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preparing for long boat trips

Prepping for Long Boat Trips

Tips & Tricks for Setting Sail for Weeks or Months at a Time

 

In times like these, when the world is encouraging you to stay safe, there is no reason staying safe cannot mean setting sail and living on your boat for awhile. After all, we see an extended boating trip as the perfect answer to self-isolation and physical distancing.

longer yacht trips - enjoying the lifestyle

So, whether you have been thinking about taking a longer boating trip for awhile now, or the idea has just come to you, here’s how to prepare for extended trips on your boat or yacht. We will cover things like:

  • planning your route,
  • getting the boat ready,
  • provisioning and packing supplies, and
  • making sure your home on land is looked after

Below are the most common types of preparations involved when planning for your extended boating trip.

 

Planning Your Route

The best part of planning a boating trip happens right at the start, with the planning of the trip itself. This includes coming up with a loose itinerary, picking the majority of the stops you would like to make, highlighting any new spots you would like to visit, and noting any friends or family who you want to meet up with along the way, either on water or on land.

The specifics of your trip will depend on a few things, such as:long yacht trip - leaving canada

  • If you’ll be crossing international waters, you’ll need passports for everyone on board, as well as an updated insurance policy that covers you in the countries you are planning on visiting.
  • If you’ll be travelling with your family or travelling with pets, you’ll have extra considerations to make for each situation.
  • If the weather or climate is unpredictable where you’re headed, you’ll need clothing and possibly extra equipment for the unexpected.
  • If you’ll be docking up at a marina for overnight stays rather than anchoring offshore, you’ll need to budget for this.
  • If you’ll be packing most of your own groceries, follow our guide to stocking the best foods for your yacht.

While planning your route, it can be handy to consult those who have been there before you, and those boaters are happy to share their experiences. Meet other boaters at your local marina and through yachting and cruising groups and forums on social media. Follow your favourite boating websites, and pick up physical copies of boating magazines, cruising guides, and annotated charts. You should stay on the lookout for localized information on:

  • Top-rated routes, tracks, and safe passages
  • Notable depth and shoaling challenges
  • Placements of navigational markers
  • Tides and currents
  • Locations and opening times of locks and gates
  • Nearby marinas and potential anchorages

Always have a Plan B when planning your itinerary (the B stands for Backup). Unpredictable weather or issues with the boat might mean you have to change course from time to time. Talk to any experienced boater and they will all tell you the same thing: don’t travel on a set schedule. Pressing ahead through dicey weather conditions just to get somewhere “on time” is just not worth the risk, so don’t be rigid with your scheduling.

Lastly, remember to download the latest charts and update any related software that relates to the regions you will be cruising to before leaving the dock.

 

Prepping the Boat

Once you have a vague idea of where you’ll be going and for how long, it’s time to turn your attention to your boat. Depending on the age of your vessel, how often it gets out, and how it is stored, a mechanical or maintenance check might provide peace of mind.

Prepping the boat typically means inspecting the entire vessel for any potential mechanical problems or safety issues, as well as topping up your tanks. More specifically, preparing your boat involves:

  • Topping up all fluid levels
  • Checking all hoses and lines for leaks or crackslong boat trips - sailing around the world
  • Inspecting your hull for cracks or other damage
  • Checking all navigational equipment
  • Making sure your VHF radio is in good working order
  • Fuelling up the boat
  • Fuelling up and inspecting the tender for any issues
  • Filling up the water tanks
  • Cleaning the strainers
  • Checking the AC filter
  • Checking your generator and battery power
  • Ensuring your spare parts are on board
  • Ensuring you have both your travel and dock lines

Also check up on your required safety equipment, such as life jackets, to make sure they’re all accounted for and in good working order. Things like fire extinguishers and flares expire, for example, and first aid kits have been known to get depleted from time to time, so it’s important to check these things before any length of boating trip.

You might also consider cruising with additional safety equipment like a life raft, a satellite phone, and an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. Transport Canada has more information on preparing your boat for long boating trips in its Safe Boating Guide.

 

Provisioning and Packing

The next category of long boat trip planning has to do with packing all the right supplies. This involves a certain amount of provisioning and creative packing solutions.

prepping for long boat trips - stocking your galley

Packing just the right amount of food, clothing, and entertainment options takes a bit of trial and error. There is a bit of an art to packing just enough, packing only what you’ll use, and packing only what you have room for.

You’ll pick up tips and tricks along the way, but for now the three biggest tips we have for you are to:

  • Pack everything in soft-sided luggage rather than hard-cased luggage, as soft luggage is much easier to store in tight spaces.
  • Get rid of as much packaging as you can before setting sail, especially if you’re packing new toys for the kids, new tubes of toothpaste, and flat packs of pops and juice – leave the cardboard behind!
  • Check on your provisions from last season, and toss anything that might be past its due date.

If you’re stocking your boat for the first time, check out our guide to stocking your galley with the best foods, cleaning supplies, and more. Also check out our list of important items to bring on your boat, which should assist greatly during this step.

 

Securing the Homefront

Just like any standard vacation, an extended period away from your home on land requires some preparation. Be sure to make these arrangements ahead of time:

  • Arrange from a neighbour or family member to regularly check on your house, water your plants, and collect your mail.
  • Book any necessary medical appointments to fill prescriptions and see your dentist.
  • Clean up the yard and stow away anything that could tempt a thief.
  • Winterize your home if you’re planning a winter get-away.

 

Once you have these items checked off your to-do list, all there is left to do is hope for the best weather possible as you set sail for your big adventure.

For more boating tips from Van Isle Marina, be sure to check out the rest of our blog.

yacht renovations - how to

Renovating an Older Yacht

Thinking About Renovating a Yacht as a Hobby Project?
Here’s What to Expect

 

There are many different scenarios that might see you one day staring down a decades-old boat on land from bow to stern, wondering, “Where do I even start?” Perhaps you’ve recently bought a pre-owned boat and are looking to make it your own. Or maybe your existing boat needs a few repairs and modern enhancements. It might even be that you have just inherited a boat that’s been in storage for so long and needs a little work before she is seaworthy again.

Whatever the case may be, restoring an older yacht can be a fun, rewarding endeavour. Just keep the following steps in mind to know what to expect when it comes to restoring an older boat or tackling your upcoming yacht restoration project.

renovating yachts - tools required

Step 1. Take an Inventory of Your Tools and Workspace

Before you begin, take a look at your tools and workspace. Do you have what it takes to pull this off (an electric buffer, demolition tools, etc.)? Do your friends and family have tools to lend you? If not, having to acquire these tools will factor into your restoration budget.

Step 2. Wash the Entire Vesselrenovating yacht - clean the boat

Thoroughly clean your boat from top to bottom, and from stem to stern to get a sense of what exactly you are working with. This includes removing all the water, leaves, and other organic matter from the boat.

Pro Tip: If you’ve purchased your pre-owned boat from a broker, this step has likely been done already.

Step 3. Take a Visual Inspection of What Needs Fixing and Replacing

Start identifying everything that is visually broken, damaged, or otherwise falling apart, and make a list! This could include things like:

  • Crazed and cracked fibreglass
  • Torn, ripped, or mouldy upholstery
  • Rotting or decaying wood components
  • A shabby-looking cabin or galley
  • A dull, chalky looking hull
  • Peeling no-slip paint on the deck
  • A cracked or foggy windshield
  • Rusty components

Depending on time and budget, you might have to pick and choose what DIY projects you realistically want to take on. For example, if your hull has just lost its shine but is in otherwise good condition, you are likely able to buff it back to life yourself. However, if your upholstery needs work too, this is a more challenging DIY project and a professional re-upholstery company will be worth every penny.

