Boating Basics Online is reader-supported. When you buy via our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Learn more

Why Do Dolphins Follow Boats? – Boating Side by Side With Dolphins

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

why do dolphins follow boats

It is a known fact that dolphins swim with boats and sightseeing trips and cruises consider this and may rely on it as an attraction. But why do dolphins follow boats in the first place? What do they get out of doing such a thing?

There are many benefits for dolphins to follow vessels on the water. These include getting food, making swimming easier, or even just having fun. Keep reading to learn more.

Boating With Dolphins

Dolphins chase boats and swim around or alongside them for various reasons. It’s an interesting sight to see but what does it mean for them to do so?

Here are some of the biggest reasons why they seem to flock toward boats.

1. Swim faster or with ease


Dolphins can be said to be passengers of boats as well. More accurately, they are riding its wake. This is something that they do to conserve energy or to swim faster.

They are fast swimmers, but swimming creates resistance and drag, which is taxing to sea creatures, and dolphins take advantage of boats on this front. The wake that watercraft produce makes it much easier for dolphins to swim, which is why they often swim alongside or behind boats.

Riding a boat’s wake is useful for dolphins who are traveling long distances. Bigger vessels such as ships are especially effective for easing up on the swimming to prepare for the next leg of their trip since these produce a bigger wake.

However, dolphins swim in front of ships as well and there are other reasons for that.

2. To have fun


Dolphins are considered the smartest creatures aside from humans, and various studies have shown this to be true. Because of their intelligence, not only are they curious about many things, but they also experience excitement from checking things out.

Since boats make a lot of noise and vibration, it is easy for dolphins to spot them, and their curiosity draws them to fun and watercraft can become the center of their entertainment for a time.

They are smart enough to understand that a boat itself is not a danger, so they can appreciate the variety of colors, sounds, and other details that arrive along with the craft. Interacting with humans is another point of fun for them and we may be as interesting to them as they are to us.

3. For appreciationthese vessels. However, being curious is not all that draws them in as dolphins also like to have

Many people have talked about how dolphins swim around you, demonstrating their willingness to interact with people. However, they also enjoy the positive reaction that they get from people.

Performing for a large group of people excites them. They seem to understand that cheering and clapping are a positive things. This also contributes to why they seem eager to pull off tricks for our amusement, and they enjoy the attention.

When dolphins jump in front of ships, they try to impress people aboard. Considering their intelligence, they are sure to have figured out that they’ll get more food out of such a feat besides the applause.

4. Food benefits


There is often food where humans and dolphins have caught on to this fact. Fishing vessels that tug along nets full of fish offer a great incentive in the free meal that they can get, while cruise ships and sightseeing boats may throw fish into the sea to lure dolphins into view.

The passage of larger vessels can also cause some fish to be stunned or disoriented, making it easy for dolphins to snatch a meal. For all these reasons, boats are convenient for grabbing a quick bite, and intelligent creatures like dolphins are quick to catch on.

5. Trying to impress and competition

One of the bigger reasons we enjoy seeing dolphins out at sea is that they like to jump and dive around, almost as if they are trying to impress us. While they use these maneuvers for swimming faster, they can also be trying to impress fellow dolphins.

Larger dolphin groups can be composed of different subspecies, and they like to compete with each other. Jumping high and making all sorts of fancy movements are a couple of ways they do this.

What Kind of Boats Do They Follow?

There is no single thing that is sure to attract dolphins since their mood also dictates their willingness to engage with boats, but food and noise are very effective in drawing them in. Larger crafts, such as ships, make more noise but even smaller ones that can produce such sounds, vibrations, or a large wake can attract them.

This is why they are often drawn to speedboats as well. They follow boat wakes for this benefit, and vessels that make bigger ones are better.

Can They Get Hurt When Following Ships and Boats?


Swimming close to moving vessels can be dangerous as they can get struck by a speeding vessel when dolphins swim in front of boats or are injured by the propeller. Injured dolphins can become aggressive and may come to dislike boats and humans due to the experience. Some accidents are fatal.

However, there are also ways to limit the risk of injuring them. Wildlife conservation organizations encourage boaters to lower their speed to mitigate the risks. It also helps to maintain your course and speed when there are dolphins around.

Quiet watercraft are particularly dangerous to dolphins because they have a hard time detecting such vessels. Jet skis are a good example of such crafts.

Important boating notes for dolphin safety:

  • Bottlenose dolphins swim close to shore and are at higher risk
  • Reducing vessel speed can lower the risk and severity of any potential injury
  • Avoiding sudden changes in boat speed or direction helps
  • Young dolphins with undeveloped bodies are more susceptible to accidents

Frequently Asked Questions


How do you get dolphins to follow you on a boat?

Dolphins are naturally drawn to the sound and vibrations made by boats; however, this consumes fuel. The best way to attract them is with food and fish is their favorite so sardines are a good choice.

However, it is also not recommended to feed wild animals so following a school of fish such as mackerel is a good alternative.

How fast can dolphins swim?

They are capable of swimming up to 54 kph or 33 mph which is really fast since that means they are capable of matching the speed of certain boats. However, this number changes depending on the subspecies of dolphins with bottlenoses having a lower top speed of 26 kph.

Normally they only swim at a more relaxed pace and they are believed to be capable of swimming even faster but doing so results in damage to their fins along with feeling pain.

Why do dolphins save humans?

There are several theories for why dolphins help humans. One notable reason is that they have a sense of altruism. It has been documented that some dolphins protect humans from sharks, reinforcing this theory of selflessness.

Having a sense of altruism is supported by the fact that they can recognize reflections of themselves, demonstrating a sense of self, which scientists believe is a requirement for comprehending selflessness. They help other sea creatures as well, and some dolphins swim in circles around others to repel sharks.

Are dolphins dangerous?

While they are generally friendly, they may also exhibit aggressive behavior when threatened, so it is recommended to always keep a safe distance. There have also been incidents where dolphins caused injury by accident, such as a dolphin jumping in boat and getting stuck on deck.

It is always important to remember that interacting with animals can be dangerous for people, especially when they are in the wild.


Why do dolphins follow boats? Now you know about some of the more common reasons along with things to be careful about when it comes to boating with dolphins. Be sure to exercise caution so that our interactions always result in good memories for everyone involved.

Have you interacted with dolphins before? What was most memorable about it for you? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Remember to boat safely.

5/5 - (2 votes)