It was on my family’s boat that I first learned to love the Hudson River. Back then, in the late 1960s, my boyhood haunts of Nyack and Piermont were struggling, the river polluted. Unbeknownst to me, Pete Seeger and his friends were launching Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, while Franny Reese and other founders of Scenic Hudson were fighting to save Storm King Mountain. The times indeed were a-changing. Fast forward to the next millennium—Storm King is a state park and Clearwater sails the river, educating legions of future environmentalists.
Scenic Hudson’s Revitalizing Hudson Riverfronts (Chapter 3) describes the many ways people connect with the Hudson River. Perhaps the most powerful connection comes from getting out on the water. For some, this means taking a trip aboard an excursion vessel, from places like Newburgh, Kingston, Catskill or Albany. However, others may want their own boat.
Scott Croft, vice president of the Hudson River Boat and Yacht Club Association (HRBYCA), says, “With 31 boat clubs on the Hudson River, as well as several marinas, thousands of people enjoy family boating every year, and these experiences forge lifelong love affairs with the river. Boats can range in size from the smallest windsurfers and kayaks to large yachts.”
HRBYCA President Emeritus Frank Bergman, a 20-year member of Poughkeepsie’s Pirate Canoe Club, concurs. “I think boating plays a big role in getting families out on the river. I’ve seen kids grow up on the river, and in doing so they become adults who grow to love, appreciate and protect the river.”
There are as many ways to enjoy a boat as there are boats on the Hudson during a holiday weekend: paddling for exercise and exploration; waterskiing for thrills; swimming from the deck to cool off on a hot summer day; overnight cruising (and sleeping aboard) to visit distant ports; testing your competitive mettle by joining a sailboat regatta; or just drifting with the tide while admiring a sunset.
Of the 50 states, New York ranks ninth in boat registrations—451,862 as of 2014. That figure has declined by 11.1 percent since 2005, compared to a nine-percent falloff nationwide. Mr. Bergman attributes the drop in registrations to the high costs of owning, operating and maintaining a boat, as well as the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis.
Aside from purchasing a boat, perhaps the highest cost is the seasonal dock fee at a commercial marina, which can range from $1,000 to $10,000 depending on size, location and facilities provided. Some marinas offer services such as fuel, dockside electric, pump-out stations for “heads” (a boat’s bathroom) and bottom-washing facilities.
Many community boat clubs on the Hudson offer a more affordable alternative. At the same time, they provide camaraderie, social events and support from fellow boaters. According to Mr. Croft, “In exchange for contributing work hours, boat clubs allow people who have never owned a boat to tap into years of knowledge that make their boating experience better.
“We have a club within a club at the Ossining Boat & Canoe Club [OBCC],” Mr. Croft continues. “Through the Ossining Recreation Department, the Ossining Community Sailing Club keeps three sailboats at OBCC. So for less than $100 a year, town residents can enjoy very affordable access to sailing on the river. We find many eventually get their own boat and join OBCC. It’s win-win for everyone.”
One way to beat expensive annual dock fees is to launch a boat at a public ramp. Nationwide, 95 percent of boats are towable craft no longer than 26 feet. There’s a real need for boat launches that enable people to keep boats in their backyard and trailer them to riverfront launches. Many of these are available along the Hudson.
Another inexpensive way to enjoy boating on the Hudson is to paddle a kayak or canoe. Kayaks can be singles—for one person—or tandems for two. They offer unique opportunities to explore the shallow waters of the Hudson’s tidal wetlands and tributaries for birding or nature study. Paddling is also great exercise. Several Scenic Hudson parks provide hand launches, most notably Foundry Dock Park and Long Dock Park (the latter has a community boathouse and kayak rentals). For those who prefer their exercise in a team context, several rowing clubs such as the Hudson River Rowing Association host scholastic crew teams and offer adult learn-to-row programs.
Boat clubs and marinas face many challenges. Perhaps the greatest is the dredging of silt to maintain adequate water depths. Dredging—and disposing of dredge spoils—is an expensive proposition. To save costs, some adjacent boat clubs and marinas take advantage of economies of scale by contracting a dredging project in tandem.
Despite the costs and challenges, boating offers fresh ways to explore the river and valley. Some families take overnight trips from hometown marinas or boat launches to up- or downriver communities, including New York City. They stay at marinas, dine in restaurants, and visit museums and other cultural attractions. Many other boaters enjoy daytrips to nearby waterfront restaurants, such as the Ice House and Shadows in Poughkeepsie or eateries in Kingston’s Rondout district.
The dollars boaters spend on fuel, food and entertainment help support local tourism. Just one indication of boating’s huge economic impact: a 2012 study by the National Marine Manufacturers Association found that annual retail sales of new boats, engines and marine accessories in New York State totaled $643 million.
In addition to being good for business, let’s face it, boating is fun! For many families, it offers quality time enjoying recreation—or just a chance to be together discovering the beauty of the river and lands along it. What’s more, getting kids onto the river during their formative years is likely to result in them developing a lifelong desire to protect it.