Among the other fun events that mark the holiday season, many waterfront communities across the country host nighttime boat parades that give local boaters the opportunity to deck out their vessels with Christmas lights and show them off. Holiday boat parades can range from a handful of lighted watercraft running around a lake to dozens of vessels cruising a lengthy route on a river or the Intracoastal Waterway.
The largest annual lighted boat parades in the U.S. include the Winterfest Boat Parade in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade in Newport Beach, California. The organizers report that each of these parades is watched by more than a million spectators.
While most holiday boat parades are held in the country’s warmer regions, some intrepid Northern communities also stage them despite the threat of icy temperatures and snow. One example is the Patchogue River Christmas/Holiday Boat Parade in Long Island, New York.
Local boat owners who register their vessels to take part in a lighted boat parade typically go all out, festooning the boat with lights and decorations. Santa usually makes an appearance as a passenger in the lead or final boat. Parade participants compete for prizes in categories such as “Best Powerboat,” “Best Sailboat” “Most Original” and “Most Humorous.” There often are private and commercial award categories as well. All of this adds up to one of the best shows you can see on the water.
While many people turn out to watch lighted boat parades from the shore, the best viewing opportunities are often from a boat on the water near the parade route. Boating at night in a crowded waterway is an unfamiliar activity for many people, however, and cold weather adds another degree of difficulty. If you plan to take your boat to watch a holiday parade, here are a few safety tips to keep in mind.
- Wear life jackets. Everyone on your boat, regardless of age, should wear a life jacket when out on the water at night.
- Don’t overload the boat. Everyone loves a parade, and it’s tempting to invite many family members and friends to come out on your boat to watch. Be sure to check your boat’s capacity plate, located on the transom or by the helm, and don’t exceed the maximum weight. Also, if you have a smaller boat, try to distribute your passengers’ weight evenly on board.
- Brush up on boating at night. Some markers that you usually use to navigate by day may be hard to see at night. Instead, chart your course to the parade route in advance using a chartplotter or navigation app with GPS.
- Use your boat’s navigation lights. Make sure your navigation lights are working and turn them on as soon as it starts to get dark. Refresh your memory of how to read other boats’ navigation lights, so you will know when an approaching vessel has right of way. A red light indicates a vessel’s port side; a green light indicates a vessel’s starboard side. Post a lookout to help you keep an eye out for other boats.
- Listen to the authorities. On the night of a boat parade, the U.S. Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary and/or local authorities may be out on the water directing traffic. They also may designate restricted zones where spectators are not allowed to take their boats. Please listen to the authorities and follow their directions. Their job is to help keep you safe.
- Don’t be in a rush to get home. Boaters likely will arrive at the best parade-viewing spots in twos and threes, but after the parade is over, everyone will want to leave at once. Hang back and enjoy the evening on the water until the crowd clears.
Following these simple tips will help ensure you have a great time out on the water watching a local boat parade. And next year, you might decide to decorate your boat and sign up for the parade yourself!