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Downtown Waters Open for Swimming, Kayaking and Cruising this Summer

Swimmers in the Hudson River on May 26, 2012. There are plenty more chances to get in the water this summer.
Swimmers in the Hudson River on May 26, 2012. There are plenty more chances to get in the water this summer.
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DNAinfo/Paul Lomax

LOWER MANHATTAN — As summer heats up in the city, the fastest way to cool off is to leave land behind and hop in the water.

Nowhere is that easier than in Lower Manhattan, which offers aspiring seafarers ample opportunity to sail, cruise, row, kayak and even swim out into New York Harbor and beyond.

"It's the Grand Central Terminal of our waterfront," Roland Lewis, president of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, said of Lower Manhattan.

"You've got the Staten Island Ferry, you've got the East River Ferry, as well as a dozen or more ferries that will take you all over the area. It's a way of getting to Liberty State Park, to Sandy Hook, to Williamsburg."

The Pioneer, shown here several years ago, is back on the water after extensive repairs.
The Pioneer, shown here several years ago, is back on the water after extensive repairs.
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Downtown also offers free rowboat excursions, competitive swimming races, romantic sunset cruises aboard historic ships and family friendly speedboat rides.

And on July 14, the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance is bringing back its popular City of Water Day, which last year drew 15,000 people to free water-based events on Governors Island.

This year's festivities include free boat tours of New York's historical sites, a flotilla of kayaks and canoes and a rare chance to take a paddleboard out into the harbor.

"The message of City of Water Day is that we can witness what our harbor could be like every day," Lewis said. "Downtown, we're starting to get there."

Here is a roundup of all the ways to get out on the water in Lower Manhattan this summer:

Rowing and Kayaking

Those who want to get a workout while braving the swells of New York Harbor can pick up free rowboats and kayaks on Pier 40, at West Houston Street and the Hudson River.

The Downtown Boathouse offers novices a taste of kayaking with free 20-minute walk-up sessions on the pier weekends and holidays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday evenings from 5 to 7 p.m. More experienced boaters can embark on one of the guided three-hour kayaking trips, which leave from Downtown Boathouse's location at Pier 96 (West 56th Street and the Hudson River) at 8 a.m. most weekend mornings.

Also at Pier 40, the Village Community Boathouse offers free group rowing sessions Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. and Sundays at noon. The trips last at least an hour and include instructions for beginners. For a complete schedule of programs, check the boathouse's calendar.

The Pier 40 boathouse has showers and lockers. All boaters must wear a life vest and sign a waiver.


New Yorkers often joke about the cleanliness of New York Harbor, but those who want to test the water for themselves can sign up for one of NYC Swim's competitive events this summer.  

There are races of all different lengths, from a quick 1-kilometer swim between Brooklyn Bridge Park and Lower Manhattan's East River Esplanade on July 15 to relay races around the island of Manhattan on Aug. 4. NYC Swim will also host a 2-mile race around Governors Island July 28.

Participants in NYC Swim events must prove that they have experience with open-water swimming in order to qualify.


One weekend is all it takes to learn how to sail, thanks to the Manhattan Sailing School's intensive summer program.

The school, based at Battery Park City's North Cove Marina, offers a $390 crash course in sailing terminology, rigging, docking, navigating and more, all squeezed into two 10-hour days, every weekend this summer.

Those who prefer to learn how to jib and tack at a more relaxed pace can sign up for five-week evening courses, which offer the same lessons spread over a series of three-hour lessons.

Manhattan Sailing School also offers more advanced courses in navigation and racing for those who complete the basic program. Graduates can also join the Manhattan Sailing Club, which offers access to the club's fleet of vessels.

Boat Excursions

Those who prefer to sit back and let someone else do the sailing have plenty of options Downtown.

The South Street Seaport Museum's historic schooner Pioneer, which just got some much-needed repairs over the winter, runs two-hour afternoon and evening sails most days of the week. The trips on the 127-year-old ship cost $40 for adults and $30 for seniors and children ages 3 to 12 and leave from the Seaport's Pier 16.

Manhattan By Sail offers sunset, happy hour, brunch and other special cruises on the Shearwater, a schooner based at North Cove Marina in Battery Park City, and Clipper City, a replica of a 19th-century tall ship based at Pier 17. Tickets range from $25 to $50. For more information, visit Manhattan By Sail's website.

A wilder ride is available on the SHARK, a speedboat that tears through New York Harbor with pulsing music and enough splashing to spray everyone onboard. The 30-minute trip from Pier 16 at the South Street Seaport, which often elicits shrieks from riders, runs hourly from noon to 7 p.m. in July and August. Tickets cost $24 for adults, $22 for seniors and $17 for children ages 3 to 12. Children must be at least 40 inches tall to ride.

Starting in July, Hornblower Cruises & Events will offer luxury dining cruises in New York Harbor, leaving from Pier 40 at West Houston Street and the Hudson River. Offerings will include boozy brunch buffets, DJ-ed starlight rides and more. For updated schedules and pricing information, visit Hornblower's website.  

For a more educational look at New York Harbor, the yacht Zephyr offers two-hour historian-led tours of Newark Bay, Brooklyn and the North River (as the Hudson River was once called). The Hidden Harbor tours, which leave from Pier 16, cost $29 for adults, $22 for seniors and $15 for children ages 3 to 12. A complete schedule is available online.

Those who want to travel farther afield can hop on New York Waterway's ferry to Sandy Hook, N.J., which is just 45 minutes away and offers miles of ocean and bay beaches, along with hiking trails, bird watching and fishing. The ferries leave from the World Financial Center in Battery Park City Saturdays and Sundays at 9:45 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. and leave Sandy Hook to return at 4:50 p.m. and 6:50 p.m. Tickets cost $49 for adults, $44 for seniors and $25 for children age 11 and younger.

Free Ferries

Catching a sea breeze doesn't have to be expensive.

The Staten Island Ferry offers one of the best deals in the city: a free half-hour cruise past the Statue of Liberty, with stunning views of the Lower Manhattan skyline.

The ferry leaves from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, 4 South St., every 15 minutes during rush hour, every half hour on Saturdays and Sundays and every hour on holidays. For a complete schedule, visit the ferry's website.

For a much shorter free trip, try the seven-minute ferry to Governors Island. The free ferry may be quick, but it offers scenic views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the approaching verdant landscape of Governors Island.

The Governors Island ferry leaves from the Battery Maritime Building, 10 South St., at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and then every half hour through 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Paid Ferries

The East River Ferry is one of the newest ways to get around the city, and it doesn't cost much more than a subway ride.

The ferry — which runs from Long Island City to Brooklyn Bridge Park, with stops in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Midtown East and Wall Street's Pier 11 — connects parts of the city that previously had no easy public transportation.

A single ride on the ferry costs $4, but those who want to spend the day soaking up rays on the ferry's outdoor upper deck will want to buy a $12 hop-on, hop-off pass. For an extra $1, riders can bring their bikes aboard. Schedule information is available online.

New York Water Taxi also runs a hop-on, hop-off service, with boats running from DUMBO to the South Street Seaport's Pier 17 and continuing to Battery Park, Pier 45 at Christopher Street and Pier 86 at West 44th Street. The $26 day pass ($16 for children ages 3 to 12) also includes a free bus tour and admission to the South Street Seaport Museum.