All Aboard

Sail the Local Seas on These 8 Boat Rentals and Cruises

How to travel our waterways the easy way.

By Allison Williams May 29, 2019 Published in the June/July 2019 issue of Seattle Met

Argosy Tours’ top-deck views.

Take the Grand Tour

There’s a lot you don’t know about Seattle’s bays and waterways, no matter how long you’ve been here. Sure, tourists flock to Argosy Tours, but even locals can pick up something new about the history of the Ballard Locks gardens or learn how to play Native American games at the company’s leased village on Blake Island. Boats have full-service bars and indoor seating, and the Lake Washington cruise even sneaks a peek at Bill Gates’s waterfront estate.

Chart a Classic Voyage

Tree-based watercraft are a Northwest tradition, and South Lake Union’s Center for Wooden Boats is the easiest spot to see them up close. Every Sunday, year-round and rain or shine, the organization does a free public sail on a handful of steamboats, schooners, and other wooden vessels. Solo adventurers can also rent skiffs, sloop-rigged sailboats, pedal boats, and more.

The driver’s seat at the Electric Boat Company.

Image: Jane Sherman

Putter Through a Pleasure Cruise

It’s nuts how little instruction you need before taking a craft from the Electric Boat Company out onto Lake Union, but the vessels are remarkably idiot-proof, provided you remain inside the designated zones (between the Ballard Locks and the Montlake Cut, and do steer clear of the Gas Works Park shallows). Imagine a golf cart on the water, but slower; the padded benches and striped canopies make it all feel like a fancy carriage ride through the park. Groups of up to 12 bring their own snacks and drinks for a two-hour cruise.

Seek the Sunset

The name is simple on the waterfront sign: “Let’s Go Sailing!,” a perfectly concise summation of what we want and what they do. Short trips on their 70-foot racing yachts, Obsession and Neptune’s Car, start at $39 per person, but the two-and-a-half-hour sunset sail is the real draw. Tip: Fourth of July outings go on sale June 1.

Wade into West Seattle Waters

Who needs lessons to operate a kayak or stand-up paddleboard? Uh, most of us, especially on the choppy waves of Puget Sound. Alki Kayak Tours leads classes that suit seagoers who have never held a paddle as well as ones that need to perfect self-rescue in open water. Straight-up rentals for self-powered craft start at $20/hour, but they also have motorboats better suited to a day of fishing.

A Hot Tub Boats soak.

Take a Dip As You Drift

What do you call an idea so genius, it’s unfathomable that it hadn’t yet become a reality? Adam Karpenske went with the obvious: Hot Tub Boats. The idea came to the houseboat dweller during the final rainy months of 2011; he’d built a prototype by New Year’s Eve. Now he rents out boats filled with 2,500 pounds of 104-degree water for use on Lake Union and has his eye on expanding to Portland someday. Boats go out every day but Thanksgiving and Christmas, and yes, we all know what you’re thinking—tubs are drained, scrubbed, and refilled between every use.

Sail the Smallest Sea

When braving even Lake Union feels like facing high winds off the Spanish Main, Green Lake Small Craft Center offers easy ways to boat between more sheltered shores. The municipal organization offers rowing, canoeing, kayaking, and sailing classes. It even hosts regattas (the one in November is known as the Frostbite). On Friday nights in July and August, the Seattle Canoe and Kayak Club holds a free Green Lake race series and potluck for passioned paddlers.

Lounge on the Log Boom

Did you forget to befriend a millionaire with a yacht in time for Seafair? It happens. The summer’s biggest floating party is at the log boom in the middle of Lake Washington, where boats tie up to watch the Blue Angels soar and the hydroplanes race. Sneak your way into the fray on the Riviera, a 46-foot charter boat out of Gig Harbor. They take care of getting space on the log boom; you bring the booze and sunscreen.

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