Puffin trips to Machias Seal Island - more puffins than anywhere in Maine!

Machias Seal Island - Frequently Asked Questions


Booking Information   Planning for the Tour   On the Tour   Additional Information


What is the tour cost?

The cost of the tour is $160 per person.

When can requests for tour reservations be made?

We generally begin accepting tour reservations in early January – tour dates and spaces are filled on a first come, first served basis.

Is a deposit required when making a reservation?

Yes. To book a single tour date a deposit of one half the total cost is necessary. Deposits in the form of a check or money order may be mailed to the address shown below – we do not accept credit cards. Deposits are returned in the event a trip is cancelled due to unfavorable weather/sea conditions.

Can I make reservations for more than one day?

Yes, however reservations for consecutive or multiple dates require full payment in advance, which is also payable by check or money order. Advance payments are likewise returned in the event a trip is cancelled due to unfavorable weather/sea conditions.

What forms of payment are accepted on the day of the tour?

Payment may be in the form of cash, traveler’s check or personal check – no credit cards.

Why do you require full payment in advance for a multiple date booking?

Visitor access to Machias Seal Island is restricted by longstanding sanctuary regulations which protect the nesting seabird colony from excessive disturbance – therefore spaces on our island landing tours are very limited, typically only 15 individuals per day.

Given such a limited tour capacity over a relatively short operating season, those who cancel on short notice or outright no shows have a significant impact on our business – requiring full payment for a multiple date booking helps ensure that such reservations are made in good faith. We appreciate your understanding!

What is your cancellation policy?

Update: Individuals and groups booked on tours which have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak will receive a full refund of their deposit or advance payment. Our cancellation policy as shown below may be modified as circumstances warrant – please contact us for additional information.

In the event of tour cancellation due to unfavorable weather/sea conditions, any deposits or advance payments are fully refunded.

For cancellations received prior to May 15: If the cancellation is received more than 30 days from the scheduled tour date, deposits or payments are fully refunded.

If the cancellation is received less than 30 days from the scheduled tour date, refunds are contingent on the successful re-booking of the tour space, and are also subject to a $20 per person cancellation fee.

For cancellations received after May 15: Refunds are contingent on the successful re-booking of the tour space, and are also subject to a $20 per person cancellation fee.

For cancellations received less than 7 days from the scheduled tour date, any deposit or payment is non-refundable.

If my scheduled tour is cancelled due to bad weather, can I go on the following day’s tour?

We do make every effort to accommodate individuals on the next day or a subsequent day’s tour based on space availability, however given the limited capacity of our tours, we unfortunately cannot guarantee a re-booking.

The bottom line is that any offshore birding excursion is a highly weather dependent proposition and there is an inherent degree of uncertainty in offering (and participating in) a tour of this type. When cancellations do occur, there is very little flexibility in our scheduling due to the limited capacity of our operation.

Is this an appropriate tour for children? Is there a child's rate?

Because the length of the tour (as long as 5+ hours overall), the cost and the essential nature of the tour (watching birds for an extended period, a portion of that time spent remaining reasonably quiet in a confined space), we feel that this tour is not appropriate for children under 8 years of age.

Due to the limited number of visitors permitted to visit the island, a child's rate is not available.

Can I book the tour online?

No. Tour availability is always changing as booking requests are received and acknowledged, so it is not possible to post a current schedule online – either call or e-mail with your preferred dates to get up to date information on availability. Click for updated 2021 booking information.

Do you have a waiting list for tours that are booked full?

Update: Due to the uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus outbreak and its potential effect on our upcoming summer tour season, we have stopped accepting requests to be placed on our waiting list until further notice.

Planning for the tour

When is the best time to see the puffins?

Anytime from the first of June until early August is an ideal time to visit the puffins – naturally the most satisfactory experience tends to be when weather and sea conditions are favorable, however since neither can be controlled nor accurately predicted very far in advance (and since even summer weather here on the Maine coast can be fickle, with fog, chilly temps and showers always a possibility), there is always an element of uncertainty in participating in this particular offshore tour.

From a purely statistical perspective on general area weather patterns, the most likely period of favorable weather in the summer (and therefore perhaps the best time to go) is during late July or early August, but keep in mind that each day can be quite different.

Well, I really want to see the baby puffins!

Not very likely – Puffin chicks hatch on the island during mid to late June. The young birds are then nurtured and raised in their rock and earthen burrows and fed by their parents throughout late June, July and early August.

Puffins do not have an open, exposed nest but instead protect themselves by nesting around and under rocks as well as digging tunnels in the turf areas of the island. The young birds generally stay out of sight to avoid predation – if you do see a chick or a juvenile puffin, consider yourself lucky!

It would be during the late June - early August time period when the adult puffins are raising their young that the opportunity to observe feeding behavior (adults bringing small fish back to the burrows), while not guaranteed, would be most likely.

Are there places to stay in your local area?

Check out our area accommodations page for a listing of suitable local lodging.

How is the island landing conducted? Is it difficult?

Island landings involve participants transferring from the tour vessel into a large outboard powered skiff which is navigated to a designated landing area on the rocky shoreline. Depending on the sea conditions, there is a possibility of wet feet, although most days we manage to keep everyone completely dry. While assistance is provided at every stage of the landing, conditions are slippery, and a degree of physical mobility and surefootedness is required.

