People will tell you nothing is free in NYC.
Don’t listen to them.
Did I lose you with that last one? Who ever heard of kayaking in Manhattan? That’s something you do in the woods, not in the big city! If there is such a thing, it’s gotta be super expensive and exclusive!
Well I’m here to tell you there is indeed kayaking in Manhattan. On the water you’ll have awesome views of the city. Best of all, the whole experience is super FUN and super FREE. The one and only catch is that your butt will get wet when you get in the boat. A small price to pay.
The Experience of Free Kayaking NYC!
It was a beautiful Sunday, I had just finished working an event in Hudson River Park. I was walking by the water at Pier 40 when I saw this sign.
I took it as a sign. I had heard about free kayaking on the Hudson for years, always wanted to try it out. But never had followed through! Here I was, the right place, the right time- they had only opened for the season the day before. But I was all by myself…. I didn’t have a change of clothes….
“TOO BAD!” I decided, “I’m going anyway! I’m kayaking today!”
The New York City Downtown Boathouse is staffed by volunteers. They are all SO nice! If you want to volunteer, you don’t have to plan ahead of time, you just show up and stay as long as you like. It’s perfect for people like me with crazy, changing schedules.
A volunteer handed me a waiver to sign (I’m solely responsible if I drown or ruin my cell phone!) and a lock with a key to put my bag in a locker. I loved the community feeling, more like a summer town in Maine than in downtown NYC. I put my bag in one of the charmingly weathered, rainbow painted lockers, and stuffed my phone in my sports bra. “It should be fine,” I was told, but also warned that if my phone fell overboard or got damaged, it was no one’s fault but my own!
I took the risk and thus took plenty of pictures!
I made my way down to the dock. There was absolutely no line, no wait for any of this in the middle of a beautiful Sunday afternoon! Seems to good to be true, but it’s not! There was practically a boat in the water waiting for me. I plunked down on the wet seat (I’d been warned about it) and a volunteer help the kayak in place while giving me tips.
“Don’t go past the red buoy, stay between the piers.”
“Will you come save me if I capsize?”
“That’s not happening today! You’ll be fine!”
With that I shoved off the dock and into the Hudson River!
I’d never been kayaking before, but rowing in Central Park prepared me well! It’s easy, I got the hang of it very fast, and never worried about falling out of the boat. I hardly worried about dropping my phone in the water, and that’s really saying something for a klutz like me!
Gorgeous views of One World Trade, even a distant peak at the Statue of Liberty if you paddle out close to the buoy cut off!
She’s harder to see in the picture, but that’s Lady Liberty to the left of the kayak’s bow.
I stayed on the water about 20 minutes, which is how long they recommend. It’s all very chill and very honor system (so refreshingly non-New York cliché) and you really don’t want to be the boat-hog jerk who keeps other people waiting because you’re paddling around too much. Twenty minutes was plenty to paddle around the area.
If you want more time, you can get more time by volunteering! It’s also nice to give something back to this awesome program. They also accept donations but there is no pressure to give. The Downtown Boathouse has been doing free kayaking for about 30 years! There are multiples locations on the Hudson. You’ll find other free kayaking ventures in Brooklyn and Staten Island. Time Out New York has a list of places for free kayak (with a couple extra additions given by readers in the comments!).
This is a great activity for kids as well adults. As long as kids are accompanied by an adult and able to swim, they’re good to go! I HIGHLY RECOMMENDED NYC summer activity. I would recommend bringing a change of pants however. I mean, I took the subway home with a wet bottom and I had no regrets. But a change would’ve been more comfortable. The boathouse even has a little changing room just for this!
If you’ve visiting NYC this summer, go free kayaking! If you live in NYC, have always thought about going but- stop your excuses! Go free kayaking this summer!