The Best Boat Rides for Families in NYC

Family-friendly boat rides around NYC include high-speed adventures around New York Harbor. Photo by Smart Destinations via Flickr
Family-friendly boat rides around NYC include high-speed adventures around New York Harbor. Photo by Smart Destinations via Flickr

Going out on the water in New York lets you see the city from a whole new perspective. Whether you're sailing down one of the rivers, taking a FREE kayak out for a spin, or cruising on the ocean looking for whales, it's relaxing, refreshing, and a great way to stay cool on a summer day with the kids.

While there are all kinds of boat tours on offer around NYC, from the Circle Line to the citywide ferry service, the question for parents is, which ones are truly family-friendly? After all, once you're on the water you're committed to the ride regardless of tantrums, seasickness, or boredom.

To help you figure out which NYC boat rides will work best for your family, we've highlighted some personal favorites and broken down the best options by type, including the best boat rides for wildlife watching, best for would-be pirates, best for your budget, and more. Discover even more family-friendly things to do this summer in our Summer Fun Guide

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Speed along the Hudson on this thrilling boat ride. Photo courtesy of the Circle Line

Best NYC Boat Rides for Getting Wet

The Beast

Departs hourly from the Circle Line dock at Pier 83, 42nd Street and 12th Avenue
If your family's objective is to get a bit wet, then The Beast is for you. This ride is a high-adrenaline, 30-minute speedboat tour that goes out into New York Harbor, zips past the skyline, stops for photo-ops by the Statue of Liberty, and races home, splashing loads of water onto passengers. I enjoyed The Beast with my 8-year-old son and his buddy, and it was quite a thrill. Children must be at least 40 inches tall.

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Bring Venice to NYC with a gondola tour in Central Park. Photo by Shinya Suzuki via Flickr

Best European Vacation-Inspired NYC Boat Rides

Venetian Gondola Tour

Departs from Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, 72nd Street and Park Drive North
May-November, weather permitting
Can't make it to Venice this year? Head over to Central Park for an authentic Venetian Gondola Tour on the lake. This half-hour ride requires advance reservations, but it's sure to leave a lasting impression. Boats can fit up to six passengers. Call the boathouse at 212-517-2233 to make a reservation.  

Best NYC Boat Rides for Playing Tourist

42nd Street Circle Line

Departs from the Circle Line dock at Pier 83, 42nd Street and 12th Avenue
Yes, it's for out-of-towners, but this ride offers million-dollar views of Manhattan’s glittering skyline and a view even locals can appreciate. From its Midtown location, the Circle Line cruises all the way around Manhattan, pausing for photo-ops near the Statue of Liberty. 

RELATED: Kayaking, Canoeing, and Boating for NYC Families

The NYC Ferry makes stops in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Governors Island with more routes in the works. Photo by Shira Kronzon

NYC Ferry

Departs from various locations and provides service to Queens, including the beach, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Governors Island
For the price of a subway swipe, you can hop aboard a city ferry boat headed to waterfront destinations from Astoria to Red Hook to the Rockaways. These boats are definitely more commuter ferries than sightseeing vessels, but they also provide easier (and more adventurous) journeys to the city's waterfront neighborhoods, parks such as Brooklyn Bridge Park, and beaches. Schedules vary by season. Download the app for paperless ticketing and to avoid any lines. 

Best NYC DIY Boating Adventures for Kids


Available at Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, 72nd Street and Park Drive North
If you want to be the captain of your own vessel, a rowboat is the thing. Four-person rowboats can be rented from Central Park's Loeb Boathouse for $15 per hour (cash only) and enjoyed on the adjacent 22-acre lake. Children must be at least 3 feet tall to ride.


Available at various locations citywide
Mid-May to mid-October
A number of volunteer organizations offer walk-up, FREE kayaking to anyone who can swim at locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Rules and schedules vary so read our in-depth post on kayaking with kids for more information.

