New York City has a lot of islands—Manhattan, Staten, even Brooklyn and Queens lead into Long Island. With all this waterfront, it's no wonder there are so many sightseeing cruises and fun ferries.
But sometimes you want to be your own captain. No need to hijack a boat; there are many opportunities for families to get out on the water by themselves, kayaking, rowing and canoeing. We've rounded up great New York City organizations that offer boating sessions on our wonderful waterways—and they're all FREE. Ahoy!
Downtown Boathouse – Manhattan & Governors Island
Pier 26 on the Hudson River and Governors Island. Visit the website for details.
Mid-May through mid-October
On weekends, holidays and select weekday evenings, the Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaking on the Hudson River at Pier 26. The volunteers are also on Governors Island on Saturdays (though check before you go as the dock is being repaired and they have yet to open for 2015.) Expect to get a little wet when you kayak. The Boathouse suggests wearing a bathing suit, but we didn't and found that on a hot summer day, we dried off quickly. Children under 16 need to be accompanied by an adult and only one kid is permitted per boat. If you'd like more supervision, the volunteer organization also runs kayaking classes every Wednesday evening.
Manhattan Community Boathouse – Midtown West & the Upper West Side
Pier 96 at 56th Street and the Hudson River
72nd Street and the Hudson River
Formerly run by the Downtown Boathouse, this new org is handling walk-up kayaking on weekends at 72nd Street, and every day at Pier 96. This organization offers various classes on Saturdays as well. Check the website for the complete schedule.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse – Dumbo
Pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Saturdays 10am-3pm and select Thursdays 5:30-6:45pm
Another popular place for free kayaking is the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse. The lines can get pretty long so be prepared to wait. Check the calendar for a complete list of dates and times. Afterward, check out all of the things to do in this awesome park including a carousel, a pop-up pool and an incredible water playground.
Kayak Staten Island – Staten Island
South Beach at the end of the boardwalk in parking lot No. 1
This all-volunteer organization provides kayaks, paddles and life jackets as well as basic launch, land and paddling tips. Experienced kayakers are on the water to observe and assist. No registration is required and rowing times vary so check its calendar for a complete schedule.
Red Hook Boaters – Red Hook
Louis Valentino, Jr. Park and Pier, Coffey and Ferris Streets
June through mid-October: Sundays 1-5pm, Thursdays 6-8pm
Another all-volunteer group that offers public kayaking in an effort to promote awareness of the Brooklyn waterfront. The members hold beach cleanups during every paddling session, so in addition to boating it’s a great way to chip in and help keep the shore clean. Check the calendar for full details.
North Brooklyn Boat Club – Greenpoint
Broadway Stages Boatyard, 49 Ash Street at McGuinness Boulevard
On the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, you can kayak on Newtown Creek, the body of water that narrowly separates Brooklyn and Queens. Members can paddle more often and try out challenging weekend trips. Children must be at least 4-foot-8, so it's best for older children. Visit the calendar for more details. Afterward, check out other cool things to do in Greenpoint.
Long Island City Community Boathouse – Long Island City
Hallets Cove, 31st Avenue and Vernon Boulevard
Although during the week the L.I.C. Community Boathouse sponsors adult-only kayaking opportunities, on select Wednesdays and Saturdays families are welcome to try kayaking in Hallets Cove in the wonderful Socrates Sculpture Park. Check the calendar for more info. Read our full kayaking roundup for important tips about kayaking with kids in NYC.
Village Community Boathouse – West Village & Prospect Park
Pier 40 at Houston Street and the Hudson River and Prospect Park Lake on the Southern End near Well House Lake
Manhattan: April-November, Sundays starting at noon; Tuesdays at 6pm; Prospect Park: Mid-June-September, Saturdays, noon-4pm
In addition to rowing sessions in the New York Harbor in a Whitehall gig, this organization also offers free boat building sessions to the public. Check the calendar for a full list of events.
Rocking the Boat – the Bronx
Hunts Point Riverside Park, Lafayette Avenue between Edgewater Road and the Bronx River
May-September: Saturdays and Sundays 1pm-6pm
Explore the Bronx River in wooden rowboats crafted by local teens as part of Rocking the Boat’s youth development program. The weekly community rowing sessions let participants boat independently or you can explore the water on guided tours. No registration required. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
East River C.R.E.W. – Upper East Side
FDR Service Road between 95th and 96th Streets
April-October: Tuesdays at 4:30pm
Subtitled Community Recreation and Education on the Water, this nonprofit shines a light on the East River through a host of educational programs. There are also weekly rowing sessions throughout the summer and early fall so you can learn rowing basics. Check the website for a complete list of events and programs.
Urban Park Rangers – Citywide
Urban Park Rangers offer free canoeing programs for children ages 8 and up. Advance registration is required and participants are selected through a lottery system.
If you happen to have your own canoe or kayak and prefer to go it alone, there are several public launch sites throughout the city. Info about launch applications, permit requirements, a map of public launch sites and additional rules, regulations and guidelines are all available on the NYC Parks Department website. If you're going to do it yourself, you'll also want to read the NYC Boating "Rules of the Road" and Clean Boating Guidelines.
For more seasonal fun on the water and off, check out our Summer Fun Guide.
This post originally published in June 2012.
Photo courtesy of Red Hook Boaters