The Downtown Boathouse

Promoting Public Access To The Water For All

The Downtown Boathouse is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free public access to the harbor in New York City through public kayaking programs. Our mission is to encourage safe public use of the harbor waters of New York City and thereby provide residents of this space-constrained city with increased recreational opportunities. Our operations are made possible exclusively through volunteers and with your public donations.


Q. Why are you doing this?
A. We are dedicated volunteers who want to share our love of the Hudson River with the rest of you. Its that simple.
Q. This is the greatest thing I have ever seen how can I help?
A. The best way to help, and have even more fun is to volunteer at the boathouse. See our volunteer page. You can also make a monetary contribution by becoming a member.
Q. Do I have to be a member?
A. No, you don't. You do not need to be a member of the boathouse to participate in any of our programs. Membership doesn't provide any privileges other than voting in our elections. You can become a member here online or by downloading the membership form and mailing it to us with a check for $50. Memberships expire at the end of the year
Q. When and where is the walk-up kayaking available?
A. Walk-up is our basic service, which is available at all our two locations: Pier 26 and Governors Island when they are open to the public . Please arrive at least 1/2 hour before closing, which is when the last boats go out.
Q. Do you give lessons?
A. Yes, we give many free lessons. Check out our Calendar page for a list of our Wednesday night sessions. These are informal talks and activities covering a wide variety of kayak-related topics. We can provide a short introduction on your first visit, and if you come by when it isn't busy our volunteers can often give you pointers. If you become an active volunteer you can participate in our volunteer training sessions, which cover advanced kayaking skills. 

Q. Do I have to sign up for the classes? If I miss one can I still come to the next one? Are the classes held on or off the water?
A. No, you don't have to sign up.  Just show up. You can be a beginner or have some experience and still learn. The classes are separate and not run as a course, although many repeat. Most have an on-water component; so come with clothing you would wear if you came for walk-up. The classes schedule is on the calendar.

Q. Are you open on the weekdays?
A. Only from 5 - 7 in the evenings at Pier 26, from June through the end of August.

Q. Do you have lockers at each location?
A. Yes, we do, and we also have locks, but we prefer you bring your own.

Q. Do you have changing rooms and showers?
A. We have a two-room changing booth and an outside open shower at Pier 26. There is no shower, but a small changing are on Governors Island.

Q. What should I bring?.
A. Bring a bathing suit, or shorts and a T-Shirt.  Both locations have lockers. Bring your own lock!

Q. What kind of kayaks do you have?.
A. All our public kayaks are sit-on-top kayaks. The boats are unsinkable, and self-bailing. Any water that splashes into the boat drains out the holes in the bottom. If you capsize you can just climb back on top and continue to paddle. Because the boats are self-bailing the seat of your pants will get wet while you paddle.

We have both single and double kayaks. A single kayak accommodates one person, a double kayak requires two people. Some of our double kayaks have a space for a kiddy seat so that small children can ride in the kayak between the two adult paddlers.

The Boathouse also owns a number of traditional cockpit type kayaks. These boats are only for advanced users, and are only used during special programs and by active volunteers. The use of cockpit kayaks requires some training and close supervision by our volunteers. One of the benefits of becoming a volunteer at the boathouse is the opportunity to try out one of these kayaks.

Q. Can I rent a kayak, what does it cost?
A. NO! you can't rent anything because everything is 100% free. We know this is New York, and people think that there must be catch, but there isn't.  All the equipment is paid for by donations, all the labor is provided for free by the volunteers. If you want to contribute you are welcome to, but its entirely optional.

Q. Can I reserve a time or a particular kayak.
A. NO. Everything is first come first serve. except the morning trips when we run lottery at 8AM, if more people show up than we can take. We have enough equipment for our free kayaking program so the waits are rarely very long. We are less busy in the mornings, and when it is cloudy. Our peak times are from 12:00PM to 4:00PM on sunny weekends.

Q. I have my own boat. Can I store it at the boathouse?
A. NO. All our boats are used for either the public programs or for use by our volunteers.

Q. I am an expert kayaker, and I want to go out of the embayment and into the river on my own, is that ok?
A. NO, you cannot take one of our kayaks and leave the embayment, regardless of your skill level. If you wish to explore the Hudson River we suggest that you contact one of the several commercial kayak operators in the city. We do run guided trips for the general public on weekend mornings. If you want to volunteer, we would love to have you help out.

Q. I have my own boat, can I launch it at the boathouse?
A. In general, yes. We allow our facilities to be used by the general public to launch boats. We do not allow any motorized boats of any sort. We require that you first sign our liability waiver. We require that all people launching from our facilities wear a Personal Flotation Device (Life Jacket). We require that the boat be seaworthy, and suitable for the strong currents and winds of the Hudson; we generally don't allow canoes, or cheap inflatable rafts since the wind and currents are too strong for them. We encourage you to obtain a permit from the NYC Parks Department to show your support for hand powered boating, but the permit is not required by the Boathouse.

Q. What is the weight limit?
A. There is no weight limit, we have successfully accommodated people of 400 Lbs.

Q. Do you offer longer trips in the river outside of your embayment? What are the rules for these trips?
A. Yes. Please read the description on the 3 hour trips Page

Q. When do you offer the trips?.
A. As described on the programs page, the trips are offered most weekend and holiday mornings at Pier 26, from mid June to mid September. Check the Calendar for more details

Q. Where do the trips go?
A. It depends on the tides, wind conditions, and strength of the group, so we can't say for sure in advance.

Q. Do I need to do the walk-up kayaking a few times and/or take classes before coming to participate in one of the morning trips?
A. The trips involve about three hours of moderate paddling. Read about them on the programs page to get an idea of how they work and what to bring. If you do not have any or much experience kayaking, you will not enjoy the trip.

You should come and do the walk-up to get an idea of what it is like to paddle the boats, to get used to the paddling position and to learn basic paddling technique. If your stroke is inefficient, you will not be able to keep up with the trip. Some people have to drop out and go back with an escort. Even strong guys cannot keep up if their stroke is inefficient. So we'd like you to practice a bit and get some skill handling the boat. The trip leader has the final say on who goes on the trip and who will go back with an escort.

Q. If I have experience kayaking elsewhere, do I need to do the walk-up kayaking before going on the trip?
A. If you have some experience kayaking elsewhere and feel confident you can paddle at a moderate rate for three hours, you do not need to do the walk-up kayaking in preparation. If your back is tight or not strong, you might want to ask for a sling for extra support - we do have some available.

Q. Do I have to take the Wednesday evening classes before going on one of the trips?
A. It is not necessary to take the Wednesday evening classes before going on one of the trips. They are for general skill development and can be useful, but we don't require them.

Q. Can I make a reservation for myself or for a group?
A. We do not take any reservations. Our programs are first come, first served, with the exception of the three-hour trips, for which there is a lottery.

Q. I would like to bring a group to go kayaking. Is that possible?

A. Yes, but we ask that you limit your group to ten or fewer in order not to overwhelm the public program. You line up with everyone else for the walk-up kayaking and wait your turn. If it is not crowded, you and your friends may all get out on the water at the same time, but there are no guarantees.