Step 4. Inspect the Vessel’s Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Components

Examine the mechanical components of the boat and continue adding to your list of repairs. Check all the electrical components, including all the vessel’s lights, electrical outlets, heating and cooling systems, appliances, sinks, toilets, and shower. Ensure you’ve removed any old fuel from the fuel tank and any lingering oil from the engine and gear case. Replace any old belts and hoses on the engine.

Pro Tip: A marine technician can complete this step for you and provide a more comprehensive report on the vessel’s power systems. In many cases this is done prior to the purchase of a used boat, giving you a better idea of what the project will entail.

Step 5. Pay Special Attention to the Hull

Another area to pay special attention to is not just the cosmetics of the hull, but the through-hull fittings. Make sure they are rust-free and are still properly sealed. While you’re in the area, check the conditions of the seacocks and the cleats. If any appear to be rusted, broken, or missing altogether, these items are all relatively cheap to replace.

Step 6. Make a Wishlist of Features, Amenities, and Upgrades

If time and budget are on your side, make another list of all the add-ons you’d love to have on this boat. Keep things in scope by first thinking ahead to your intended uses for the boat. If this boat will mainly be used for fishing excursions, brainstorm all the fishing amenities you’d like to see such as rod holders, rod storage, and a livewell.

If you’ll be living in the boat part-time on the water, consider upgrading or adding to the appliances in the galley. You can also look at things like adding a laundry closet, carving out more storage space if you’re doing a deep reno, and adding newer navigational equipment.

Not sure what add-ons are even possible? Check out the floor plans of today’s modern luxury motor yachts on the market that are within the same size as what you’re working with, and you’ll get a sense of all the potential layouts, amenities, and modern touches you might want to add to this boat. Think about things like USB phone chargers, LED TVs, and sound systems that will make owning a boat that much more enjoyable.renovating yachts - strip the paint and varnish

Step 7. Get Started on the Project

With your lists in hand, it’s time to get started with your restoration project! At this point you can re-evaluate the items you want to tackle yourself, or start to call in the experts. A lot of help can be found on YouTube, on boating forums, and by talking to other boat owners who have already been where you are. Look at boating magazines and different boats for sale on the internet for visual inspiration of what’s possible.

Finding the Right Boat to Restore

Finding a boat to restore is similar to buying a boat you plan on enjoying right away. You need to consider things like what you plan to use the boat for, where you plan on storing the boat when it’s not in use, and what size and age of boat your budget will realistically afford you. All of these things are considerations for any boat purchase.

For a restoration project, storage considerations and budget should be looked at a lot more closely, as does your skill level. Be realistic about how long the boat project will take you, and where your skill level is at if the restoration is going to be a true DIY. If you think 3 months, and it ends up being 3 years due to life’s circumstances interfering with things, then that’s a lot of additional storage time you have to consider if you’re paying to store the vessel somewhere. And depending on the make and model, there could be too much depreciation if you’re planning to resell.

If budget, time, and skill level are factors, start small. The smaller the boat, the quicker the retrofit in most cases. And, if you’re just starting out, definitely avoid boats with no salvageable equipment. If the boat is just a shell, replacing gear, seating, and fibreglass components is going to far exceed the end value of the boat. Also avoid boats with major structural defects. The repair job on these types of boats is likely to be beyond cosmetic and require more equipment than the average DIYer has at home in the garage.

Likewise, if you’re looking to fix the boat up to eventually resell it, check the market before settling on something. A boating expert or yacht broker will be able to help you sort out the resale value of the boat you’re looking at restoring. It might not be worth the time or money if there is no resale or no sentimental value at the end of the day.

Just like when you’re looking at renovating a house, you already have a sense of where your comforts lie and what your limitations are. Depending on the nature of your restoration project, things might be more complicated than what we have provided above, but we hope this post has inspired you to get started on your next project. However it turns out, you’ll likely feel proud of the outcome and enjoy life on a boat you’ve customized just to your liking.

Opting to restore an older yacht can be the perfect option for someone who has the time and wants to own their first boat but is limited by budget. If you’re searching for a boat to restore, let our brokers help you find what you’re looking for. While most of the boats we have for sale at our sales dock are newer, we do come across the perfect project boat from time to time, or can help you locate one from elsewhere.

At Van Isle Marina, our brokers are ready to help you navigate the purchase of your next boat or yacht. Learn more about our sales process, or contact us with any questions you might have. We look forward to helping you end up in the boat of your dreams!

Halibut & Salmon Fishing

Where & When to Go Fishing In BC for Saltwater Fish

The Best Places to Find Salmon and Halibut in British Columbia

The West Coast of BC is home to some of the world’s most amazing fishing. People come from all over the globe specifically for our pacific salmon and huge halibut. Fishing around here is culturally and commercially significant as well, and can be done year-round in our region, with July to September being the busiest time of year for fishermen.

No matter where you plan on travelling in BC, you won’t have to travel too far in search of a place to go saltwater fishing, as there are thousands of places to explore. To help you narrow it down, we’ve provided a high level list of places to check out around Vancouver Island. These destinations were chosen either for their proximity to the Island’s must-see cities and coastal communities, or their remoteness, which offers an unparalleled opportunity to see the West Coast.

Pair many of these fishing excursions with our list of top recommended Vancouver Island attractions and you should be all set for an unforgettable trip.

Note: fishing regulations throughout BC may vary so please confirm all closures with Fisheries and Oceans Canada before heading out. Also note that certain areas such as Tofino, Gulf Island, etc may have local closures due to COVID-19 so plan ahead!

Fishing Destinations Around Vancouver Island

Best Salmon and Halibut Fishing in BC - Winter Harbour

Winter Harbour and Quatsino Sound – Located close to the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, head here for open ocean and the chance to catch salmon or halibut in the summer and fall. Dedicate a few days to this trip, and take advantage of the protected inlets and bays before venturing out further.

Port Hardy – 75 kilometres from Winter Harbour is the small rustic fishing village of Port Hardy. Here is your chance for a great day out on the boat to explore the wild, remote north coast of the Island while catching salmon or halibut in the spring, summer, and fall. You’ll be joined by commercial fishermen, however, so stay alert!

Scott Islands – The 5 Scott Islands can also be found on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Great for salmon and halibut fishing, but also a remarkable opportunity for birdwatching, with more than 2 million seabirds living in the region. The weather conditions can be a bit rougher, so this trip is best suited to experienced boaters.

Best Salmon and Halibut Fishing in BC - Johnstone Strait

Johnstone Strait & Robson Bight – East of Port Hardy is the Johnstone Strait, between the Vancouver Island and mainland BC. There are plenty of islands in this region to explore, and the opportunity for some great salmon fishing (chinook, coho, and pink) in the summer. There are also resident orcas in this area, meaning you’ll be competing with them for the fish!

Read More: Guide to Whale Watching in BC

Northern Gulf Islands – Salmon and shellfish are plentiful around the 200 Gulf Islands off the coast of mainland BC, in the Johnstone Strait and the Strait of Georgia. The areas south of Denman and Hornby Islands are popular spots for salmon fishing, while Flora Island and Lambert Channel are great areas for prawn traps.

Best Salmon and Halibut Fishing in BC - Brooks Peninsula

Brooks Peninsula – Brooks Peninsula is a remote part of northwest Vancouver Island that takes awhile to get to but will lead you to salmon, halibut, bottom fish, and even tuna if you travel offshore enough. Allow a few days to make this journey. South of the peninsula is Kyuguot Village, another remote area of the island offering the same opportunities as Brooks Peninsula.

