The best things to do on NYC's waterfront

No Top-Siders or lobster-patterned trousers here—these urban trailblazers are reclaiming NYC’s waterfront one canoe at a time

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Photograph: Alex Strada


When you think about the amount of raw sewage that goes into New York’s waterways every year—some 27 billlion gallons of the stuff—it’s actually a small miracle that humans can go anywhere near it. And that’s to say nothing about the “black mayonnaise” waiting at the bottom. Members of the North Brooklyn Boat Club not only go near the water...they put boats into it: canoes and kayaks, where a murky splash is a mere paddle’s length away.

The group sprung up three years ago after receiving a City Parks Foundation grant to install a community boathouse along Newtown Creek. While awaiting a more permanent structure, the nonprofit has populated its current home­—a narrow lot under the Pulaski Bridge—with donated shipping containers, three dozen boats and a makeshift workshop, where members have been hand-carving paddles and restoring a 1930 wood-and-canvas canoe.

The facilities are open for twice-a-month public paddles, which take you on a 20-minute trip to the East River, but anyone interested in journeying farther (to destinations like lower New York Bay’s seal-sunning spot Swinburne Island) can become a member. With annual dues of $40, it might be the cheapest boat club around (and don’t be scared, a little water won’t hurt you).

On Sunday 11, the group participates in BLDG 92’s Brooklyn Boat Builders Bash, which includes demonstrations, boat tours and $4 NY Distilling Co. gin cocktails (63 Flushing Ave at Carlton Ave, Fort Greene; noon–6pm). On May 18 (10am–5pm; free), the club hosts an open house, with a campfire cook-off, a public paddle, and nautical arts and crafts. 49 Ash St at McGuinness Blvd, Greenpoint, Brooklyn (northbrooklynboatclub.org)

More places to splash around

Downtown Boathouse

In June, the club will unveil a brand-new homebase at Pier 26, but in the meantime, visit Pier 40, where they’ll be operating gratis kayaking starting May 17 (schedule TBA). Additionally, a new group, Manhattan Community Boathouse, takes over its former spots 56th and 72nd Streets (manhattancommunityboathouse.org). Pier 40, Hudson River Park at Houston St (downtownboathouse.org)

Sebago Canoe Club

The group has more than 80 years of experience leading excursions around the 39-square-mile Jamaica Bay estuary, home to more than 300 bird species. Nonmembers can jump in a kayak during the open paddle ($10) Wed 5:30pm and Sat 9:30am, starting May 28. Paerdegat Basin North at Ave N, Canarsie, Brooklyn (718-241-3683, sebagocanoeclub.org)

Red Hook Boaters

Red Hook Boaters care as much about getting you out on the local waterways as they do about keeping the shoreline clean. Twice a week, walk-up kayaking sessions take place in a protected Brooklyn cove, during which participants can enjoy sweeping views of the harbor and spot wildlife in the estuary—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 when it's time to pitch in with clean-up you can volunteer to help. Louis Valentino Jr. Pier Park between Coffey and Ferris Sts, Red Hook, Brooklyn (redhookboaters.org). Jun 1–Sep 28 Sun 1–5pm; Jun 5–Aug 14 Thu 6–8pm; free.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse

Kayakers of all levels can splash around next to the Brooklyn Bridge free of charge starting June 7. Vessels are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis Thu 5:30–6:45pm and Sat 10am–3pm, while Sundays are reserved for kayak polo 1–3pm. Piers 1 and 2, Brooklyn Bridge Park (718-802-0603, bbpboathouse.org)

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 Kayak Staten Island’s sit-on-top boats (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.

Hallets Cove Kayaking & Canoeing

The folks at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens have teamed up with the Long Island City Community Boathouse to bring you free first-come, first-served kayaking and canoeing out of scenic Hallets Cove. Sessions run 20 minutes, or longer if no one is waiting. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also visit LICCB’s website (licboathouse.org) to sign up for gratis organized trips from Hallets Cove to Anable Basin or race in the Gowanus Challenge along the Gowanus Canal. To improve your odds at securing a spot on one of LICCB’s trips, you can request to join as far as three weeks out. 31-0 Vernon Blvd at 31st Ave, Long Island City, Queens (718-956-1819, socratessculpturepark.org). Select Wed, Sat & Sun: times vary depending on the tide. Through Oct 9; free.



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