Planning a trip to Hilton Head Island and hoping to spend some time on the water? These Hilton Head boat tours are a fun way to do just that!

There are plenty of options to choose from, ranging from family-friendly dolphin tours to romantic sunset cruises to action-packed shark adventures.

You can even charter a private yacht or rent a pontoon for the day!

Side view of a sailboat as it sails towards the setting sun near Hilton Head

Note: This guide contains affiliate links to my trusted travel partners.

In a hurry?
These are three of the most popular options:

This sunset dolphin tour departs out of Harbour Town Marina, so you’ll get to see the Harbor Town Lighthouse, the Haig Point Lighthouse, and the beautiful Calibogue Sound. It’s fun for all ages!

Argggg Matey! This pirate ship cruise also departs out of Harbour Town Marina and is the top option for young kids.

This beachcombing tour on a disappearing island departs out of Palmetto Bay Marina and is another fun one for families with children.

Hilton Head Boat Tour Parking Tips (Don’t Skip!)

Parking is the most important part of making it to your boat tour on time, so don’t skip over my tips in this section!!

The majority of the island’s boat tours originate from one of three areas: Palmetto Bay Marina, Broad Creek Marina at Shelter Cove, or Harbour Town Marina at Sea Pines.

  • Palmetto Bay Marina is the easiest to access and the area doesn’t have many parking issues. If the marina parking lot is full, there’s plenty of overflow parking at the nearby boat ramp under the Cross Island Expressway. Plan to arrive at the Palmetto Bay Marina at least 20 minutes before your tour’s departure time.
  • Shelter Cove Marina also has plenty of parking, but you may have a bit of a walk to get to the boats. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before the tour departure time.
  • Harbour Town Marina at Sea Pines has the worst parking issues. If you aren’t staying in Sea Pines, make note that there’s a $9 entry fee per vehicle to enter the community and that parking is very scarce during peak tourism season. Once you pay to enter Sea Pines, I suggest parking in the Sea Pines trolley pickup area (it’ll be on your left, within a half-mile of the entry gate) and taking the free trolley to get to the marina. The marina has valet parking, as well — but even the valet lot fills up! The valet fee ranges between $10 – $20.

Insider Tip: During peak tourism season (May – September), it’s best to arrive at the Sea Pines gate at least an hour prior to the start of your boat tour to ensure you have plenty of time to board the boat. There are plenty of things to see and do in the area while you wait!

Related Reading: Hilton Head Marinas Parking Tips

Sunset Dolphin Tours

Ideal for: Everyone!
Book it Now: Try the most popular option or my personal favorite
View More Options: HHI Dolphin Tours

Hilton Head Island is an awesome destination for dolphin watching! That’s because approximately 400 Atlantic bottlenose dolphin live in the surrounding waters.

That means your chances of spotting a pod during your tour are pretty darn good. I’ve been on many HHI dolphin tours through the years, and I’ve spotted them every single time.

Because they’re so playful and inquisitive, it’s very common for dolphin to swim alongside the boat or leap out of the water. You should be able to get a good look at them.

My personal favorite Hilton Head dolphin tours are the sunset dolphin cruises — especially the smaller, private ones that operate out of less-busy marinas, like this one. The views in the Calibogue Sound are incredible!

Sunset dolphin tours typically last one and a half hours, and the larger boats usually have restrooms on board. A few of the tours even include drinks.

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Close-up of three Atlantic bottlenose dolphins leaping out of the water with Hilton Head Island visible in the background
A grandparent watches closely over his granddaughter, who appears to be approximately 6 or 7 years old, as she peers over the side of a boat in search of dolphin
Two baby dolphins swim alongside a bigger dolphin as the setting sun casts a pink glow over the water in Hilton Head

Photo Tip: In addition to photographing the dolphins, make sure you have your camera ready to capture the beautiful Haig Point Lighthouse on Daufuskie Island! You’ll cruise right past it.

Private Sunset Cruise

Ideal for: Families or Couples
Book it Now: Most popular option
View More Options: Sunset cruises

This is a great idea for a date, honeymoon activity, or even a proposal!

You can opt for a variety of sunset cruises on Hilton Head, from sunset dinner cruises to happy hour boat tours to the popular sunset dolphin cruises mentioned above.

Make sure you read the descriptions carefully, since some sunset cruises are private and others are group tours.

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View from the deck of a yacht with a pink and orange sunset reflected in the surrounding water

Pirate Ship Adventure

Ideal for: Kids
Book the Harbour Town Marina (Sea Pines) Option: Black Dagger
Book the Palmetto Bay Marina Option: Black Sparrow

This option is perfect for the younger kids! They can become a pirate for the day and go exploring to hunt for treasure in the Calibogue Sound.

Kiddos get decked out in pirate gear and receive pirate training from the crew before boarding the pirate ship. The training helps prepare them for what’s to come — the treasure hunt!

The crew of little adventurers will follow the pirate map they’ve been given and must defeat Stinky Pete — the stinkiest pirate on the island — to retrieve a key he has brazenly stolen.

From there, it’s a race to secure the treasure before Stinky Pete makes off with it himself!

The most exciting part of the adventure is when the little pirates all get the opportunity to spray Stinky Pete with their water cannons as he floats past them in his dinghy.

Overall, this is one of the best options on the entire island if you have little ones aged 3-10.