Desolation Sound – Just north of Desolation Sound near Campbell River on the east side of Vancouver Island is an excellent spot to catch some resident and migratory salmon throughout the year. Spend plenty of time in the beauty of the region’s large network of tidal channels and inlets.

Nanaimo – Get plenty of salmon fishing done year-round off the coast of Nanaimo and nearby Gabriola Island, Protection Island, and New Castle Island. Nanaimo is Vancouver Island’s second largest city, so while it is a bit quieter than Victoria, there is still lots to do there on land as well as at sea, and quite a few amenities for boaters as well. Be sure to stay clear of kayakers and the BC Ferries!

Best Salmon and Halibut Fishing in BC - Strait of Georgia

Strait of Georgia – The Straight of Georgia that flows between Vancouver Island and the mainland of BC provides excellent pacific salmon fishing opportunities, around the Gulf Islands (already mentioned) and also nearby Parksville and Qualicum on Vancouver Island. You’ll have the biggest chance of making a catch between May and November, but with less lines in the water from December to April, you might just score a big one in the wintertime in this region.

Bamfield – Allow the small coastal town of Bamfield to be your starting off point for a multi-day fishing trip along the Island’s west coast. Just south of Tofino, Ucluelet, and Port Alberni,  Bamfield is a quieter location with less boating traffic. Salmon and halibut can both be found here, mainly in the summertime.

Port Alberni – On the west coast of Vancouver Island, just north of Bamfield and en route to Tofino and Ucluelet, you’ll reach Port Alberni, where chinook, coho, and chum salmon are in abundance, as they make there way back into the ocean from the Somass River. Port Alberni celebrates the Salmon Festival and Derby every September, so you know the fishing here has got to be good.

Best Salmon and Halibut Fishing in BC - Tofino BC

Tofino & Ucluelet – If you only have time for one fishing trip as you head to Vancouver Island, consider the Tofino-Ucluelet region on the West Coast of the Island for summertime salmon fishing. The backdrops are stunning, offering a range of island hopping, coastal exploration, and open ocean adventures. After a long day on the water, moor your boat as you explore the lands. The beaches of Long Beach will be bustling, as will the villages of Tofino and Ucluelet.

Victoria Harbour – Salmon fishing just outside of Victoria Harbour and in Ogden Point is a popular activity on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. It can be done from summer right into winter. BC’s capital city comes alive with tourists in summertime, making this a lively destination for more than just fishing, with many boutique and larger hotels and restaurants nearby.

Oak Bay – At the southern tip of the Island near Victoria, you’ll find spectacular Oak Bay with an English-inspired village as a backdrop on one side, and a distant view of Mt. Baker on the other. Stay awhile at Oak Bay Marina before spending the afternoon salmon and halibut fishing in the mildest region of all of Canada. Prepare for a lot of other boaters at the height of the fishing season (July-September).

For more information on any of these suggested locations, and some suggestions for shore fishing as well, check out Anglr, an initiative of the Sport Fishing Institute of BC.

Tips & Resources

Before setting out on your self-guided fishing trip in BC, note that there are specific fishing licence requirements, catch limits, and regional safety tips and seasonal closures you’ll need to know about. All of this information is provided by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

And, if you’ll have your smartphone on board with you, we highly recommend loading it up with the Fishing BC app. This free sport fishing app for tidal waters features a GPS locator, pinch-and-zoom map, and information on up-to-date official regulations including information about species, boundary maps, conservation areas, closures, contamination alerts, and more.

Also included in the app are a catch log, the opportunity to take photos of your catch and share with your social network, and a species ID guide specific to what can be found in BC’s tidal waters.

Read More:

If you’re on the market for a new fishing boat, check out our selection of fishing boats for sale, including Pursuit Boats and Riviera Yachts. We invite you to learn more about our yacht sales process or come and see us in Sidney, BC.

Boating with Family

Planning on a Family Vacation out on the Water?
Keep These 11 Tips in Mind

The weather is warming up out there, and we know many, many happy boaters who are eager to be heading out on the water with their families to mark the official start of boating season.

A family boating vacation is the perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle of your everyday routine. It’s a chance to slow down, bond with your family, bond with your boat, and otherwise get back to nature.

It also just so happens that time on your yacht or motorboat is the best form of self-isolation that our Van Isle Marina staff can think of. Whether you’re practicing social distancing, or you’ve been planning this boating vacation for awhile now, here are 11 tips to help make your next trip out on the boat with your kids and teenagers a fun, memorable vacation.

1. Safety First

Practise Safety with kids on board

Depending on the ages of the children who will be on board, there are certain extra safety precautions you can take, such as adding a safety net to the deck to help everyone relax easier. Go over all the safety precautions with young children, especially to remind them of the rules of no running and throwing things.

Ensure handrails are all intact, walkways are well lit come nightfall, and the cockpit is anti-slip. And, we hope it goes without saying that a properly stocked first aid kit and properly fitted life jackets are definitely must-haves. Whenever possible, we recommend fitting and testing everyone’s life jackets in a swimming pool before packing them on the boat.

 

2. Pack the Essentials

pack essentials when boating with family

A great vacation requires packing the right supplies. On top of entertainment, which we will cover in a minute, you need to pack enough of the essentials. For everyone on board this means fresh drinking water, enough food and snacks for all to enjoy, sunscreen of various strengths, bug spray, swimsuits, and towels.

Ensure the kids are packed up with spare clothing, hats, sunglasses, proper footwear, and their favourite comfort toys – then do the same thing for yourself. Remember to stow it all in soft-sided luggage to make storage easier.

3. Hire a Crew Member

If your boat and budget can manage it, considering hiring a crew member to help you captain the boat. Bringing a crew member on board can help you relax and enjoy time with family by tending to the navigation of the boat, and maybe some cooking and cleaning as well.

When hiring an extra crew member, look for someone who is not just a skilled boater, but someone who knows the local area and can perhaps steer you towards new areas. You might learn more about your local area and tour some great new places, all while making memories with your family.

4. Relax Your Schedule

When travelling with more than two people, you may find that you’ll be better off relaxing your schedule a little bit. Throw your timetable and packed itinerary overboard!

family boating trips - Relax

Sailing is all about the journey, so don’t be in a rush to get from destination to destination. Be realistic, and if heading to the shore, give yourself enough time to explore the area and find activities that will please as many people in your group as possible.

You might set out for a destination, but never know what there is to see between point A and point B – maybe it’s a cool little island, a secret bay, or a pod of whales? You might even reach a destination that required a bit more time than you predicted it would. Of course there is always weather and the tides to navigate as well, leave yourself a lot of room to get from place to place.

All that being said, keep trips short when introducing young children to boating.

5. Entertainment

Cover your entertainment needs with water toys such as floaties, snorkeling gear, stand-up paddle boards, fishing rods

entertainment during family boating vacation

, and more. You’ll also want to ensure there are lots of indoor entertainment options as well. Think board games, card games, books, arts and crafts, music, and movies. Depending on everyone’s interest, stargazing at night, or birdwatching with binoculars in the day could al

so be fun things to try.

Have your kids pick their favourite activities to pack along, and consider keeping them reserved as special boating activities. You might also be packing along tablets and smartphones, but try and limit screen time for relaxing once the sun goes down. Be sure to invest in waterproof, floatable protective cases for your electronic devices so they don’t sink to the bottom if accidentally dropped.

