Excursions
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. --Jacques Yves Cousteau

An authorized permittee of the National Park Service, Cape Lookout National Seashore.  A USCG Experienced  Master Captain for your safety. Cushioned seats for your comfort.  Easy departure with free parking for one vehicle from Atlantic Beach.
A pioneer in the engineering of fine, fun, educational excursions, comfortable seating, and safe tours of our waterways of The Crystal Coast, H2O Captain Eco-Tour Private Boat Excursions advances onward creating two new Exclusive Adventuress for 2022.

Approximately 2-12 hour excursions, dependent upon options below.

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Moma with her foalBWB Repeat - Boat, Walk, Beach...Repeat OR Wild Horses & Shelling!

“Wild horses couldn't drag me away.”
Songwriters: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones

THE Customer's favorite, the trifecta of excursions (Boat Walk Beach), with a destination right dab in the middle of Shackelford Island. This is truly an "Instagramable" day and our most popular tour!  CLICK HERE for more in-depth info on these incredible animals living in the wild.  Understanding Horse Language CLICK HERE.

We first cross the Beaufort Inlet, a natural passageway into the Atlantic Ocean, then travel approximately 4+ miles on the protected waters along Shackelford Banks to historic Whale Creek/Gehrman's Pond.

Captain Mark will lead you on a guided land tour utilizing a circuit trail to the ocean side of the island. On this hike/walk through a maritime forest, grasslands, and dunes (CLICK HERE for more information on native plants we may encounter), Captain Mark expects to enjoy seeing the famous wild Shackelford Banker Horses.

Then, as if we were the first people to sight the ocean you will arrive at a heavenly beach to discover, most likely by ourselves. Identifying marine shells, including the Scotch bonnet which is the official state shell of NC, will be our activity, and appreciating the sheer beauty of the dunes and waves will be our companion as we walk along this beach. Common shells found on our Shackelford excursions, CLICK HERE!  Then, and almost without notice, we will head back into the dunes for a dramatic scene of the sound with its picturesque colors. 

Keith Rittmaster and Captain MarkA dip in the water along the protected waters of Shackleford on a hot day is delightful for families of ALL ages!

Back in the boat, Captain Mark will take you through the north end of Middle Marshes of The Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve (RCR) up the entire Taylor Creek along historic Beaufort’s Front Street. From Lennoxville Point west to downtown you will have the town on your right and the RCR on your left. We have often seen wild horses on these islands as well.  This excursion lasts approximately 4 hours.  Regular price.   Free parking for one vehicle at the Atlantic Beach location.

Photo right:  Meeting at USCG Station Ft. Macon with Keith Rittmaster (R), Director of Bonehenge Whale Center in Beaufort, NC. with Captain Mark Sonder, Flotilla Commander holding the bottom jaw bone of a bottlenose dolphin!  H2O Captain is a Bottlenose Dolphin Level Donor at the museum. 

Photo top:  a wild Shackleford Banker Horse on the side of one of our trails!

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On The “Outside” 

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

This excursion is more susceptible and dependent upon wave heights, air temperature, and wind speed. Local mariners & lore will tell you about going on “The Outside.” This is pure ocean-spanning as we travel in unprotected waters first to The Cape Lookout Bight and then to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

With the Cape Lookout Lighthouse as our backdrop, and with his local knowledge, Captain Mark will take you to this ever-shifting sand area at The Bight. Look onto the ocean, breathe the air, take a dip on either side Ocean or the waters leading to Barden Inlet, this is what an ocean trip on The Outside is all about! It’s always a gift when we find a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins going to or coming from The Cape.

An abundance of shorebirds and shellfish species line the shore. We will find many and hope to identify some as we walk both sides together.

Then it is on to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse itself, with its Lighthouse Keepers quarters, now turned into a small museum. The iconic landmark is a 163-foot high lighthouse located on the most southern point in The Outer Banks. It flashes every 15 seconds and is visible at least 12 miles out to sea. It is one of the very few lighthouses that operate during the day. It became fully automated in 1950.

Taking your family to visit all 7 Lighthouses in NC? Well...you can take your car to 6 of them, but our lighthouse, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse is the southernmost lighthouse on the Crystal Coast along the Outer Banks and is only accessible by boat. H2O Captain will get you there and back safely and all passengers will be on cushioned seats to absorb all the big waves!

