Parades are an old and sacred practice: people gathering together to celebrate community and usher in new holiday seasons, typically by way of masquerading and dancing. This holiday season, boaters all over the country will dust off their Santa hats and decorate their boats to participate in a community boat parade. On the water, parades manifest as a floating spectacle, complete with costumes, lights, and even inflatable reindeer. This merrymaking is the perfect pick-me-up for those off-season boating blues, so make sure to get your loved ones together and plan to head to a festive boat parade near you in the coming weeks. (Please note that all of these parades are free to view but most have a registration fee if you’re looking to participate)
Remember: your safety is always a priority. Be cautious about alcohol consumption, no matter if you’re on the water or spectating from shore. Always select a sober skipper to stay at the helm for the duration of the parade, and ensure that there are enough life jackets to go around should an emergency arise.
Here are some lighted boat parades that will transport you to a holiday wonderland on the water this season:
1. Huntington Harbor Parade of Lights
Just a train ride away from New York City, Huntington Harbor on Long Island hosts one of the first holiday boat parades of the season. The Huntington Harbor Parade of Lights is a stunning parade complete with prizes in ten different categories, from Best in Show to Most Outrageous. The boat registration fee this year was $50, which supports the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society that hosts the parade. The parade happened this year on November 25th, and one of the most memorable decorations includes a six-foot tall inflatable Santa Claus waving from on deck. Another passing boat depicted a tropical paradise: brilliant LED palms shading dolphins donning Santa hats. Parade goers watched in awe from the dock as the boats lazed on by, bringing with them a sense of cheer and celebration.
2. Charleston Holiday Boat Parade
For over 40 years, the Charleston Holiday Boat Parade has invited boat lovers to the quaint and soulful city of Charleston, South Carolina, where Christmas comes alive on the colonial streets and in the harbor. The mild weather, welcoming hospitality, and delicious flavors are all reasons to travel to this Atlantic city--and it’s the perfect stop for boaters looking to feel merry and bright while heading to the Caribbean via the ICW. Like other parades on this list, the Charleston Holiday Boat Parade has a contest for Best in Show, this time divided into power-driven vessels and sailboats. For those looking to participate in the parade, there is an online application and $25 application fee, and skippers are required to attend a captain’s meeting on Wednesday before the procession in order to receive instructions regarding the lineup. Spectators should peruse the map here before the festivities in order to pick out the best viewing location. The parade starts at 6 p.m. on December 10th.
3. Tempe Fantasy of Lights
Even landlocked states can get in on the fun with festive boat parades in lakes and reservoirs. Tempe, AZ, hosts the captivating “Fantasy of Lights,” a boat parade and holiday market celebration bound to strike holiday cheer in anyone. This free event kicks off at 4 p.m. on December 10th with a market where visitors can purchase handcrafted gifts, homemade foods, and hot beverages like cocoa and apple cider. Then the festive boats start rolling at 6:00 p.m., where Christmas decorations have a southwestern charm that can only be found in this arid part of the country. At 8:00 p.m. the city begins their grand fireworks show, set to dazzle people on the land and water alike. Make sure to get there early for a good spot!
4. Newport Beach Boat Parade
One of the oldest boat parade traditions of the United States is found on the Pacific coast, in the city of Newport Beach. The Newport Beach Boat Parade has charmed and captivated parade-goers since 1908, growing into a celebration that spreads across land and sea. Nowadays, the parade happens every night over five days, so visitors to Orange County can expand their holiday agenda to include other events--and avid boaters should jump at the opportunity to charter a vessel in the off-season while visiting this mild-weathered environment. This year, the parade will start at 6:30 p.m. every night from December 14-18, so snag some hot cocoa to-go from a local coffee shop before heading out early to your viewing spot!
Bonus Section: How Can I Join a Boat Parade or Start My Own?
Though some of the parades included on the last come from a decades-long tradition, other holiday boat parades are popping up all over the United States. This year, Golden Meadow, Louisiana, will usher in their 2nd annual Christmas Boat Parade, where shrimpboats and houseboats adorned with lights and decorations will roll up and down Bayou Lafourche after the annual Gumbo Cook-Off. You can start a new boat parade in your area, too! Many boat parades allow vessels to participate for free, while others charge a small application fee. As long as you have a community of boat owners and water lovers in your area, it’s feasible to gather together, plan a route, invite spectators, and decorate your vessels to usher in holiday cheer. Don’t forget the costumes, too!