6. Involve Your Kids

Involve your kids when boating

If they’re old enough and interested enough, try and involve your kids in all aspects of boating. Show them the equipment, have them steer the boat, teach them how to tie all the knots, identify all the day markers, and explain all the boating terminology you know. Even if it’s just from an observational standpoint while you’re docking, anchoring, or communicating on the VHF radio, involving your kids in the boating process will surely create fond memories for everyone.

7. Get Off the Boat

boating vacations - get off the boat

If time allows, try and get off the boat for a few hours here and there to enjoy some hiking, caving, bike riding, or local sightseeing. You might find the perfect beach for swimming, sandcastles, kayak rentals, ice cream cones, kite flying, a game of frisbee or badminton, or boutique shopping. Do a bit of research ahead of time to learn about any attractions on the coastal areas where you’ll be heading. From wildlife sanctuaries, to museums, to freshwater lakes, there is so much you can add to your boating vacation.

8. Create Kid-Friendly Hangout Areas

If boating with a teenager, it might help to give them a private space all to themselves. Likewise, a nervous young child might also appreciate having a safety zone such as a fort they create, all to themselves. And, if the boat is big enough, try to avoid kids having to share beds. Unless of course, they are siblings who happen to get along swimmingly all the time! A week or more of sharing a bed with their little brother or sister might not lead to any happy children on board.

For very young children, bring a small, portable playpen, which will come in extremely handy, especially one with a mosquito net and sunshade.

9. Tidy Up Every Day

Even a large yacht can start to feel small once a whole family starts to spread out over the course of a few hours. While at home you might leave toys out overnight, this might not be as realistic in smaller living spaces. Try and encourage kids to clean up their activities as soon as they’re done playing, or at the very least, at the end of the evening before bed. And of course, take care of wet bathing suits and towels so they are good and dry the next day.

10. Take Time For Yourself

Alone Time during family boating trips

Once the kids are asleep – which will likely be early, as a day full of swimming and fresh air is bound to tire them out – make sure you fit in some grown up time with your better half. For example, why not share a bottle of wine on the deck?

Family boating vacations need not be just for the kids! You’ll appreciate this time to unwind after a successful day on the water, and plan ahead for the next day.

11. Take Plenty of Photos and Videos

pack lifejackets on family boating trips

Taking photos and videos of your family vacation is always a good idea – boat or no boat! You’ll enjoy the memories and you get to frame your favourite ones for a year-round reminder of how great your vacation was. If you have young photographers on board, entrust them with a waterproof disposable camera they can take out on their floaties with them and snap away.

For more boating tips from Van Isle Marina, be sure to check out the rest of our blog.

22 free or cheap things to do in Victoria BC

Exploring Vancouver Island on a Budget

22 Free or Inexpensive Things to do on Vancouver Island

On the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada, Vancouver Island is home to nearly 800,000 people and is the 11th largest island in Canada. It’s also home to many world-class tourist attractions, many of which are free or inexpensive to check out. Below is a list of Van Isle Marina staff’s top recommended things to do on Vancouver Island if you’re on a budget.

1. Milner Gardens

Vancouver Island is home to many beautiful public gardens, where our mild climate supports a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers year-round. Milner Gardens in Qualicum is a lovely seaside garden definitely worth checking out. This ancient forest and garden oasis sits on top a bluff overlooking the Straight of Georgia.

Cost: $12/adult

2. Abkhazi Garden

Abkhazi Garden in Victoria is a beautiful heritage home and garden established by Prince and Princess Abkhazi in 1946. At this one-acre property you’ll find a stunning example of West Coast design where conifers, Japanese maples, rhododendrons, naturalized bulbs, and woodland companions leave a lasting impression.

Cost: By Donation

3. Butchart GardensButchart Gardens Sunken Garden

Also near Victoria in Brentwood Bay are Butchart Gardens, featuring 55 acres filled with at least 900 plant varieties. Butchart Gardens has a 100+ year history and a staff of 50 gardeners tending to the grounds.

Cost: $19.35/adult

4. BC Parliament Buildings

The BC parliament buildings in Victoria’s downtown inner harbour are home to the legislative assembly of British Columbia. Free tours are offered throughout the year, and there is plenty of park space out front for picnicking and people watching.

Cost: Free

5. Confederation FountainConfederation Fountain Victoria BC

For a unique photo op, check out the Confederation Fountain tucked just around the corner from the legislature building in Victoria. You’ll also find shields of the Provinces, centered by the national Coat of Arms at this small but relaxing area just off the main drag of the waterfront.

Cost: Free

6. Goats on the Roof

The Old Country Market in Coombs is home to the world-famous Goats on the Roof, where goats living up above oversee thousands of shoppers from March through to December. Coombs is a small town in Central Vancouver Island on the Alberni Highway, near Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

Cost: Free

7. Cathedral GroveCathedral Grove BC

On your way to explore Tofino (a seaside community that is an attraction all to itself) you’ll drive through the world-famous Cathedral Grove, an old growth forest known for its gigantic 800-year-old ancient Douglas firs and red cedars. Pull the car over and check it out! Cathedral Grove is just one of countless hikes the Island has to offer. Also explore these South Island Hikes and Central Island Hikes.

Cost: Free

8. Duncan Totem Poles

Duncan, known as The City of Totems, is home to more than 40 totem poles. Each beautifully carved totem pole contributes to the City’s First Nations culture and history. Follow the yellow footprints in the sidewalk for a self-guided walking tour or take the virtual tour to learn more about the totems before experiencing them in person.

Cost: Free

9. Chemainus MuralsChemainus Murals BC

The seaside community of Chemainus is known as The City of Murals. Check out 44 murals that serve as a tribute to the area’s mining, fishing, and forestry heritage. Grab an official Souvenir Mural Map from the Visitor Centre to take a self-guided tour of the massive murals, or simply follow the yellow footprints on the sidewalks.

Cost: Free

10. Elk Falls Suspension Bridge

In Campbell River, the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge is a must-see. Although the area features extensive forest trails, the bridge itself is a short walk to get to. There you’ll get an amazing view of the canyon and a thundering waterfall. The BC Hydro Interpretive Centre nearby is free and adds to the experience.

Cost: Free

11. Kinsol TrestleKinsol Trestle Cowichan Valley BC

Located in the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the historic Kinsol Trestle is 187 metres long and 44 metres above the Koksilah River, making it one of the tallest free-standing and most spectacular timber rail trestle structures in the world. Fully accessible with viewing platforms, we know you’ll love it.

Cost: Free

12. Beacon Hill Children’s Farm

The Beacon Hill Children’s Farm and petting zoo in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria is a favourite among locals, offering an educational, by-donation form of entertainment for the whole family. The petting zoo is best known for its goats.

Cost: By Donation

St Anns Academy Vancouver Island

13. St. Ann’s Academy

St. Ann’s Academy is a national historic site in Victoria that offers tours by donation. Built in 1858, St Ann’s Academy was Victoria’s first Roman Catholic Cathedral before it became a school in 1886.

Cost: By Donation

14. The Raptors

View several different types of birds of prey at The Raptors visitor centre in Duncan. Make sure to time your visit around a flying demonstration. You can also stay for additional meet and greets and hands-on experiences.

Cost: $18/adult

15. Vancouver Island WineriesVancouver Island Wineries

Vancouver Island is home to 32 wineries (and counting!), with the Cowichan Valley being particularly fruitful due to the area being shielded from Pacific Ocean storms. Plan to visit a winery or two while you’re visiting the Island, taste some great wines and meet the passionate people behind some of BC’s best wines.