We go back the way we came along the ocean shore of Shackleford Banks in the hopes of seeing the famous wild Shackleford horses walking along the beach. We may also visit the Beaufort and/or Morehead City waterfronts on our return. Please note if the ocean is angry on the day of your excursion, we would travel to the Cape on the protected waters of “the inside.”  This excursion lasts approximately 4-4.5 hours.  From $529.  Free parking for one vehicle at the Atlantic Beach location.

Climbing the Cape Lookout Lighthouse
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is closed for climbing again this year. During a pre-season safety inspection, engineers discovered serious concerns with some structural elements. We hope the lighthouse will reopen in 2025).

For more information on the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and National Seashore, please CLICK HERE https://h2ocaptain.com/tours/cape-lookout-national-seashore

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Money On The Horses: A 2 Island Tour, Sand Dollar Island, and Shackleford Banks
Sand Dollar Island Beaufort NCWe first travel past Money Island, home to a number of goats, then proceed a short distance on the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) past the commercial port of Morehead City and across Beaufort Inlet to Sand Dollar Island where we beach the H2O Captain boat while you enjoy the delight and surprise of finding a sand dollar, then another, and another!

Back in the boat we will go to approximately the middle of Shackleford Banks, where the ferry cannot get in or out of, to again either beach the boat or anchor a few feet from the beach and walk 1 or 2 trails looking for the wild horses. We will walk across the island to the oceanside where you will discover great shelling. An official reusable H2O Captain Shelling Bag will be given to each party.

Back in the boat will be travel through the waterfronts of the quaint towns of Beaufort and Morehead City while looking for additional horses as we motor through the Rachel Carson Preserve.

Please call Captain Mark BEFORE you book at 202-369-1063 to make sure we can visit Sand Dollar Island as in high tide this island is literally underwater. We often substitute Carrot Island in the Rachel Carson Preserver if the tide is not favorable.

Duration: up to 5 hours. $599 for up to 4 passengers, (weekends and holidays $629) $30 for each additional passenger 5 and 6. Get ready to put Money on the Horses!

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EXCLUSIVE EXCURSION - A 3 Island Tour: Sand Dollars, Wild Horses, and a Lighthouse Oh My!!! 
Sand Dollar Island Beaufort NCDepending on the time of day and the level of the tide, we will cross the Beaufort Inlet, a natural passageway to the North Atlantic Ocean to cash in on Sand Dollars which you will find in the shallow water and/or beach as you walk on your own to find these gems on this vanishing island. This island is underwater at high tide!  Article:  Is It OK to Take Sand Dollars Off the Beach? 

We will then get back into the H2O Captain boat and anchor just a few yards from the beach off Shackleford Banks in a place that the ferries cannot get into! We are here to walk on two different trails (30 minute walk total) including the ocean beach (great shelling) to view in their natural habitat, wild horses as well as to do some shelling. An official H2O Captain Shelling Bag will be given to each party!

Back on the boat again we will head to the 3rd island at The Cape Lookout Lighthouse all along protected waters. You will be able to get right up to the Lighthouse as well as to tour the Lightkeepers home, now a small museum. We go back onto the boat for the last time to view the 3 islands (a 3 island bonus for a total of 6 islands!) that comprise the Rachel Carson Preserve, as well as the Beaufort and Morehead City waterfronts. What a day! Depending on how long you wish to spend on each island, this tour can take up to 6 hours.

Please note: This excursion is available only during certain times and tides and departs from Atlantic Beach. Call first BEFORE booking online to make sure the tide levels are favorable to this trip. 202-369-1063.  Special Rate:  $849 for up to 4 passengers. $30 for each additional passenger 5 and 6.  For an alternative excursion featuring 3 islands we may substitute a Boardwalk for Sand Dollars as we head over to the Carrot Island to walk its boardwalk 100 yards into the Rachel Carson Estuarine Sanctuary where we will view Horse Island and Bird Shoal. That's 3 islands right there!!!  Leaving from Atlantic Beach only.  Free parking for one vehicle.