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A male and female dressed in pirate gear grin at the camera while standing on a dock with a pirate ship visible in the background
Black ship with a white skull and crossbones and the name "Black Sparrow" written on the hull in yellow

Insider Tip: If your kids fall in love with all things pirate-related, I suggest taking them to Lowcountry Celebration Park near Coligny Beach afterwards so they can play on the cool pirate ship playground!

Vanishing Island Adventure

Ideal for: Families with Children
Book it Now: Group tour or a private beachcomber tour

It makes me giggle a little that this tour has gotten so popular, but it’s currently one of the top things to do in Hilton Head!

The island is nothing more than a sandbar that’s exposed during low tide and then disappears when the tide comes in. (Sometimes it’s called the Disappearing Island, as well.)

Kids love the mystique of it all, though, so that’s why it’s so popular!

As a bonus, there’s a decent chance you’ll spot dolphin on your way to and from the island (aka: sandbar ­čśé).

Once you get there, you can hunt for shells, starfish, shark teeth, and sand dollars.

Make note that it’s illegal to keep live sand dollars, but your guide can help you spot the differences between the live and dead ones.

When they’re alive, sand dollars are a greenish-brown color and have tiny little hair-like tentacles. The dead ones are usually bleached white.

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Insider Tip: Plan to spend approximately 3 hours on the trip. Pack reef-safe sunscreen, and bring water and snacks. You might also want to include water shoes, towels, sunglasses, and a hat.

Private Sailboat Cruises

Ideal for: Couples

A private tour in a sailboat is one of the most peaceful ways to explore Hilton Head’s salt marshes and tidal creeks. It’s also one of the best ways to personalize your experience!

With a private cruise, you’ll only share the boat with your own group, so the trip feels more intimate.

Some guides are even ok with you packing a picnic and a bottle of wine to enjoy during the outing. (I would definitely suggest asking first to make sure it’s ok, though.)

As with all of the other Hilton Head boat tours, there’s a great chance you’ll spot a pod of dolphin frolicking in the water during your outing, so be sure to keep an eye out.

If you leave out of Sea Pines, there’s even an option to sail aboard the Stars and Stripes — a boat that competed in the America’s Cup race!

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A yacht sails off towards the sunset on a private boat tour near Hilton Head Island

Insider Tip: If you’re thinking of proposing (or already did and are honeymooning on the island), a private sailboat cruise is one of the most romantic things to do on Hilton Head.

Rent a Pontoon Boat

Ideal for: Families, Friends Groups
Book it Now: Pontoon Rentals

Want to be the boss of the boat? Try heading out for a relaxing cruise on a pontoon that you operate yourself. You can rent one for a half-day outing and customize your own itinerary.

To operate the pontoon, you must be a minimum of 18 years old, hold a valid driver’s license, and have prior boating experience. Pontoons can hold up to 10 people.

When picking up the boat, you’ll be given a professional orientation so you can learn how to best navigate the tidal creeks surrounding Hilton Head Island.

The cost of the rental doesn’t include fuel, so you’ll be asked to pay based on usage once the trip ends.

Explore Skull Creek, see Daufuskie Island, or even venture over to the swanky Palmetto Bluff area.

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Red pontoon with a tan cover docked at Palmetto Bay Marina on Hilton Head Island. Small craft with yellow hulls and blue hulls are docked in the background

Take a Ferry to Daufuskie Island

Ideal for: Families, history buffs, nature lovers
Book it Now: Take the ferry or a private boat + tour combo

If you’re interested in seeing Daufuskie Island, you can take a ferry over to explore it or venture out on a private boat.

The ferries take about 45 minutes, and you’ll enjoy the beautiful views of the coastline and salt marshes on your way there.

Once on the island, the best way to get around is via golf cart. There are 4 or 6-seater rental options.

Daufuskie isn’t crowded at all, so the island makes a nice escape when Hilton Head’s beaches get a little too busy.

You can take guided tours while you’re on Daufuskie Island, too, so keep that in mind.

The top tour I recommend is the Daufuskie Gullah Heritage Tour with Sallie Ann Robinson. It’s so important to support the island’s dwindling Gullah community and learn about the culture first hand.

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The Haig Point III cruises into Harbour Town Marina in Hilton Head with a full load of passengers after one of their daytime boat tours

Insider Tip: You might want to pack water and snacks, since there aren’t many places to eat on Daufuskie Island. Don’t forget reef-safe sunscreen, sunglasses, and towels (if you plan to swim).

Cruise on Over to Savannah

One of the most relaxing ways to take a day trip to Savannah from Hilton Head Island is by boat.

You’ll get to enjoy the beautiful Lowcountry scenery and will have an excellent chance of spotting dolphin along the route.

The ride takes approximately 2 hours each way, so be sure to pack sunscreen and a hat.

There are plenty of incredible things to do in Savannah, from admiring the architecture throughout the Historic District to visiting one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world to posing in front of the iconic fountain in Forsyth Park.

For convenience, I suggest taking a Savannah trolley tour while you’re there so you can get a broad overview of the city’s history while letting someone else handle all of the driving.

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Hilton Head boat tours sign indicating the availability of an Historic Savannah Cruise with 4 hours to spend in Savannah

Hilton Head Boat Tours: Summary

As you can tell, there are a wide variety of boat tours you can take, whether you want to keep the kids entertained or are planning a romantic getaway on the water.

The most popular Hilton Head boat tours are the sunset dolphin tours, trips to the disappearing island, and the pirate ship adventures.

If you have questions about any of these Hilton Head boat tours, please let me know in the comments below.