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 for Getting Wet
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 Virtual European Vacation
Venetian Gondola Tour
Departs from Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, 72nd Street and Park Drive North
Year-round 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 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
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 DIY Boating Adventures
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.
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
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.
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Junior pirates and mermaids will enjoy a ride aboard the Clipper City. Photo courtesy of Manhattan by Sail
Best for Playing Pirate
Clipper City Sail
Departs from Slip 2 at the south end of Battery Park
May to mid-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!
Departs from Pier 16, South Street Seaport Museum, 13 Fulton Street
May to October
Take a tour 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 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 for Watching Wildlife
Whale and Dolphin Watching Adventure Cruises
Depart from Riis Landing at the intersection of State and Heinzelman Roads in Rockaway, Queens
The American Princess Fleet is the only whale-watching operator in NYC. Cruises depart from Riis Landing near Fort Tilden Park in Queens. Check out our round up of whale-watching cruises in the city and beyond.
Best 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 Pier 11 at South Street and Gouverneur Lane
The Ikea ferry is a convenient, fun way to get to the megastore in Red Hook, Brooklyn. If you go on the weekend, the trip is free. On weekdays, you pay $5, but you can redeem your ticket for a credit toward your purchase of $10 or more. Children younger than 6 ride free at all times. Purchases must fit in a large Ikea bag to be allowed on the boat.
Best for Landlubbers
Available at Kerbs Boathouse Cafe and Central Park Sailboat Concession, 75th Street on the east side of Central Park
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.