Kids can join parents in kayaks at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo courtesy the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse
Kids can join parents in kayaks at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo courtesy the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse

Free Kayaking, Canoeing, and Rowboat Options in New York City

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 NYC families to get out on the water by themselves—kayaking, rowing, canoeing, and sailing.

We've rounded up 10 great New York City organizations offering boating sessions on our wonderful waterways—and they're all FREE. Ahoy!

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Remember to call ahead or check the 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

Manhattan Community Boathouse – Midtown West

Pier 96 at 56th Street in Hudson River Park
Saturdays and Sundays, 12-6pm through August
Manhattan Community Boathouse runs reservation-only kayaking at Pier 96 on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations can be made up to 2 weeks in advance. Paddlers under 16 must share a boat with their parent or caregiver. You will find lockers to stash items at the Pier 96 changing rooms.

Family of kayakers at Brooklyn Brigdge Park
The whole family can kayak at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by the author

Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse – Dumbo, Brooklyn

Pier 4 beach in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Wednesdays and Thursdays, 4:30-7pm
Saturdays, 10am-3pm; Family Sundays (reserved for kids ages 7+ and their guardians), 12-2:30pm
Season ends Tuesday, August 31
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 some of the double kayaks with a parent. One child and one adult are allowed per boat. Children 11 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.

Kayaking at the Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse is a popular activity, so online reservations can fill up pretty quickly. 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.

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Kayak dock at Pier 26 in the Hudson River
Kayak on the Hudson River with Downtown Boathouse to take in the gorgeous harbor and cityscape views.

Downtown Boathouse – Manhattan & Governors Island

Pier 26 on the Hudson River and Pier 101 on Governors Island
Pier 26: Weekends and holidays through October, 10am-4:30pm (last boat goes out at 4pm). A weeknight schedule will be announced later this summer.
Governor's Island: Saturdays in July from 11am-4pm (last boat at 3:30pm).
On weekends, holidays, the Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaking on the Hudson River at Pier 26. Expect to get a little wet when you kayak. The Boathouse suggests wearing a bathing suit, but we didn't and found that we dried off quickly on a hot summer day. An adult must accompany children under 13, and only one kid is permitted per boat. This year there is a hybrid system of advanced reservations and walk-ups. You can sign up until the night before here. On Governors Island, the kayaking program takes place at Pier 101 in a small cove and is available for walk-ups only.

Kayak Staten Island – Staten Island

850 Page Avenue
Select days throughout the summer; follow it on Facebook for updates.
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. 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 minutes, but you're welcome to get back in line for another go. Dates for this year's free walk-up kayaking are still being confirmed; check here for the latest information.

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Valentino Pier in Red Hood
Kayak off Valentino Pier in New York Harbor with the Red Hook Boaters. Photo by Sara Marentette

Red Hook Boaters – Red Hook, Brooklyn

Louis Valentino Jr. Park and Pier, Coffey and Ferris Streets
Sundays, 1-4pm (through September 19); Thursdays, 6-8pm (through August 12)
The members of this all-volunteer group hold beach cleanups during every paddling session, 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.

Urban Park Rangers – Citywide

The Urban Park Rangers offer FREE canoeing and kayaking programs for children ages 8 and up. Advance registration is required, and participants are selected through a lottery.

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Rocking the Boat row boat trip
Enjoy a ride along the Bronx River in wooden rowboats crafted by local teens at Rocking the Boat.

Where to Find Rowboats in New York City

Rocking the Boat – Hunts Point, the Bronx

Hunts Point Riverside Park, 1409 Lafayette Avenue between Edgewater Road and the Bronx River
Saturdays, 1-6pm
Through Saturday, September 4
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.

Village Community Boathouse – West Village

Pier 40 at Houston Street and the Hudson River
Sundays at noon through November
In addition to rowing sessions at Pier 40, this organization also offers FREE boat-building sessions to the public. A parent must accompany those under 16, and parents must sign a waiver for anyone under 18. Sign up in advance to guarantee a spot and check the calendar for a full list of events.

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Take to the water on Newton Creek, between Queens and Brooklyn, with the North Brooklyn Boat Club.

Where to go Canoeing in NYC

North Brooklyn Community Boathouse – Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Broadway Stages Boatyard, 49 Ash Street at McGuinness Boulevard
Select weekends in July and August
On select Saturdays and Sundays, you can paddle a 29-foot canoe on Newtown Creek, the body of water that narrowly separates Brooklyn and Queens. Members can paddle 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. Snacks and beverages are available for purchase.

Community Sailing Spots in NYC

Rocking the Boat – Hunts Point, the Bronx

Hunts Point Riverside Park, 1409 Lafayette Avenue between Edgewater Road and the Bronx River
Saturday, September 11, 1-5pm
Sail the Bronx River with Rocking the Boat staff and fellow water enthusiasts 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 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 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.

This article, first published in June 2012, is updated annually.

Unless noted, photos courtesy of the boathouses

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