Pedal boating and kayaking

Available at LeFrak Center at Lakeside, 171 East Drive in Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Late March-November 
Pedal boating and kayaking have been mainstays at the Lakeside complex on Prospect Park's freshwater lake since 2014. After you're finished boating, enjoy all of the summer fun that Prospect Park has to offer. 

RELATED: Free Summer Sports and Outdoor Programs for NYC Kids

Junior pirates and mermaids will enjoy a ride aboard the Clipper City. Photo courtesy of Manhattan by Sail

Best NYC Boat Rides for Playing Pirate

Clipper City Sail

Departs from Pier 17 just below the Brooklyn Bridge
May to October
Looking for something a bit less commercial feeling but still want to put the wind in your sails? Manhattan by Sail offers a variety of sightseeing trips aboard its two magnificent sailboats. You'll feel like a real sailor! The Daytime Cruise is an especially engaging boat ride for kids, as you'll get to see the sights of NYC including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.


Departs from Pier 16, South Street Seaport Museum, 13 Fulton Street
May to October 
Take a boat ride with the kids and embark on a 2-hour sail through the New York Harbor aboard the historic 1885 schooner, Pioneer. Tickets include free admission to the South Street Seaport Museum’s historic ships and exhibitions on the day of your sail. Ages 5 and up. Check website for sailing times.

Best NYC Boat Rides for Catching Your Own Dinner

Marilyn Jean IV

Departs from Pier 6, 2200 Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn
This deep-sea fishing party boat provides everything you need to catch the big one: rod, reel, and bait. Plus, the crew cleans and packs your catch, which, depending on the season, can include striped bass, bluefish, sea bass, or cod. During peak season, the boat offers day and night jaunts, and you can bring a cooler with snacks if you don't want to buy them on board. You must reserve your spot in advance.

Best NYC Boat Rides for Watching Wildlife With Kids

Whale and Dolphin Watching Adventure Cruises

Depart from Pier 3 at 2498 Emmons Ave. in Brooklyn, across from Applebees
The American Princess Fleet is the only whale-watching operator in NYC. Cruises depart from Pier 3 in Queens. They also post recent mammal sightings on their website, so you can get excited about what you could potentially see on your cruise. Check out our round up of whale-watching cruises in the city and beyond.

Best NYC Boat Rides for Budget Boaters

Staten Island Ferry

Departs from Whitehall Terminal at State and Whitehall Streets, Manhattan; St. George Terminal, Bay Street, Staten Island
See the Statue of Liberty from afar for FREE on the Staten Island Ferry. A one-way trip takes 25 minutes and offers magnificent views of New York Harbor. While waiting for your return ride from Staten Island, check out the Manhattan skyline from the terminal's outdoor patio, watch the fish swimming in the two giant freshwater aquariums in the waiting room, or grab a snack. Better yet, explore all that Staten Island has to offer.

Who can resist an evening boat ride to and from Ikea?  Photo by Chun-Hung Eric Cheng via Flickr.

Ikea Water Taxi

Departs from Midtown at West 39th St. and Downtown at Pier 11/Wall St.
The Ikea ferry is a convenient, fun way to get to the megastore in Red Hook, Brooklyn. This service is a weekend ferry service, and the boat ride is FREE - a perfect time to take the kids! Enjoy the scenic views along the way, and when you disembark, there's plenty to do: outdoor paths to walk, parks to play in, and of course a shopping adventure to be had by all.

Best Boating in NYC for Landlubbers

Model Sailboats

Available at Kerbs Boathouse Cafe and Central Park Sailboat Concession, 75th Street on the east side of Central Park

March to November

If you prefer the kids to do their boating from solid ground, they might enjoy sailing a model boat around the Conservatory Water in Central Park. Miniature boats can be rented for a classic New York scene that was immortalized in E. B. White's Stuart Little.

A version of this article was first published in June 2010, but it has since been updated.

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