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. For times when you want to be your own captain, there are many seasonal opportunities for NYC families to get out on the water by themselves with kayaking, rowing, and canoeing. Much of the fun kicks off Memorial Day weekend or early summer.
We've rounded up 11 great New York City organizations that offer boating sessions on our wonderful waterways—and they're all FREE. Ahoy!
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.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse – Dumbo, Brooklyn
Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Saturdays, 10am-3pm; Thursdays, 5:30-6:45pm
June through August
Anyone above the age of 14 can kayak alone, but kids can ride in some of the double kayaks with a parent(s). One child is allowed per boat. Organizers recommend that kids measure at least 36 inches high to get into the boat. Kayaking at the Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse is a popular activity, so the lines can get pretty long; be prepared to wait. When you do reach the front, you'll be rewarded with breathtaking views of Lower Manhattan as you row. 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.
RELATED: Free Summer Sports and Outdoor Programs for NYC Kids
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 Governors Island
Manhattan, 9am-5pm; Governors Island, 11am-4pm
Manhattan: May 19 through October 7; Governors Island: June 17 through September 16
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. 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 on select weekday evenings. Both locations offer lockers for your things, but you'll need to bring a lock with you.
Kayak Staten Island – Staten Island
Conference House Park, 298 Satterlee Street
Select weekdays and Sundays
May 24 through September 16
After years on the water at South Beach, Kayak Staten Island moves to a new location in 2017, calling Conference House Park its new home. The all-volunteer organization provides kayaks, paddles, and life jackets, as well as basic launch, land, and paddling tips, along with a 15-minute free kayak paddle. 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. Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult, and everyone must sign a waiver.
Long Island City Community Boathouse – Long Island City, Queens
Hallets Cove, 31st Drive and Vernon Boulevard
Early-June through early-September
The L.I.C. Community Boathouse mostly sponsors adult-only kayaking opportunities; however, on select days families are welcome to try kayaking in Hallets Cove in the wonderful Socrates Sculpture Park. Check the calendar for more info.
Manhattan Community Boathouse – Midtown West
Pier 96 at 56th Street in Hudson River Park
Saturdays and Sundays, 10am-6pm; Mondays-Wednesdays, 5:30pm-7:30pm
Late-May through early-October
Manhattan Community Boathouse runs walk-up kayaking at Pier 96 Saturdays through Wednesdays. Kayaking at 72nd Street is on hold as the pier undergoes repairs. The organization offers FREE paddling skills and safety classes on Saturdays as well. Paddlers under 16 must share a boat with their parent or caregiver. You will find lockers to stash items at both locations and changing rooms at Pier 96.
Red Hook Boaters – Red Hook, Brooklyn
Louis Valentino Jr. Park and Pier, Coffey and Ferris Streets
Sundays, 1-4pm; Thursdays, 6-8pm
June through late-September
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. 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.
East River C.R.E.W. – Upper East Side
FDR Service Road between 95th and 96th Streets
Tuesdays at 4:30pm; first Saturday of the month, 10am-noon
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. Parents must sign a waiver for any minors, and generally accompany those under the age of 12. Check the website for a complete list of events and programs.
Enjoy a ride along the Bronx River in wooden rowboats crafted by local teens at Rocking the Boat.
Rocking the Boat – the Bronx
Hunts Point Riverside Park, 1409 Lafayette Avenue between Edgewater Road and the Bronx River
Memorial Day weekend-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 go onto the river with Rocking the Boat staff for 20-minute rides. No registration required. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
Village Community Boathouse – West Village & Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Pier 40 at Houston Street and the Hudson River
Sundays at noon and Tuesdays at 6pm
In addition to rowing sessions in the New York Harbor and Prospect Park Lake in a Whitehall gig, this organization also offers free boat-building sessions to the public. Those under 16 must be accompanied by a parent, and parents must sign a waiver for anyone under 18. Check the calendar for a full list of events.
Take to the water on Newton Creek, between Queens and Brooklyn, with the North Brooklyn Boat Club.
North Brooklyn Boat Club – Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Broadway Stages Boatyard, 49 Ash Street at McGuinness Boulevard
Late-May through early-September
On the select Saturdays, you can paddle a 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-8, so it's best for older children. Visit the calendar for more details. Snacks and beverages are available for purchase.
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.
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 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.
Top image: Brooklyn Bridge Park Kayaking. Photo by Charlie via Flickr.
This article, first published in June 2012, is updated annually.