Riptide Whale watching, Humpback whales, Gray whales, orca whales, Dolphins, Sea Otters, eco tour, nature trips, bird watching, San Francisco, San Mateo

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Whale Watching, humpback, orca, Dolphin, Nature Trips, Eco Tours, blue whales, porpoise, sea lion, San Francisco, sea otter, San Mateo, Northern California, humpback, gray,cetacia

Whales are awesome
and the sea is grand!
Whales are big
and the sea lions are abundant!

Whales are exciting
and porpoises are playful!
Whales are fun
and sea otters are a giggle!

Come soar with an Albatross or a Kestrel! 
See the new whale pictures
in the Photo Album & click on my new videos!!




video of whale spouting aboard the RIPTIDE  
(turn up your sound)



3 Hour  Tours  
leave at  9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
Beginners & individuals Welcome !
(minimum sign up required)
Full day trips leave at 7:00 am (Limited availability
(minimum sign up required)
We can customize schedules for your ocean adventure.

Join an open load with other guests.
Invite your friends and family for an exclusive charter!

Call for reservations! - 
888-747-8433 or
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mail to:  Capt. Smitty 


You can experience the awesome, big, and exciting fun of whales and the ocean's natural splendor aboard the Riptide!!

Want to get up close and personal with some of our famous California Sea Lions we can get you there.

TOLL FREE 888-747-8433
LOCAL 650-728-8433

We live in a unique part of the world where Mother Nature provides us with abundant bird and sea life. From the RIPTIDE you can watch Whales and Sea Otters and observe the many and varied forms of bird life that both live here and migrate through our part of the Pacific.  Call and we will help you design your own nature trip.

RIPTIDE CHARTERS is conveniently located at Pillar Point Harbor – the gateway to the beautiful San Mateo California Coast - just 25 miles south of San Francisco and 4 miles north of Half Moon Bay.

Whale watching and nature trips aboard the Riptide
can be arranged by calling us directly at

650-728-8433 or emailing us at: 

mail to:  Capt. Smitty 

Rates for these trips are available on our price page.  

Half Day Trips Depart at 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
Full Day Trips Depart at 7:00 a.m. These trips visit the Gulf of the Farallone National Marine Sanctuary, Ano Nuevo, or other points of interest.
(Departure times can be adjusted when you arrange an exclusive charter for your group.)

Call us! We will help you design a personalized tour. Riptide Sportfishing specializes in small groups, field trips for your school, church or club, and Corporate team building! (888)-RIPTIDE

Wondering what to bring?
Go to:  bring.htm

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West Coast Gray Whale Monitoring

Whale Watching:

Whale Watching:
     $40 Regular 3-hour tour
    Individuals and small groups welcome
    Private Charters for Whale Watching/Nature Trips 
Weekdays - up to 12 people  -  $480 (Regular 3-hour tour)
                                                                     ( High season possible 4 hour trips)
    Weekends - up to 15 people  -  $600 (Regular 3-hour tour)
                                                                     (High Season possible 4 hour trips)
Individuals and small groups must total a minimum of 8 passengers to run a trip


    Whale Watching All day trips are:
    $75 per person Weekdays
    $75 per person Weekends
    Minimum of 10 people required for open loads.
    Private Charters for Whale Watching/Nature Trips 
Weekdays - up to 12 people  -  $900(Regular all day tour)
    Weekends - up to 15 people  -  $1125 (Regular all day tour)

Riptide Sportfishing may cancel trips due to insufficient sign-ups. 
Children must be at least 7 years of age and accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
School groups/scout groups/private parties - children must have written permission from parent or legal guardian.


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Capt. Smitty's Notebook

We thought you might like some general information and vocabulary about the animals and birds you'll see during a nature trip aboard the Riptide, so we've taken some comments from the Captain's own notebook for you to review. Watch this page for future links to other information that will enhance your trip aboard the Riptide.

Gray Whales migrate through the bay area from around Christmas through may.
Humpback Whales are present off shore of the bay area all year around 
Blue Whales are generally present off shore and we encounter them from early summer through fall 



Some of the marine mammals in our local habitat are sea otters, whales, dolphins, and sea lions. The San Mateo coast is a special place to be able to view these animals in their natural habitat.

Although whales appear to look like fish, they are actually mammals. Whales are members of the scientific order of Cetacea and live in social groups. Distinguishing features of the order Cetacea (including whales, dolphins and porpoises) are two front flippers and uniquely shaped tails with horizontal extensions, called flukes. It is this tail that provides the necessary power for these large animals to be able to swim so gracefully.

