about what to wear for whale watching in Hawaii, you can give us a call or send us a message!