Cost: Various

16. Whale Interpretive Centre

The Whale Interpretive Centre in Telegraph Cove on Northern Vancouver Island aims to help the public to identify different marine mammals and their role within the ecosystem. Here you’ll find many sea life artifacts, including blue whale jaw, whale lice, ear ossicles, whale teeth, and skeletons of a killer whale, sperm whale, river otter, sea otter, Pacific white-sided dolphin, and more.

Cost: By Donation

17. Biking

Bike riding is very popular on Vancouver Island, with countless bike-friendly trails and lanes seemingly everywhere. Might we suggest grabbing one of our courtesy bikes from the marina? Here are some nearby places you can bike to from Van Isle Marina.

Cost: Free

18. Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle, built in 1887, is a meticulously restored historic house museum and a beauty to behold in Victoria. Here you’ll find 39 rooms and four floors of exquisite stained glass windows, intricate woodwork and fabulous Victorian-era furnishings.

Cost: $14.85/adult

19. Hatley CastleHatley Castle Victoria BC

Hatley Castle, completed in 1908 and located in Hatley Park and Royal Roads University is known by many as X-men headquarters, due to it being a filming location for the Hollywood blockbusters. Pay an admission fee to take the guided walking tour, or check out the free museum in the basement. The castle is also surrounded by magnificent gardens.

Cost: $18.50

20. BC Aviation Museum

The British Columbia Aviation Museum in Sidney features plenty of aircraft and artifacts relating to the history of aviation in BC and the rest of Canada. They have something for everyone, including flight simulators, unique aircrafts, a kids area, and volunteer tour guides.

Cost: $10

For more things to do in Sidney – home of Van Isle Marina – check out our post on 15 Things to Do in Sidney, BC.

21. BC Forest Discovery CentreBC Forest Discovery Centre

The BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan is a huge open air museum with its own operational railway. Check out the exhibits, logging artifacts, and heritage buildings before exploring the forest and marsh trails. This family friendly Island destination hosts plenty of special events and workshops for all ages throughout the year.

Cost: $16

22. Military Museums

Vancouver Island is home to notable military museums:

  • The Vancouver Island Military Museum in Nanaimo houses 25 exhibits focusing on the War of 1812 right through to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.
  • The CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum focuses on the Royal Canadian Navy and Merchant Navy’s role in winning the Battle of the Atlantic, and the 100+ year history of Canadian service in submarines.
  • The Comox Airforce Museum includes collections on Military Aviation in WWI and WWII, Korea, the Cold War, United Nations Peacekeeping, and the Squadron section.

Read more: Attractions on Vancouver Island

The suggestions listed above are just some of the exciting things to do on Vancouver Island. If you’ll be arriving by boat, be sure to check out some of the area’s best boat-only access beaches.

Van Isle Marina is one of the largest full-service marinas in British Columbia. Moor your boat at our marina before or after you set out to explore Vancouver Island. (See our yacht park rates to learn more.) We are located at 2320 Harbour Road in Sidney, BC, just a five minute drive from the Beacon Avenue exit of Hwy 17.

Whale Watching on Vancouver Island

An Introduction to One of Vancouver Island’s Most Popular Activities

Vancouver Island is home to spectacular whale watching opportunities, with numerous companies offering tours up and down the Island. But if you have your own boat, you can easily

types of whales around vancouver island

become your own personal whale watching tour guide. The best part is that whale watching can be done almost anywhere around the Island – and you might even spot some without even trying that hard.

Although it’s possible to see whales at any time of year around Vancouver Island, the best time for dedicated whale watching around Vancouver Island is May to October. This is also when you’ll come across countless whale watching operators while out on your boat. If you see a whale watching tour group all with their binoculars out, you’ll know you’re also about to approach some majestic creatures!

Types of Whales Around Vancouver Island

The most common types of whales to watch out for around Vancouver Island include resident and transient Orcas, humpback whales, and Pacific gray whales.

Orcas

Orcas, also known as “killer whales”, are black and white toothed mammals that are actually members of the dolphin family. They are the smallest “whales” on this list; a male orca is 5 to 7 metres long and weighs around 6 tonnes, while a female orca is 3 to 5 metres long and weighs about 3 to 4 tonnes. Their dorsal fins can get to be around 2 metres high, so they’ll be quite easy to spot. They also aren’t afraid of slow-moving, quiet boats and are actually known to swim right up to lucky boaters and kayakers. whales around vancouver island - orcas

There are two main categories of orcas living around the Island: resident orcas and transient orcas. Resident orcas (both northern residents and southern residents), tend to stay in one area, while transient orcas move around frequently.

Where to find them: Resident orcas are commonly found around the Gulf Islands, the Southern Coast near Victoria, the Strait of Georgia near Vancouver, and the Johnstone Strait (Campbell River, Telegraph Cove). There are approximately 80 “northern resident” orca whales who live and travel around Northern Vancouver Island, while there are approximately 220 “southern resident” orcas living around Southern Vancouver Island.

There are also around 260 transient orcas that are most common around the northern part of Vancouver Island, including near Campbell River, Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy. Some have also been known to be near southern Vancouver Island as well (Victoria, Oak Bay, Sidney, and Sooke).

You’re more likely to spot resident and transient orcas on the east coast of the island, as well as the southern and northern tips of the island, rather than the west coast.

The best time to view orcas in the Pacific Northwest is from May to October.

 

Humpback Whales

whales around vancouver island - humpback whaleHumpback whales are the largest whales living around Vancouver Island, with lengths varying from 12-16 metres and weighing nearly 80,000 pounds! In addition to their sheer size, which exceeds the length and weight of a fully loaded school bus, humpback whales are also known for their unique sounds and songs, and beautiful breaches.

A humpback whale’s long pectoral fins and knobbly head give it a distinctive body shape that’s greyish on top with a whiteish underbelly.

Where to find them: Humpback whales near Vancouver Island are most common about 30 miles off the shores of Ucluelet, Bamfield and Tofino (Barkley and Clayquot sound). They can also be spotted around Telegraph Cove and Port McNeil.

The best time to view humpback whales in the Pacific Northwest is from May to September.

 

Pacific Gray Whales

Pacific gray whales are medium to dark gray or black in colour and can grow to be up to 13-15 metres. The females are slightly larger than the males (the opposite is true for orcas). Adult gray whales have a mottled appearance caused by scratches, and barnacles and orange sea lice that make a home of their skin. Gray whales do not have dorsal fins, so instead be on the lookout for their vertebral bumps or “knuckles” along their lower backs.vancouver island whale watching - gray whales

Where to find them: Pacific gray whales are mainly found up and down the west coast of Vancouver Island, as this is their annual migratory zone. They can also be found around the southern tip of the Island (Victoria and Sidney). Pacific gray whales aren’t typically found on the east coast of Vancouver Island, as this is not their migratory path.

The ultimate time to spot a Pacific gray whale is between March and April. During this time, around 20,000 gray whales are migrating from Mexico (where they have babies) to Alaska (where they feed on cold-water crustaceans and more).

A Few Whale Watching Best Practices

As of 2019, along the south coast of BC, the DFO is asking boaters to stay at least 200 metres away from southern resident whale populations between November 1 and May 31, and at least 400 metres away from southern killer whales between June 1 and October 31 – about the length of 4 football fields.

You are also expected to reduce your speed to less than 7 knots and avoid fishing when you’re within 1,000 metres of a killer whale. Areas to be aware of include Gulf Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Mouth of the Fraser River.

