See the city skyline from a historic NYC fireboat with a new look.
See the city skyline from a historic NYC fireboat with a new look.

Ride on a Vintage NYC Fireboat That's Floating Art

New York City is home to some of the most inventive, immersive public art exhibits anywhere. And this summer, a breathtaking display of floating art is sailing its way around New York Harbor. Flow Separation, an exhibit by New York area artist Tauba Auerbach, is a re-imagining of an honorably retired vintage fireboat, the Fireboat John J. Harvey. Every inch of its hull is covered in a dazzling, bold pattern that beautifully reflects the water around our city. And best of all, you can be part of the art: Bring the kids for a FREE sail aboard the gorgeously remade historic vessel.

Head out on the deck to explore the fireboat.

After taking a free ride aboard the dazzled John J. Harvey fireboat, it's hard to pinpoint our favorite parts of the experience, because it was all spectacular. Before we even boarded the boat, the bold red and white swirl patterns painted all over its hull immediately sparked our excitement. The hour-long ride from Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park gave us the chance to explore the main and upper decks, see incredible city views, learn some history from the captain, and witness the spraying of the original water cannons that were used to fight fires from 1931 to 1994.

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The red and white design of Flow Separation is inspired by wake patterns left behind by floating objects.

Flow Separation is commissioned by the Public Art Fund and created by artist Tauba Auerbach. Her red and white design is inspired by wake patterns left behind by floating objects, transforming the John J. Harvey into a contemporary "dazzle ship." Dazzle ships were invented during World War I to camouflage ships from enemy submarines.

Kids will get a thrill as they take the wheel and help steer the boat. 

Besides strolling around the main deck, we also had the chance to enter the ship's bridge to see the captain commanding the boat. My daughter even had the chance to help steer the wheel. We took our time exploring the upper deck where the water cannons and life boats are located. The upper deck also provided us with the best seats to feel the wind in our hair while soaking up the breathtaking cityscapes. As we sailed up the Hudson River, we saw priceless views of the Manhattan skyline, as well as Jersey City, Ellis Island, and Governors Island. The captain made a stop at the Statue of Liberty, where we experienced the spraying of the water cannons. (Thankfully, before firing the water cannons, the captain informed us passengers where to stand on the boat to stay dry!)

Boat trips take place on Saturdays at 4:30pm and 6pm, and Sundays at 12pm and 1:30pm, and leave from Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 6 until August 12, after which the boat sails from Pier 25 in Manhattan until October 7. FREE tickets can be reserved here, and are released on select Tuesdays at noon. Visitors without tickets can wait in a standby line prior to the departure times. The public is also invited to tour the boat when it is anchored. FREE on-board visiting hours are Saturdays from 12pm to 4pm, and Sundays from 3pm to 7pm.  

Know before you go: There is a cabin for stroller storage, however there is no bathroom. Life jackets are required (and provided) for children under 13.

Photos by the author

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