Within the order Cetacea there are two suborders. The Odontoceti are toothed whales and this suborder includes dolphins, porpoises, the sperm whale, orca, narwhal, and beluga whales. These whales have teeth and breathe through a single blowhole. The second suborder, Mysticeti are baleen whales and includes the blue, gray, and humpback whales (as well as others not found along our coast). The baleen whale does not have teeth, instead they have rows of baleen throat pleats in the upper jaw which function to filter out and trap food. Baleen whales breathe through a pair of blowholes.

Like other mammals, whales are warm-blooded, nurse their young, and breathe air through their lungs. It is this need to come to the surface to breathe that affords us the opportunity to observe them. The whale has a "blowhole" located on the top of its head. This is similar to the human nostril and this is how the whale inhales and exhales air. Baby whales are borne underwater. The mother pushes the baby up to the surface right away so that the baby can get the first breath of air. There are more than 75 different kinds of whales. The mightiest is the Blue Whale. It is believed that this is the largest animal to ever live on earth – bigger even than the dinosaur. There are occasional sightings of a Blue Whale along our coastline.

Breaching is what whales do when they shoot out of the water like a rocket and then fall back into the ocean with a big splash. This may be done for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it is a signal to other whales; perhaps it is playful, perhaps it is to shake off small sea animals. Whales have barnacles attached to them that cannot be shaken off so easily.

The fluke is the end portion of the whale’s tail. The Humpback Whale’s fluke has unique patterns that serve as identifiers of individual animals similar to a fingerprint in a human being.

Spyhopping is what a whale does by poking its head out of the water. Maybe they do this to see what is happening out of the water or to see what boats are in the area today!

How do whales communicate? It is believed that whales use a series of squeaks, clicks, and whistles. You can buy recordings of whale sounds that are called "songs". Scientific research continues to explore the way and why of how whales communicate.

Along the San Mateo Coast, we primarily see the Gray Whale and the Humpback Whale.
Gray Whales can grow to a very large size with males averaging 40 ft. and females 42 ft. The Gray Whale is generally dark gray in color with mottling patterns of white patches that are used by scientists to identify individual animals. The Gray Whale migrates along our coastline each year between Baja California and the Arctic. This migration places the Gray Whale in our area usually between December through March.

Humpback Whales have very long flippers. Males average 48 ft. in length and females are usually somewhat longer. Humpbacks are almost black in color with white along their flippers and undersides. The tail flukes have their own unique pattern of white. Humpbacks swim in pods of three or four as they migrate. In recent years, Humpback Whales have been seen with greater frequency in our area. It is believed that some of the Humpback Whales are making this area a semi-permanent home which enhances the possibility of observing the Humpback Whale during your whale watching adventure.

Dolphins are sometimes seen swimming with the whales. Dolphins are the smallest of the Cetaceans. Dolphins are very playful and they like to swim near boats riding in the wave that the boat makes.

Captains Log

March 2009


I truly do love watching and sharing the experience of aquatic life with others.

Today was a great example. Our afternoon trip left a little ahead of schedule as everyone arrived early. When we pulled out of the harbor, I observed that the wind and seas were up a little bit from my morning trip. After turning at the harbor entrance buoy and starting to head off shore, I saw the first blow of a whale. Now, as I slowed down, and alerted my passengers to keep there eyes open, I saw another blow from a whale in the distance up towards Mavericks. Mavericks is the place where the surf contest is held for “Men who ride Mountains”! These blows are from the northerly migrating Gray whales. At this time of the year, they tend to be close to the shore as they head back up to Alaska.

As I was tracking these magnificent animals along the cost, we kept seeing more and more in the distance ahead of us. I must admit this was an unusual day as these Grays were really in a hurry heading back up the coast. We were following them at 6 knots! This is very fast for Gray’s. Normally they swim at a walks pace! These guys were up to a jogging speed for them. We had to head right into the seas and wind to keep up with the whales. But I had passengers geared up and ready with rain gear and they were up on the bow loving the feel of the wind and salty spray as they were pointing to different whales and shouting THERE SHE BLOWS!!!

 A wonderful taste of the raw energy of this world that we so humbly sit in our shelters and forget…

 It was wonderful to share my aquatic world with those who would venture out upon the ocean!