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EXCLUSIVE EXCURSION - Double Trouble: Shack Attack and a Lighthouse!! 
Wild Horses of ShacklefordLearn about the history of whaling on Shackleford Banks and the people that used to live here while looking for the wild horses either at Whale Creek or taking 2 nature walks through the maritime forest, grasses, and dunes of this beautiful island. Swimming is always welcome whether for families of all ages on the protected side or a bit more rugged on the ocean side.

We get back into the H2O Captain boat to navigate to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse or the Cape Lookout Bight via the protected waters. The Bight features the confluence of Barden Inlet and the ocean just inches apart. Wonderful swimming here as well as shelling. The Lighthouse features, yes THE Lighthouse, as well as the Lightkeepers house, now turned into a small museum.

On our return to Atlantic Beach, we will cruise through the Beaufort waterfront / Rachel Carson Preserve as well as the Morehead City waterfront. This excursion will last approximately 5-6 hours.  Special Rate:  $729 for up to 4 passengers. $30 for each additional passenger 5 and 6.  Leaving from Atlantic Beach only.  Free parking for one vehicle.

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EXCLUSIVE EXCURSION 5 in 1: Boat, Nature Walk, Beach Yoga, Wild Horses, and Shelling
Beach Yoga Shackleford BanksWe will take up to 5 passengers on this special 5-hour excursion which will include: a wonderful boat ride; a nature walk; group Beach Yoga; hopefully seeing wild horses and discovering great shelling all in one day!!!!! (That’s 5 exclamation marks!!!!!).

Escape to Shackleford Banks where we will beach the boat, and, carrying your own beach towels, take a nature walk over to the ocean where our Certified Yoga Instructor, Kristin Martin, with Momentum Yoga & Wellness, will instruct a 1-hour yoga practice that will add to your peace and relaxation during this one of a kind excursion. With the North Atlantic Ocean on one side and natural dunes on the other as our backdrop, we will all perform these mindful movements on the beach!

After a feeling of replenishment, we head back to the boat and travel through the quaint Town of Beaufort to get the view from the water looking into town, as well as viewing all the Rachel Carson Reserve. In addition, we will view the Morehead City waterfront on our way back to Atlantic Beach.  Special Rate:  $829 for up to 4 passengers. $30 for passenger #5.  Leaving from Atlantic Beach only.  Free parking for one vehicle.

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EXCLUSIVE EXCURSION - At First Light
Cape Lookout Lighthouse at DawnThis excursion is our most adventurous one as we leave our Atlantic Beach location 1.5 hours prior to first light! In the still of the night (or early morning as the case may be) we will head out of the Beaufort Inlet into the wide-open North Atlantic Ocean in complete darkness and travel to The Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Have no doubt as you will be delivered there BEFORE dawn to take fantastic photos as the lighthouse gets illuminating and radiates from the rising sun! We will head back via the inside creating a huge circle and taking you through the Beaufort and Morehead City Waterfronts. You will return to Atlantic Beach knowing that you were the first humans to be at Cape Lookout on this very special day!

Please note: This excursion will only run with calm seas and calm wind. This trip is not temperature dependent, so wear your woolies if you feel the dark hours will be too cold for you.

Special Rate: $999 for up to 4 passengers. $200 non-refundable deposit should trip not run due to a rough ocean, OR you can change your excursion for one of our other excursions later the same day and receive the difference in cost back to your credit card.  This excursion lasts approximately 4.5 hours.  Leaving from Atlantic Beach only.  Free parking for one vehicle.

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'Round We Go! 
Round We Go Beaufort Rachel Carson ReserveThis excursion was designed for the visitor looking for a shorter tour from 2 -2.5 hours.  Feel like some Atlantic Ocean waves today? How about the sights and sounds of the bustling historic town of Beaufort while passing by the Rachel Carson Preserve? This cruise will amaze you with sights of The NC Maritime Museum, Duke Marine Laboratory, Radio Island, location of U.S. Marine Amphibious landings, USCG Station Ft. Macon, Beaufort Inlet, Shackleford Banks with a possible sighting of wild horses, the Rachel Carson Preserve and its Boardwalk, North River, Taylors Creek, Town of Beaufort along all of Front Street, and Carrot Island.  Wow!  Regular price. 