In general, when you see whales and wish to get closer:

  • Approach them from the side, rather than the front or the rear.
  • Approach slowly, avoiding sudden changes in speed or direction.
  • Shift your motor into neutral or idle upon your approach.
  • Stay as quiet as you can. This means no echo sounders, horns, whistles, revving motors, shouting, or loud music.
  • Do not disturb resting pods.
  • Travel at low speeds and in the same direction when travelling parallel to whales.
  • Don’t trap whales too close to the shore.
  • Don’t come between whales and the shore.
  • Don’t feed or touch the whales.
  • Be mindful of other boats in the area. Keep your distance until the boat ahead of you has moved on.

See the DFO’s webpage on watching marine wildlife for more information and helpful infographics.

Pacific Rim Whale Festival

If you’ll be in the area and wish to learn more about whales on Vancouver Island, check out the 33rd annual Pacific Rim Whale Festival happening March 20-28, 2020 at the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Ucluelet and Tofino on Vancouver Island’s west coast. The festival is an annual spring celebration that marks the typical return of the migratory gray whales as they make their way to the Artic Ocean.

Additional Wildlife Viewing Opportunities

While whale watching, you’re likely to spot plenty of additional wildlife in the area, including bald eagles, dolphins, porpoises, seals, otters, sealions, and countless seabirds. Read more about the other wildlife viewing and birdwatching opportunities on the Island.

Buying a Whale Watching Tour Instead

If you’d rather try whale watching with an experienced tour guide before going for it on your own, there are many whale watching companies to choose from. Typically, tours are 3 to 5 hours long, with many promising a 95% chance or more of spotting whales. Some companies offer different types and sizes of boats. Aim to arrive 30 minutes early so as not to miss your scheduled departure time, and dress in warm layers to beat the chill of the ocean air.

Many boats have washrooms on board and are wheelchair accessible. Don’t forget your binoculars and camera – preferably one with a great zoom!

At Van Isle Marina in Sidney, BC, we offer a wide variety of boats and motor yachts that would be perfect for your next whale watching adventure. Check out our selection of new and used yachts and boats for sale, or come see us in person and let us show you around.

10 Attractions on Vancouver Island

10 Attractions on Vancouver Island

Visiting Vancouver Island for a Few Days?
Here are Some of the Most Popular Attractions to Check Out

From North to South, Vancouver Island is home to many world-class tourist attractions. Below is a list of Van Isle Marina staff’s top recommendations. If you’ll be visiting the island by boat, you can moor your boat at our marina before or after you set out to see more of what our Island has to offer (see our yacht park rates to learn more).

1. Butchart GardensTourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Butchart Gardens

Located a short distance from Victoria in Brentwood Bay, Butchart Gardens is a 55-acre garden that is tended to by a team of more than 50 gardeners. The garden oasis is home to at least 900 plant varieties and has a history going back 100+ years. Give yourself at least two hours to experience everything Butchart Gardens has to offer. It’s even more enchanting if you can make it during the holiday season.

Tourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Royal BC museum2. Royal BC Museum

In downtown Victoria right by the city’s inner harbour, the Royal BC Museum showcases 550 million years of natural history and 9,000 years of human history in BC. Inside there are 7 million artifacts, specimens, and documents waiting for you, making this destination one of Canada’s leading museums and research centres. Be sure to take in an IMAX feature while you’re there.

3. BC Parliament BuildingsTourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - BC Parliament Buildings Legislature

The BC parliament buildings are also in Victoria and are home to the legislative assembly of British Columbia. The buildings date back to 1864, and free tours are offered throughout the year. Visitors can also enjoy an afternoon in the park in front of the grounds, taking pictures and picnicking. This impressive site is a top attraction in BC’s capital city. You’ll find the BC parliament buildings in Victoria’s downtown inner harbour, next to the museum.

It’s worth noting that Victoria’s inner harbour is a Vancouver Island attraction on its own, with the picturesque Fairmont Empress Hotel, horse-drawn carriage rides, stunning views, whale watching excursions, harbour ferries and much more on offer.

Tourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Coombs Market Goats on the Roof4. Coombs Old Country Market

The Old Country Market in Coombs is home to the world-famous Goats on the Roof – which is exactly what it sounds like! Above the market are 2-3 goats living in peaceful harmony as thousands of shoppers browse the market below. The market is open daily from March to December, offering tourists and locals alike a huge selection of baked goods, deli delights, ethnic foods, children’s toys, local produce, and housewares.

Coombs is a small town in Central Vancouver Island on the Alberni Highway, near Parksville and Qualicum Beach. While the market is the focal point of the town, there are more shops and restaurants towards the back of the market, making a stop in Coombs more than just a quick pit stop.

5. TofinoTourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Tofino Aerial Beach

Located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a small coastal village that people come from around the world to experience. There is plenty to do in Tofino, including whale watching, kayaking, shopping, craft beer tasting, golfing, biking, hiking, fishing, and storm watching. There is beach on one side and plenty of forest nearby. Choose from a wide range of accommodations, or better yet, bring your boat!

Tofino is also a foodie’s paradise, with many top chefs establishing restaurants in the resorts.

Near Tofino there is also the breathtaking shorelines of Long Beach, Chesterman Beach, Mackenzie Beach, and others – with Long Beach being the longest sandy beach on the West Coast. Not far from Tofino is another town called Ucluelet, with equally beautiful beaches.

Tourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Cathedral Grove Douglas Firs

6. Cathedral Grove

On your way to Tofino, you’ll drive through Cathedral Grove, an old growth forest just outside of Port Alberni. Cathedral Grove is easy to miss if you’re driving too fast and not looking out for the huge, 800-year-old ancient Douglas firs and the red cedars. So, slow down and be on the lookout for parked cars and tall trees on the side of the highway.

Cathedral Grove is perfect for nature lovers and great for kids. It features well-maintained walkways, well-marked trails, free parking, and plenty of photo-worth backdrops. Challenge yourself and try to get an entire tree in one frame!

7. Horne Lake CavesTourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Horne Lake Caves

Horne Lake Caves on Central Vancouver Island near Parksville / Qualicum give you a unique opportunity to really get inside the island. At this provincially managed park, deemed “Vancouver Island’s hidden jewel” there is a wide variety of tour options on offer, catering to all different skill levels.

See more caves to explore on Vancouver Island.

Tourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Wildplay Victoria & Nanaimo8. Nanaimo & Victoria WildPlay

WildPlay in Nanaimo is an adventure park offering the Island’s only river canyon bungee jumping opportunity, along with an aerial obstacle course, ziplines, and a primal swing. It’s a not-to-miss attraction for the thrill seekers in your group, opened during the spring and summer. And if you’re in Victoria, there’s a WildPlay there as well!

9. Duncan Totem PolesTourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Duncan Totem Poles

Duncan, known as The City of Totems, is home to more than 40 totem poles located throughout the town. Each beautifully carved totem pole contributes to the city’s First Nations culture and history. Follow the yellow footprints in the sidewalk for a self-guided walking tour or take the virtual tour to learn more about each totem before experiencing them in person.

Duncan is the economic hub for the Cowichan Region of Vancouver Island. Take in its heritage buildings and huge mix of restaurants and shops as you experience the totems.

Tourist Attractions on Vancouver Island - Chemainus Murals10. Chemainus Murals

Stick to the main highway on Vancouver Island and you might miss the seaside community of Chemainus – but it’s definitely worth a trip off the beaten path! Chemainus is known as The City of Murals. There are 44 murals in the small town, many of which are a tribute to the area’s mining, fishing, and forestry heritage. Grab an official Souvenir Mural Map from the Visitor Centre to take a self-guided tour of the massive murals, or simply follow the yellow footprints on the sidewalks.