Capt. Smitty



A letter from a happy nature observer!

Captain Smitty,

Thank you and Zack for a good two days.  I hope we have the chance to repeat the trip multiple times in the coming years.
I am still sorting through the images, and have been delayed by the normal deluge of life events.
Darlene really enjoyed the experience.
With respect to photography in your environment, a lot  of the reason photos do not come out is the conditions and how the cameras respond to them.  It is not solely how fast the camera responds, although speed is helpful.  The obvious problems are movement - seas, boat, photographer, and subject.  The other part is that as the movement occurs the camera focus point changes continuously.  It appears that there is focus, but the movement changes the focus point and it happens without the photographers knowledge.

For occasional sailors like me, it also takes several days to get sea legs and start having the body automatically adapt to and lessen the movement.  Also each boat is different, and it takes some days and different sea conditions to adjust.  For example, the second day had a 300-500% higher success ratio.

Things that help improve chances of success are higher ISO ratings, using a larger lens opening (say f2.8 vs f5.6), not zooming in too close, and using lens that have less magnification.  Once the images start coming out better, then the settings can be adjusted appropriately.

In some cases, the great shots have an element of luck - you need to be facing the right way when the event happens, be in good position, have the sun in the right place, and have the right lens (magnification).    It also helps me to not have the camera decide on the settings, but for me to do it manually.  This again takes more time to work out the mechanics of the process.  In most cases the event being photographed is over in a few seconds, and some times less - a lot less time than we think.

I have seen some great shots taken with point and shoot cameras by complete amateurs at the same time well know professionals did not get anything.

Your boat is really good for getting ocean level eye views.  This situation is very good for getting birds taking off from the water, and for the sea lion movements.  I would like to have a lot more such opportunities.  The problems I encountered were mainly my getting adjusted to the perspective.  Even after you photograph from everything from a skiff to 100+ footers, it still takes time to get it right on each different boat.

There was a bigger diversity of sea life recorded on my images than I expected - mostly a range of bird species.  I have not fully sorted them all out yet.

The bird diversity also was greater around the islands, and also there was a greater density.

Again thank you for two great days.






Our most resent trip for watching Gray whales was great. We were just barely outside of the buoy's when the first Pair of whales were sighted! Then towards "PP" buoy we saw another pair and we slowly motored over to watch them. When they went down yet another pair was sighted back by #2 Buoy! By the end of the day we had made 4 big circles and had good sightings all throughout the trip!



Ahoy there one and all!
Well is seems as if there has been an abundance of Humpback whales this
year close to shore. We ran another trip today (12/18/04). There has been
an abundance of bait about 6 to 8 miles off shore for most of the year
and the whales have been hanging in this food. Well, I don't blame them! I really don't like getting too far away from my lunch either! The weather was fantastic. There was no breeze off shore with there being a good size swell running. I had been showing my customers the spots of
bait which were dimpling the surface of the water and the birds feeding on the bait.
Zack, the deckhand spotted two whales and we were off to get a little
closer although I do try to hang well back so the animals can get used to
our presence. We were following an adult whale which was cursing along
to the south east. We were going slow when the whale became curious about us and decided to come over and give us a closer look. He crossed our bow twice as I took the boat out of gear to try and stay behind him. After letting him swim well ahead we started to head back to the dock with everyone talking about how friendly the whale was and how warm the day was as well.
This is also the start of the Gray whale migration season as well and we are anticipating a great season for the grays as their population has been steadily growing!!

We are truly lucky to be in such a great harbor that is so close to
their path of travel and are able to observe these magnificent creatures on their
migration both south to Mexico and then upon the return trip back to Alaska.
We look foward to the 2005 season!!

Capt. Smitty



Ahoy there one and all!

Well this has proven to be an absolutely fantastic time for whale watching! On our last three trips we have seen more whales than customers!!!! The humpback whales have been thicker than fleas on a camel! On our last trip we were out about 6 miles off shore when we found 8 whales that were all around the boat! people on the bow were pointing foward and people on the stern were pointing aft and the people on both sides were pointing out the sides! It was difficult to decide which ones to follow! What to do!? I just took the boat out of gear, turned off the engine and let the whales circle around the boat! Seeing hearing and unfortunately smelling them! You have never experienced halitoses untill you have smelled a whale's breath (they do not floss or brush). It is enough to knock you over!