Please note that landings on Machias Seal Island can be hazardous, and while every effort is made to insure safety, participation in such activity is at your own risk.

Do I have to go ashore on the island?

No. If a participant is not comfortable with the landing, or if going ashore is not desired, they are welcome to stay aboard the tour vessel, which also provides an excellent opportunity to view the puffins and other seabirds.

What happens if the sea conditions do not allow landing on the island?

Due to its exposed, offshore location, landing on Machias Seal Island can only take place when sea conditions safely permit. Please note: Island landings are not guaranteed – a breezy day and/or a rolling sea is sometimes part of the Bold Coast experience, and obviously cannot be controlled.

Fortunately, positioning the tour vessel close by and around the island provides an equally excellent opportunity to observe puffins and other seabirds - on most days one is apt to see as many, if not more, birds on the water as on land.

On days when landings are not possible, the excursion will bring participants to the waters surrounding the island where all the nesting species can be easily observed from the deck and, unlike other so-called 'puffin trips' on the Maine coast, close range viewing of many puffins is assured.

When considering the possibility of an island landing, the safety of our tour participants is paramount, and the Captain's decision on whether to land is final.

Assuming that an island landing is possible, what can I expect while ashore?

Those who land on the island are escorted from a concrete ramp on the rocky shoreline up to the middle of the island to an orientation area, where information about your visit will be provided.

You will then be escorted to special enclosed observation blinds, which hold 3-4 participants each, where you can view the seabirds at extremely close range. Puffins will generally be positioned within 3-6 feet of the blind itself, providing for an unequaled opportunity for viewing and close range photography.

How long will I be ashore and how much time will I be permitted to remain in the blind?

Island visits typically are about 2 hours. While visits ashore as well as blind time are subject to changing weather and sea conditions, participants usually are provided at least one hour of time in the blind.

Is there much walking required on the island? Is it difficult terrain?

No. Access to all visitor areas on the island is via wooden boardwalks and flat grassy paths - no rough terrain. The longest stretch of walking is from the landing area to the visitor orientation patio, which is about 400 feet.

Is a passport required to visit Machias Seal Island?

No passport or other form of identification is required to visit the island.

On the tour

Where does the tour leave from?

Our tours depart from Cutler Harbor – see our map and directions page.

What time does the tour depart?

Departure times vary each day due to weather and tidal conditions, but the majority of our tours are scheduled in the morning. Departure times can be as early as 7 am but a later departure is also a possibility. Because of this, it is essential that individuals having reservations telephone the evening before in order to reconfirm their reservations and to receive the correct departure time.

How long does the tour last?

Tours that land on the island are approximately five hours. Non-landing tours may be somewhat shorter.

What should I bring along?

Things to remember to bring are: Warm clothing (very important!), suitable wind or rain proof outerwear, sturdy footwear, hat, camera, binoculars, bag lunch or snack. Raingear is also a good idea if showers are forecast.

Conditions on our area waters are generally colder than most folks expect, however temperatures and conditions can vary so we strongly recommend dressing in layers, which allows you to adjust to suit the conditions encountered. Remember that you will likely be spending time on the tour vessel's open deck as well as out in the open on an offshore island for a few hours, so think about what sort of attire will keep you comfortable.

What about restrooms?

Restroom facilities are available on the island as well as aboard the tour vessel.

Additional information

How many puffins and other seabirds nest on Machias Seal Island?

Approximate numbers of nesting seabird species are as follows:
5000 Atlantic puffins
4000 Razorbills
800 Common murres
800 Arctic terns
200 Common Eiders

Machias Seal Island is far and away the largest puffin colony on the Maine – it's a "birdy" place, to be sure!

Will I see anything else besides seabirds?

In addition to the puffins and other nesting migratory seabird species, the tour will provide an opportunity to view seals, usually both Common seals and Grey seals. Additional possibilities are Bald eagles and, on late season trips, porpoises, dolphins and pelagic seabird species.

How long does it take to get to the island?

Travel time to the island is 45 minutes to one hour, depending on weather and sea conditions.

Will I get seasick on the tour?

Sea conditions on this particular tour can vary – ranging from flat calm (less likely) to significant motion aboard the tour vessel. Participants should realistically expect to experience at least some motion on the boat at some point during the excursion. Sea conditions where waves or swells exceed 4-5 feet will result in a tour cancellation.

While it is difficult to offer hard and fast advice since susceptibility varies widely from one individual to the next, a general recommendation is that if you have experienced problems with motion sickness in the past, then taking precautions for this tour is probably a good idea. Or otherwise consider whether you wish to participate on such a tour to more exposed, offshore waters.

Common anti-motion sickness products include Dramamine, Bonine and ginger is a natural product which is reputed to have anti-motion sickness properties, and many people swear by. There are also anti-motion sickness skin patches which are available by prescription only. Lastly, some folks use special wrist bands (known as Sea Bands) which are purported to work using acupressure. These are some of the better known remedies.

Is Machias Seal Island wheelchair accessible?

Unfortunately, no. Machias Seal Island is a remote, rocky offshore island with very limited facilities for visitors.

Are pets allowed on the tour?

Pets are not permitted on the tour.

Is tipping allowed?

Tipping is not expected or necessary however if you have received above average service or if the tour has exceeded expectations, you are welcome to show your appreciation to the Captain and/or crew member!

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P.O. BOX 364
CUTLER, ME  04626
e-mail: info@boldcoast.com