Grab a paddle and strike out NYC's waterways with our roundup of free kayaking spots. What are you waiting for? Get out on the water!
The New York City Downtown Boathouse
The granddaddy of NYC’s free-kayaking scene, NYCDB offers gratis walk-up outings at three locations on the Hudson: Pier 40, Pier 96 and West 72nd Street. Once you’ve signed a waiver and donned a life jacket, you can take your kayak out in designated areas for 20 minutes at a time—or longer if others aren’t waiting. NYCDB also holds public classes on sundry kayaking topics—such as perfecting your paddling technique and what to do if you capsize—weekly at Pier 96 (Wed 6pm; free). Once you’ve got a handle on oaring, head to Pier 96 on weekends at 8am to join a four-to-five-mile guided trip on the river (if too many people show up, names are entered into a lottery). It’s up to the outing’s leader to decide whether your skills are up to snuff for the trek. • Pier 40, W Houston St at the Hudson River. Thu 5–7pm; Sat, Sun, holidays 9am–6pm. • Pier 96, W 56th St at the Hudson River. Sat, Sun, holidays 9am–6pm; Mon–Fri 5–7pm in July and August. • W 72nd St at Henry Hudson Pkwy. Sat, Sun, holidays 10am–5pm. • downtownboathouse.org • Through Oct 14, 2012.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse
Queue up between Piers 1 and 2 to take a kayak out in the majestic shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. The wait is often long, but it’s worth it: The BBPB folks have a 25-vessel fleet, and you can play skipper on the East River for a full half hour. Brooklyn Bridge Park is small-craft-friendly by design: Two launches already exist, and the BBPB is hoping to have a floating dock up and running later this summer for easily extracting yourself from your kayak. The organization is always looking for volunteers, and pitching in earns you access to volunteer-only outings (for seasoned paddlers only). • Brooklyn Bridge Park, between Piers 1 and 2, Furman St at Old Fulton St, Dumbo, Brooklyn (www.bbpboathouse.org). Thu 5:30–7:30pm, Sat 10:30am–4:30pm. Through Sept 15, 2012.
The health-conscious folks at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens have teamed up with the LIC Community Boathouse to bring you free first-come, first-served kayaking out of scenic Hallet’s Cove (weekend dates and times vary; visit website for details). Sessions run 20 minutes, or longer if no one is waiting. If you’re feeling adventurous, visit LICCB’s website to sign up for gratis organized trips to spots such as Hell Gate Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge Park; or join a “Chill Sunset Paddle” that’s optimized for orange-tinted views of the Manhattan and Long Island City skylines. For a better chance of a spot, you can request to join a trip as far as three weeks out. Socrates Sculpture Park, 46-01 5th St between 46th Ave and 46th Rd, Long Island City, Queens (718-228-9214, licboathouse.org). Through Oct 7, 2012.Read more
Red Hook Boaters
RHB’s upstanding coordinators have a double purpose: Get urbanites out on the water and help breathe life back into Brooklyn’s aquatic ecosystem. Like many other organizations, RHB has a free walk-up kayaking program—but there are no idle hands here. While you’re waiting for your turn at Louis J. Valentino Jr. Park and Pier, volunteers have gloves and trash bags available, so you can pitch in with RHB’s ongoing mission to pick up refuse on the beach. Knowing that you’re helping keep the area thriving will make your 20-to-30-minute paddle in RHB’s protected cove all the sweeter. Bonus: See if you can snag one of several Peekaboo boats in the fleet, which have a window in the hull for underwater viewing. Louis J. Valentino Jr. Park and Pier, Coffey St at Ferris St, Red Hook, Brooklyn (917-676-6458, redhookboaters.org). Thu 6–8pm through Aug 23, 2012; Sun 1–5pm through Oct 7, 2012.
Kayak Staten Island
For a decidedly less urban paddling experience that’s still within the five boroughs, hop the ferry to Staten Island, then take the S51 bus to Ocean Avenue. After you’ve sucked in a generous breath of sea air, head down the block to the beach and queue up in the sand for one of KSI’s Sit-on-Top kayaks (similar to traditional ones except you seat yourself in a depression on top of, instead of inside, the hull). From there, you’re free to oar around a delineated embankment area in the bay for 15 minutes at a time, and are welcome to get back in line if you fancy a second voyage. Don’t worry about the waves—experienced rowers are in the water to help if you get tripped up. KSI is also involved in conservation activities, including oyster gardening to build the bay’s bivalve population and water-quality testing; volunteer opportunities abound. South Beach, Father Capodanno Blvd at Drury Ave, Staten Island (kayakstatenisland.org). Times and dates vary; see website for details. Through Sept 1, 2012.