The whales were feeding on sardines and they were lunge feeding as well as making a bubble ring which is the frst time I have seen them do this in our area. When whales make a bubble ring, the whale dives down and swims in a circle tightly blowing bubbles. Seeing this bubble ring on the surface is interesting enough but to see the whale rise up with his mouth open and filling his buccale cavity (mouth) with all of the water and sardines rising up into the air with the water and sardines pouring out is a spactular site! It takes a lot to impress me but I must admit I was enthralled by the site!!!!!

These are truly awsome creatures! worthy of our respect! Kind of makes me feel humble in the great scheme of things.
We shall be running these trips all throughout the season as the humpbacks are here almost all year around. Fortunately for us they are stayting close to our shore. so come and share in there anticks!

Capt. Smitty

Ahoy there one and all!

Here is hoping that everyone has had a healthy and happy Holiday season!
We are looking forward to the 2004 year with great expectations! Both the
Whale Watching and fishing should bring great opportunities for you to
enjoy the beautiful Pacific Ocean. 
The ocean has yielded many opportunities this year for running many
nature trips. Our last full day trip out to the Farrallone Islands was a
fantastic day. We kept finding more and more humpback whales as we headed
to the islands. We had to make the decision to start to pass by the
whales we were continuing to see around us in order to reach our
destination. Upon reaching the anchorage we were greeted by a juvenile
Gray whale!! We then proceeded into the anchorage to watch many different
sea birds which never come to shore, such as Tufted Puffin (Lunda
Cirrhata). We were able to see the elephant seals hauled out on the rocky
We departed to circumnavigate the island showing everyone the stark rocks
and arches.. We then started to head south to see if we could get the
triple crown of whales and find a blue whale. After running south for 20
minuets there was a call that a great white shark had attacked a sea
lion! But we were too far away to return to be able to observe. It was
about then we found a pod of Pacific white sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus
obliquidens )! These animals were very playful and stayed with us until,
for some reason only known to them, they all took off towards the west.
Then a blue whale was sighted, but he was traveling so fast we could not
catch up to him. It is amazing how fast the biggest animals in the world
can travel! 
Our 3-hour trips this year have successful as well! On our last trip out
we caught up with a gray heading south and also another group of
The 2003 season was great with seeing many different kinds of life like
Sea Leatherback Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) and we even got a picture
of the turtle before he departed ( ). I
have also added some video of humpback whales as well to our web site!
Please enjoy them as we did!
We hope that you will continue to join us in experiencing the grandeur of
nature and join us once again for an eco adventure! 

Capt. Smitty


Ahoy there!

Well what a start to the month of September and a great Labor day! We went out chasing whales today and had a great showing of humpbacks! We found a group of six whales! Everyone was getting excited as we approached them slowly and from a good distance! When i saw them start to turn i stopped the boat so we could figure out where they would pop up again on this flat FLAT calm day. 
I was giving everyone some basic information on the Humpback whales when one surfaced next to the boat! Then the second one made a dramatic appearance behind the boat by jumping COMPLETELY out of the water! Which startled everyone seeing as the whale was about two boat lengths away! Thank god i was out of gear and just sitting there dead in the water as this whale breached again and then one more time for good measure! What a spectacular show these animals were giving us!! Gosh with whales in front, Whales behind all i had to do is sit there with the boat still and the whales were performing all around us! When it was time to head back in I looked around the decks at all of the smiling faces and realized that it is days like this that is the reason why I love this work. Now if i can just get it to pay all of my bills!!!

Capt. Smitty

January 2003

Ahoy there! 

On our last trip we saw one gray whale but were stopped by a herd of Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)!! There were between 400 and 500 of the animals swimming along with the boat! Truly an exciting experience for everyone on board! No matter what direction you looked around the boat you saw them some close enough to touch! Others jumping as high as the railing on the boat! Playing and frolicking with the bow wake and surfing through it as well as the stern wake! I am adding some pictures for you to enjoy here as well! 
Till we see you on board!


click on pic's to enlarge

Dolphins jumping.JPG (326897 bytes)     best many jumpers.JPG (568914 bytes)    jumping.JPG (221888 bytes)
for more information go to :
bottlenose dolphin


July 2002

Ahoy there!


We ran a whale watching trip on Thursday for a private group from the new Ritz- Carlton Resort in Half Moon Bay. We were planning to run offshore about 12 to 15 miles in search of the humpback whales that have been out there for several months. The weather was good with just a 4 to 8 knot breeze out of the northwest and calm seas.


