Subject: Re: Whale watching from sailboats

Kim Marshall (
Thu, 3 Sep 1998 10:09:54 -0400

>I was sailing two weeks ago in a 30 foot sail boat, west of Stellwagen
>bank, when I saw a group
>of whales (5 or 6) all in a line heading west.  They were probably about
>500 meters away.  I was wondering if you have any information about how
>to behave when watching whales (how to get closer, what the rules and
>regulations are, etc.).  Is there a web site, book, or person I could
>consult about this?
>Andreas Hofmann

Hi Andreas,
Yes there are requlations  on how to approach whales in boats required by
the coast guard with whale watch boats in mind.  In general the rules are
as follows:
When in sight of whales (less than 1500 ft) avoid excessive speed or sudden
changes in speed or direction.
Close Approaches (less than 600  ft away): approach stationary whales at no
more than idle or "no wake" spped and keep a parallel course and speed of
moving whales.  Do not attempt a head on approach to moving or resting
When less than 300 ft. away - do not crowd whales or box them in with other
boats, be respectful and take turns following the above rules.  The vessel
should limit its time to 15 minutes.
Do not approach a whale within 100 ft. and if they approach you put engine
in neutral and do not engage props until whales are observed at the
surface, clear of the vessel.
Diving or swimming on whales is considered to an intentional approach and
may be considered a violation of federal law.  Feeding is against the law.
Right whales fall under a different regulatory area:  It is illegal to
approach closer than 500  yds to any right whale (See 50CFR part 222.32
Chapter 20) of US Coast Guard Pilots inf.  book.

This should help you but I encourage you to contact the US Coast Pilots for
more detailed information. Thank you for your concern in this matter.
Take care, Kim

Kim Marshall-Tilas                                   (781) 259-0423
Whale Conservation Institute                          fax: 259-0288
191 Weston Road                      website:
Lincoln, MA  01773
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