Free Boat Rides in NYC from Kayaks to Sailboats and More

Kids can join parents for kayaking in NYC at Hudson River Park. Photo courtesy the Manhattan Community Boathouse
Kids can join parents for kayaking in NYC at Hudson River Park. Photo courtesy the Manhattan Community Boathouse
6/11/24 - By Sonia Gonzalez

With all the water surrounding New York City, it's no wonder there are so many sightseeing cruises and fun ferry rides to great kid destinations. If you want to be your own captain, NYC offers many seasonal opportunities for families to get out on the water by themselves with FREE sailing, canoeing, rowing, and kayaking in NYC.

We've rounded up 11 great New York City organizations offering boating sessions on the local waterways. Find more fun ways to get wet in our Guide to Beaches and Lakes Near NYC.


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Remember to call ahead or check each individual organization's website or Facebook page before heading out. Weather, special events, and repairs can put things in flux at these mostly community-run spots.

Where To Go Kayaking in NYC

1. Manhattan Community Boathouse – Midtown West

Pier 96 at 56th Street in Hudson River Park
Saturday and Sunday afternoons (Memorial Day weekend through mid-October); Monday and Tuesday evenings (June- August)
The Manhattan Community Boathouse runs kayaking at Pier 96 on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations are not accepted. Paddlers under 16 must share a boat with their parent or caregiver, and those up to 18 must be accompanied by a parent. You will find lockers to stash items at the Pier 96 changing rooms.

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Free boat rides in NYC: Go kayaking in Brooklyn Bridge Park with your family
The whole family can kayak at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by Rosalind Muggeridge

2. Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse – Dumbo, Brooklyn

Between Piers 1 and 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Kayaking is available on Wednesday and Thursday evenings; plus Saturdays; Sunday afternoons are reserved for family paddling
Memorial Day weekend through August; reservations are required
Anyone above the age of 14 can kayak alone (if a parent/guardian accompanies them in another boat), and younger kids can ride in double kayaks with a parent. One child and one adult are allowed per boat. Children 7 and older may paddle in a single kayak on Sundays during the Family Program. Organizers recommend kids are at least 3 feet tall to ride. When you do get out on the water, you'll be rewarded with breathtaking views of Lower Manhattan. Remember your rowing time is limited to 20 minutes. Afterward, check out all of the things to do in this awesome park, including a carousel and an incredible water playground.

3. Long Island City Community Boathouse – Long Island City, Queens

Hallets Cove, 31st Drive and Vernon Boulevard
Kayaking has returned to Long Island City thanks to the L.I.C. Community Boathouse, which offers family kayaking on select days during the summer in Hallets Cove in the wonderful Socrates Sculpture Park. Lockers are available (bring your own lock). Water time is limited to 20 minutes. Reservations are not required; free "walk-up" kayak rides are available. Children are welcome, as long as they're accompanied by an adult.

4. Downtown Boathouse – Manhattan & Governors Island

Pier 26 on the Hudson River and Pier 101 on Governors Island
Pier 26: Weekends and holidays from May 18-October 14.
Governor's Island: Currently closed for repairs, but expected to open in summer 2024
On weekends and holidays, the Downtown Boathouse offers FREE kayaking in NYC on the Hudson River. Expect to get a little wet when you kayak. The Boathouse suggests wearing a bathing suit, but we didn't and found we dried off quickly on a hot summer day. An adult must be present with anyone under 18; those under 13 must ride in a boat with an adult. Only one child is permitted per boat. On Governors Island, the kayaking program takes place at Pier 101 in a small cove and is available for walk-ups only.

5. Kayak Staten Island – Staten Island

850 Page Avenue
Select days throughout the summer; follow it on Facebook for updates.
This all-volunteer organization offers kayaking in NYC and provides everything you need to get out on the water, including 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. Dry bags are available for sale ($10). An adult must accompany children under 18, and everyone must sign a waiver. Time on the water is limited to 15-20 minutes, but you're welcome to get back in line for another go. Dates are select weekends from June through October; follow its Facebook page for the latest information.

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Free boat rides in NYC: Go kayaking in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on Valentino Pier
Kayak off Valentino Pier in New York Harbor with the Red Hook Boaters. Photo by Sara Marentette

6. Red Hook Boaters – Red Hook, Brooklyn

Louis Valentino Jr. Park and Pier, Coffey and Ferris Streets
Thursday evenings from June through mid-August and Sunday afternoons from June through mid-September
The members of this all-volunteer group hold beach cleanups during each of its kayaking sessions, so in addition to boating, it’s a great way to chip in to help keep the shore clean in Red Hook. Paddlers are welcome to explore the protected cove at their own pace, but rides are limited to 15-20 minutes to give everyone a chance. Double kayaks, kid-size paddles, and life jackets make this spot very kid-friendly. Still, kids under 14 must ride with a caregiver, and parents must be present to supervise and sign the waiver for all minors. Check the calendar for full details and special events. Lockers are not available.

7. Urban Park Rangers – Citywide

The Urban Park Rangers offer FREE canoeing and kayaking in NYC for children ages 8 and up. Advance registration is required for some events. Other locations accept walk-ups.

Where To Find Rowboats in New York City

8. Rocking the Boat – Hunts Point, the Bronx

Hunts Point Riverside Park
Saturdays from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend
Explore the Bronx River in wooden rowboats crafted by local teens as part of Rocking the Boat’s youth development program. During the weekly community rowing sessions, participants head out onto the river with Rocking the Boat staff for 20-minute rides. No registration is required. An adult must accompany children.

9. Village Community Boathouse – West Village

Pier 40 at Houston Street and the Hudson River
Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays from May through November
Community rowing is available on Sundays through a sign-up. For Wednesday rowing, no sign-up is required. Free Youth Rowing takes place for high schoolers on Fridays at 4pm. In addition to rowing in NYC at Pier 40, this organization also offers FREE boat-building sessions to the public, though that portion of the program is currently on hiatus while it develops plans for a new boat. A parent must accompany those under 16, and parents must sign a waiver for anyone under 18.

Where To Go Canoeing in NYC

10. North Brooklyn Community Boathouse – Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Manhattan Avenue Street End Park
June 22 and July 13; check the website for other available days (see membership area)
On select days, you can paddle a 29-foot canoe on Newtown Creek, the body of water that narrowly separates Brooklyn and Queens. This org also offers public kayaking one day a month from June-September. Members can paddle in NYC waters more often and try out challenging weekend kayaking trips. Children must be at least 4-foot-10, so it's best for older kids. Visit the calendar for more details.

Community Sailing Spots in NYC

11. Rocking the Boat – Hunts Point, the Bronx

Hunts Point Riverside Park, 1409 Lafayette Avenue between Edgewater Road and the Bronx River
Select Saturdays; visit the website for the current schedule.
While we highlighted this organization for rowing, know that you can also sail here! Rocking the Boat staff and fellow water enthusiasts sail the Bronx River on 20-minute rides. No registration is required. An adult must accompany children.

City Rules for Boating Solo

If you happen to have your own canoe or kayak and prefer to go kayaking in NYC 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 is available on the NYC Parks Department website. If you're going to do it yourself, you'll also want to read the rules for boating in NYC.

Originally published in June 2012.

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