As we were running offshore Heather (our deckhand) excitedly announced that she saw spouts!! Upon turning and slowing down, we were greeted by 2 BLUE WHALES!!! We were only 5 miles off the beach!! What a fabulous show that put on for us! And there was another BLUE WHALE that was shy and finally joined the other two after realizing we were no threat as we stayed a respectful distance from them. Sighting BLUE WHALES so close was a special treat! We spent the entire trip with them as they were very cooperative animals.

  Blue whales are the largest animals in the world! These were about three times the size of our boat!

  Earlier in the year we had a group of three humpback whales that, after turning off the engines, circled the boat and literally were looking at everyone on board watching us watch them! The water was very clear that day and we could see them swimming under the boat as well! These are truly intelligent animals when they will stop and examine us as we watch them. It is very exciting to have such interaction with these magnificent animals on their terms. Some boats seem to put the animals at ease and some seem to ward them off. The RIPTIDE is one of the lucky kinds that seem to put these animals at ease.

  Till next time!


Febuary 2002

What a great time we have had for our last four trips! We have seen 27 GRAY WHALES! Everyone on the boat kept pointing in different directions and shouting "THERE SHE BLOWS"!  We are starting to see the whales returning up ( north) along the coast.  This is a great time of the year when we see groups of these magnificent animals. We should also start to see the females with there calfs soon also.


September 2001

We ran an all day trip to hunt and see if we could find a BLUE whale. Boy did we have SUCCESS!!! We were about 26 miles west of the harbor on a flat calm ocean. When we saw a straight vertical blow! Knowing this to be how the BLUE whale spouts we started in that direction to only discover that there were 3 animals there! These whales are fast travelers and we were keeping up with them ,watching at a respectful distance when we spotted another group of animals. We decided to go and investigate these whales as we had been following the Blues for about half an hour. As we got closer to the next group of whales it was determined that they were Humpback whales!  As we got closer to them we were awed by the fact that there were 28 separate Humpback whales in the area! There was a tremendous amount of feed in the area so there were many of different sea birds there feeding as well. We saw a bigger commotion on the horizon and we went to see what this was. Well let me tell you that everyone was hooting and hollering over seeing a pod of 9 KILLER WHALES!! After watching them and knowing that time was running out we started to head back to port when we came upon a group of approximately 100 ( too many for me to count)  Porpoises and dolphins!
This had to be one of the very best days that I have had in my 29 years of running boats!

May 2001

We were on a mission today to find
Humpback whales! Boy, let me tell you how lucky we were! We observed about ten whales on our morning trip (about ten miles west of the harbor)! We were fortunate to have some really great weather and calm seas. At one point in the morning trip we had the whales all around the boat . We had difficulty in picking which of the ten whales to watch! 

For our afternoon trip we went back out to the same area and found a group of three whales that were very playful and when I shut down the engine they came right up to the boat!! They were within ten feet of the boat as we drifted along while they circled and played alongside. We could actually watch them watching us!! This was an incredible trip for everyone - including the captain! We drifted with these whales for better than an hour. When it was time to go and I started the engine and put the boat in gear to leave the humpbacks kept popping up in front of the boat stopping me from going! They really seemed to want to continue playing with us! As we pulled away they finally started to swim, keeping up with us for awhile! What playful animals! This is a true day to remember!

March 2001

Our latest adventure we were seeing the start of the northerly migration of Gray whales. We were very fortunate to see a total of 11 whales for the day! There was one calf with the group we saw in the morning. There was also a group of three sea otters at the buoys to the entrance of the harbor. It is truly amazing that these animals population has made such a remarkable come back from the brink of extinction! The current estimate is that there are approximately 20,000 animals now. When they were added to the endangered species list there population was estimated to be about 500 animals! A shining example of how this program can make a difference!!

February 2001
We have had a great start to the Gray whale migration this year!! From our first trip and up to now the whales have been cooperative and have been heading south. We are seeing larger groups of whales now as the first whales to move through the area are the pregnant females in a big hurry to get to the calving grounds in Mexico.  On our last trip we saw a group of 4 and 2 whales basically traveling together but spread out a bit.  With the increase in there populations we will be seeing allot of them spread out over the course of the season and it seems every year there is more animals spread out over a longer time! This is great news for them and us!! See you aboard the RIPTIDE!!

Whale photo courtesy of the NOAA Central Library Photo Collection (

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