Along with the murals, Chemainus offers the famous Chemainus Theatre, tons of shopping, family owned restaurants and cafes, antique shops, artisan shops and several small parks. It gets bustling in the summer months, leaving us to believe the secret’s out with this island attraction!

More to See & Do

We suggest combining any of the above attractions with one or two of our recommended South Island Hiking Trails before picking up your boat from our marina – to give your legs one last workout on land before setting sail again. Then, if you still have time, be sure to check out the area’s boat-only access beaches for further Vancouver Island exploration.

And finally, if you’re coming to visit us here at Van Isle Marina in Sidney, BC, but don’t have time to explore more of Vancouver Island, there is plenty to see and do right here!

Read more: 15 Things to Do in Sidney, BC

The above attractions are just some of the exciting things Vancouver Island has to offer. Ask our staff for more ideas, including all the best places to experience by boat. Van Isle Marina is one of the largest full-service marinas in British Columbia – we know our boats and the island very well. Check out our new and used yachts and boats for sale.

Best Diving Locations Near Vancouver Island

Best Diving Locations Near Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island – One of the Best Cold Water Diving Destinations in the World

Spend enough time above the waters around Vancouver Island and it will only be a matter of time until you get curious and want to get a closer look and what’s below the surface. When this happens, and you go for your first scuba diving experience in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll quickly come to realize the region is filled with all sorts of underwater scenery – from reefs, walls, shipwrecks, and plenty of marine life.

Here is our list of some of the best diving locations off the coast of Vancouver Island. Don’t forget your dry suits and headlamps – waters around here are cold and dark, but worth it!

Let’s dive in!

Artificial Reefs around Vancouver Island

Xihuw Boeing 737

Not actually a shipwreck, but a “plane wreck”, the intentionally stripped and sunken Xihuw Boeing 737 can be found in Stuart Channel near Chemainus on Vancouver Island’s central east coast. It’s been down there since 2006 and still very much recognizable.

G.B Church Freighter

artificial reefs around vancouver island

The G.B. Church is a 175-foot freighter that was sunk in August 1991. She can be found near Princess Margaret Marine Park/Portland Island north of Sidney on Vancouver Island. She’s actually not too far from us here at Van Isle Marina.

HMCS Saskatchewan

The HMCS Saskatchewan is a 366-foot World War ll naval vessel turned artificial reef and sunk near Nanaimo in 1997. The top of the mast is about 45 feet below the surface and the bulk of the vessel is between 80 and 100 feet.

HMCS Cape Breton

The HMCS Cape Breton is another World War II naval vessel sunk purposefully near Nanaimo. This 401-foot vessel was sunk in 2001, settling almost perfectly upright at about the same depth as the Saskatchewan. Find both of these HMCS vessels off the coast of Snake Island.

RivTow Lion

Before it was turned into an artificial reef, the Rivtow Lion was a 147-foot rescue tug built in 1940. She became an artificial reef off the coast of New Castle Island near Nanaimo in 2005. Because of the RivTow Lion’s location in sheltered calm waters and her modest size, she is considered a suitable dive site for beginners.

HMCS Chaudière

Journey out a bit farther away from Vancouver Island to the Sunshine Coast and you’ll find the HMCS Chaudière. Another artificial reef that was purposely sunk in 1992, the 366-foot Destroyer Escort lies on its side starting at about 50 feet below the surface in Kunechin Sound in the Sechelt Inlet. You’ll know you’re at the right artificial reef when you see the mounted guns with long barrels protruding from the vessel!

HMCS Annapolis

Still a bit further off Vancouver Island, located 25 minutes from Horseshoe Bay in Hacklett Bay in Howe Sound, the HMCS Annapolis was sunk in 2015. At 371 feet, this artificial reef is massive with plenty of unique explorable features, like a helicopter hanger. It’s only 25 minutes from Horseshoe Bay and worthy of the trip from Vancouver Island.

Shipwrecks around Vancouver Island

SS Capilano

Recognized as a provincial heritage site, the SS Capilano sank 100 feet deep by the Grant Reefs, between Savary and Harwood Islands in the Strait of Georgia. Built in 1891, the SS Capilano was an early coastal passenger and freight steamer before sinking in 1915. The wreck was discovered in 1973 relatively intact and remains one of the best wreck dives on the BC coast, appreciated for its historical value.

Robert Kerr

The Robert Kerr wreck is another heritage site worthy of exploration just north of Thetis Island. This converted Barque sank in 1911 after hitting a reef. It’s impressively still more or less intact and still identifiable despite being underwater for more than 105 years. This is considered a shallow dive at 60 feet.

SS Themis

If you make it up to Port Hardy on north Vancouver Island, you’ll be near the SS Themis, a 270-foot Norwegian cargo ship that sank in 1906 near Crocker Rock in Queen Charlotte Strait. There is not much left of this wreck, but a few identifiable pieces still remain, plus you’ll see some of the largest lingcod you’ve ever seen lingering about!

Shore Dives around Vancouver Island

If exploring deep depths to explore sunken ships and airplanes – intentionally or otherwise – is a little daunting for you, consider starting off with a simple shore dive. Shore dives are suitable for all levels of divers, including those just gaining an interest in the sport. Simply gear up on shore and walk right into your next scuba diving experience!

Diving at Clark Rock in Nanaimo BC

Or, for even more fun and convenience, save yourself the walk with your bulky equipment and access any of the shore dive sites by boat and drop anchor as close or far to shore as you like!

Recommended shore dives around Vancouver Island include:

  • Odgen Point Breakwater, near Victoria
  • Elliot Beach, near Chemainus
  • China Creek, near Port Alberni
  • Keel Cove, near Nanaimo

In the Nanoose Area, just north of Nanaimo, also check out any of these beautiful shore dive locations: Cottam Point, Dolphin Beach, Madrona Point, Oak Leaf Tyee Cove, The Jib, and Wall Beach.

Boat Dives around Vancouver Island

Of course, when you have a boat, nothing beats the thrill and ease of going for a cold-water dive right off the swimming platform of your boat or yacht. If you’re looking for the best boat dives around the Island – that don’t involve the narrow passages and deep, dark pockets of a sunken ship or airplane –  consider the following boat dive locations, recommended for all levels of divers.

Boat Diving around Vancouver Island

Beginner Dives

For beginner boat dives, start with:

  • Clark Rock, near Nanaimo
  • Neck Point Park, near Nanaimo
  • Yeo Islands, near Nanoose
  • Norris Rocks, near Hornby Island
  • Broughton Archipelago, in the Queen Charlotte Strait
  • Blackfish Sound, near Hansen Island and Swanson Island
  • Zeballos Inlet and Kyuquot Sound, near Nootka Island
  • Tahsis Narrows and the Gardens, near Nootka

Advanced DivesGabriola Passage Diving Around Vancouver Island

For more advanced boat dives, check out:

  • Quatsino Narrows, near Port Alice
  • Browning Pass, near Port Hardy and the SS Themis
  • Breakwater Island, near Nanaimo
  • Dodd Narrow, near Nanaimo
  • Gabriola Passage, near Nanaimo
  • Snake Wall Island, near Nanaimo and the HMCS Saskatchewan and Cape Breton
  • Alcala Point, near Ladysmith
  • Sansum Point, near Duncan
  • Octopus Point, near Duncan
  • Race Rocks, near Victoria

Always research your intended dive site before heading out, and make sure all beginners are comfortable with the depth and currents!