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EXCLUSIVE EXCURSION - Lunch in Swansboro and the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway)
Lunch In SwansboroThis is approximately a 5+ hour day. Captain’s Choice for lunch. The cost of lunch will be borne by passengers. The Captain will eat by himself.
Experience this classic East/West portion of the North/South ICW for approximately a 50-mile round trip tour. View various islands in either high or low tide as well as Carteret Community College, The Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach Causeways (which we will travel under), Pelletier Creek, Spooner Creek, Jumping Run, Gales Creek, Broad Creek, Sanders Creek, Goose Creek, Deer Creek, and the mouth of the White Oak River.  Excursion carries a special rateof $549 for up to 4 passengers.  Leaving from Atlantic Beach only.  Free parking for one vehicle.

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Local Knowledge for Mariners Beaufort NCLocal Knowledge for Mariners / Boat Handling
What's going on in this photo? There are eight (8) aids to navigation…but are they really helpful?

Just purchased a new or used boat; moving to the neighborhood, or wish to keep the gel coat on but are a little unsure of the “skinny” water we have in and around this area? If this is you then this Excursion is for you as Captain Mark offers this personal boat training session to help build your cruising confidence with hands-on coaching.

Areas covered:
• All of Bogue Sound along the ICW west to Swansboro.
• North along the ICW to Oriental, up Adams Creek, and crossing the Neuse River.
• East to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Cape Lookout Bight going on the inside where there are NO USCG Aids to Navigation!
• Morehead City Waterfront
• Beaufort Waterfront
• The “sneak” route from Beaufort to Harkers Island
• Crossing the Beaufort Inlet and Shackleford Banks, West End through ½ way down the island.
• South: Getting out onto the ocean beyond the line of demarcation via the Beaufort Inlet.

Local Knowledge for Mariners Beaufort NCThe above can NOT be covered in one outing, so please communicate to Captain Mark your immediate needs. This excursion runs at all tide levels. Please note this is NOT a fishing trip.

A conversation of various apps for your phone or tablet will be discussed to assist in your navigational needs if you’d like.

In addition to Local Knowledge, you can experience handling the boat from Captain Mark, including Navigation Rules, Docking, Boat Handling Underway, Anchoring, Emergencies, Line Handling, and Knots.

Although all the above can be performed on the H2O Captain boat, it can also be performed on your vessel powered by an outboard engine(s).  Furthermore, Captain Mark is available to Captain any vessel of up to 100 gross tons and up to 100 nautical miles off the coast.  If you wish Captain Mark to captain your boat, please specify him (Mark Sonder) as an additional insured on your boat insurance so your policy will cover liability caused by another operator other than the owner.

Regular Price.  Leaving from Atlantic Beach only.  Up to 4 hours.  Free parking at the marina.

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1st Mate Lucky the Dog

Custom Excursion

Going camping on Shackleford Banks or South Core Banks for a few nights and need to be dropped off and picked up? Want to see the sunset over Bogue Sound? Or see the homes on the water in Spooners Creek or the canals of Pine Knoll Shores?

Sometimes, what someone else lays out for you as an itinerary may not fully meet your needs. To make you 100% satisfied, if our 8 finely tuned excursions don’t accomplish that task, you have the opportunity to talk directly to Captain Mark to figure out what may be best for you and your group.

Once the Captain gives you a price and time of departure, please click BOOK CHARTERS, and locate Custom Excursion. Place your order! Easy, simple, and a fun adventurous time awaits!

Captain Mark's License allows him to take you out as far as 100 nautical miles (115 miles) from the coast in any vessel up to 100 Gross Tons.  If you wish Captain Mark to captain your boat, please specify him (Mark Sonder) as an additional insured on your boat insurance so your policy will cover damages caused by another operator other than the owner.

In addition, Captain Mark has obtained a TWIC license (Transportation Worker Identification Credential). The TWIC program provides a tamper-resistant biometric credential to maritime workers who require unescorted access to secure areas of port facilities, outer continental shelf facilities, and vessels regulated under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002.  Let Captain Mark know as he is looking to assist our passengers looking for even more adventure!

Cost dependent upon job description.

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Photo top:  Moma and her foal photo by passenger Brad R
Photo right:  H2O Captain's 1st Mate...Lucky the Dog