If you’re looking for a new boat or yacht to take your diving experiences to the next level, the team here at Van Isle Marina is happy to help. We have a wide range of pre-owned yachts and boats for sale, in addition to suitable sports models from Riviera and Pursuit that would provide plenty of space for all your diving equipment. Take a look at our current selection online, or visit us in person at 2320 Harbour Road near the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal.

Wildlife of Vancouver Island

Wildlife of Vancouver Island

Types of Wild Animals on Vancouver Island

Between the months of May and October, Vancouver Island comes alive with wildlife sightings. From land animals such as bears, cougars, and deer, to marine animals like whales, otters, and salmon, Vancouver Island is bursting with wildlife. Here are some of the different types of wildlife living on and around Vancouver Island on Canada’s West Coast – look out for them from the deck of your boat or yacht, or while on land for a hike.

In the Water

Fish

Fish found around Vancouver Island

From the five types of pacific salmon, to the various types of trout, dozens of rockfish species, and several varieties of shellfish, Vancouver Island is teeming with fish for locals and visitors to catch, eat, or watch. Popular target species that are commercially important to the region include salmon, trout, and halibut, as well as shellfish such as crabs, prawns, mussels, and Olympia Oysters. Pacific herring are also an important fish in the area, sought after for their roe and to use as live bait for the larger, more lucrative fish species.

Sea OttersVancouver Island Wildlife - Sea Otter

Members of the weasel family, there are two distinct species of otters that can be seen around Vancouver Island: river otters and sea otters. Around the Island, river otters are more commonly spotted than sea otters. River otters inhabit coastal shorelines, rivers, streams, wetlands, ponds, and lakes – they are seemingly everywhere!

Sea LionsVancouver Island Wildlife - Sea Lion

Sea lions, which resemble seals but are not the same animal, are hungry for the region’s pacific salmon, making them unpopular with fishermen in the area. There are two common types of sea lion around the Island: California sea lions and Steller sea lions. You can tell them apart by their colouring. California sea lions are dark brown, while Steller sea lions are a lighter tan colour, or sometimes reddish brown. The two types tend to co-mingle in the same areas.

Harbour Seals

Wildlife around Vancouver Island - Harbour Seal

Harbour seals are mammals in the Pinniped (“feather foot”) family and can be found around the world. You’ll likely see them from your boat or from the shore napping on rocky reefs, sand bars or boulders up and down Vancouver Island. Unlike sea lions, seals do not have external ear flaps, and they are greyish in colour rather than brown. They have short, furry front flippers and cannot raise their head and shoulders well while on land, so they constantly appear to be sleeping.

Whales & Dolphins

Pacific gray whales and orcas are the two most common types of whales you’ll find around Vancouver Island, but there are also humpbacks too! While whales can be seen at any time of year, May to October is the optimal time for whale watching in the region.

  • More than 20,000 pacific gray whales make their migration north up the west coast during March and April, making boating in this region at this time of year extra exciting.Orcas - found around Vancouver Island
  • Orcas are the black and white whales of the region. They are always making headlines in the local news as they are favoured by locals. Resident orcas are either Northern residents or Southern residents. Both types are comfortable around boats and have been known to get close to boaters, so keep your camera handy!
  • Humpback whales are more common around Telegraph Cove, Port McNeil, and the Pacific Rim. They are the largest whales in the area, known as much for their song as they are for their sheer size and beautiful breaches.

Sometimes while whale watching, you might come across a school of 50-100 Pacific White-Sided dolphins – another wildlife popular amongst locals and visitors alike. These mammals are playful and often seen jumping along or behind the boats they encounter. You’ll find plenty of dolphins in the Johnstone Strait heading north to the Queen Charlotte Islands.

On Land

Whitetail deer found on Vancouver Island

Deer

Deer are plentiful on Vancouver Island. You won’t be able to get far into the wilderness on the island without spotting one! BC is home to mule deer, black-tailed deer, and white-tailed deer. They can be found everywhere from the valleys, to the mountains, coastal rainforests, and dry interior grasslands. Deer are also prevalent in residential neighbourhoods, which create conflict for homeowners as they graze in gardens and create traffic hazards.

Black Bears

Black bear sightings are common on Vancouver Island during spring and summer, as the region is home to around 7,000 black bears (but zero grizzly bears). Although black bears prefer wooded areas near rivers, they sometimes make their way into residential neighbourhoods and busy campsites in search of food.

Black Bears of Vancouver Island

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on the west coast of Vancouver Island is a great spot for viewing black bears, although there are dozens of other areas up and down the Island where you might come across one. If your boat can get close enough to the shore, be on the lookout for bears as they have been known to hang out on the shoreline hunting for food.

Cougars

Cougars are home on Vancouver Island

Cougar sightings on Vancouver Island are less common than black bear sightings, but they do happen – often by unsuspecting locals on the trails or even in their backyards. Cougars are exceptionally dangerous creatures, considered to be the most feared cat in North America, so if you see one it’s best if it’s from an enclosed area. Like bears, hungry cougars make their way to urban areas when they are searching for food in the warmer months.

In BC, dangerous wildlife are handled by the BC Conservation Officer Service (COS) – a public safety provider focused on natural resource law enforcement and human wildlife conflicts prevention and response.

Raccoons

Racoons are medium-sized mammals, and while they are intelligent creatures, they aren’t necessarily a type of wildlife you’ll be seeking out. They do, however, exist in droves on Vancouver Island. InWild animals on Van Isle - Racoon residential areas especially, racoons are more of a nuisance than anything, as they lurk in the darkness and topple over garbage cans to “dumpster dive” in search of sustenance.

Grey Wolves

Grey Wolves of Vancouver IslandIt’s unlikely you’ve come across a Vancouver Island wolf, but they are here on the Island in limited numbers in forested and semi-forested parts of the northern region, as well as areas around Port Renfrew and Clayoquat Sound. The Grey wolves on Vancouver Island are lighter in colour than their mainland relatives and are considered shy and elusive, making them even harder to spot. If you see a grey wolf and wonder, could that be a coyote? The answer is no – there are no coyotes on Vancouver Island (but there are many living on the Lower Mainland).

In the Air

BirdsBirds of Prey Vancouver Island - Bald Eagle

There are hundreds of different birds circling above Vancouver Island at any given time, making the area a birder’s paradise. The mightiest one to watch soaring through the sky is the Bald Eagle, which captivates locals as much as visitors. The island also has plenty of sparrows, blue jays, swallows, woodpeckers, owls, hummingbirds, and hawks.

There is also a wide range of seabirds living on Vancouver Island, including several species of gulls, skimmers, shearwaters, terns, puffins, plovers, kingfishers, herons, ducks, loons, and albatrosses. With so many seabirds in the area, there are plenty of opportunities for birdwatching from your boat.

Bats

brown bats apenty on Vancouver Island

Less of a type of wildlife to admire out in the wild, and more of a pest to protect your house from, are bats. Vancouver Island is home to 16 species of bats, with the Little Brown Bat being the most common. Bats are a special type of mammal and are an integral part of our ecosystem, as they are great insect eaters and their guano is used as plant fertilizer.

 

Spend any amount of time on and around Vancouver Island and you’ll quickly come to realize the region is filled with all sorts of wildlife. In and amongst all the flora and fauna of the region, Vancouver Island offers many amazing opportunities for wildlife viewing, whether by boat or by foot. It’s one of the things this region is known for, and one of the many things that draws thousands of visitors to the waters surrounding Van Isle Marina each year. Come for our large marina, stay for our wildlife sightings.