Most boat parades are free to the public. Occasionally boat owners pay a fee to sail, but spectators need only find an anchoring spot in a clear patch of water or an on-land parking lot and convenient viewing place.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Did we miss your favorite parade? Send your additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. West Coast & Hawaii
Argosy Christmas Ship FestivalSeattle, Washington
This is a popular “theme” cruise line offering everything from jazz brunch series to murder mystery dinners. They offer a holiday dinner cruise for parade watchers.
Morro Bay Lighted Boat ParadeSan Luis Obisbo County, California
You can get more information about this annual event from the area chamber of commerce at 805-772-4467. This boat parade is often accompanied by a holiday street fair offering fun for the entire family in beautiful Old Town Morro Bay. The fair offers face painting, arts and crafts, entertainment, food, children’s activities, and many street vendors.
The Annual Christmas Ship ParadePortland, Oregon
This event spans a cruise along the Columbia and Willamette rivers. More than 50 decorated ships pass up and down the rivers for two weeks. Portland city officials provide detailed information on hotels, restaurants, and outdoor viewing places so families can enjoy this exciting fleet of fanciful holiday ships. Advance reservations are recommended at restaurants that pepper the riverfront. Ideal viewing spots disappear quickly.
Channel Islands Harbor Parade of LightsOxnard, California
The folks in Oxnard offer pre-parade activities during the day and manage to include snow play for kids along with visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Marina del Rey Holiday Boat ParadeMarina del Rey, California
This event kicks off with a super-duper fireworks display. Boaters compete for best boat decorations, so you’ll see some pretty outrageous lighting. For boaters interested in participating, a helpful list of do’s and don’ts is posted online. Popular radio announcers and television celebrities provide live commentary from Burton Chace Park where a judges’ stand is located. The park is a terrific place for a family or holiday party. You can also stake a spot along Fisherman’s Village or make early reservations at a variety of restaurants with fabulous views of this parade.
Naples Island Annual holiday Boat ParadeLong Beach, California
This quaint little city tucked in the Long Beach, California, area offers beachside parking lots, free and metered. As local restaurants don’t offer great viewing of this parade, participants generally eat early, then walk down to the beach to view the parade.
San Diego Bay Parade of LightsSan Diego, California
The city of San Diego Bay Parade always hosts a large number of award-winning boats, so if you’re interested in competing, contact them right away.
Newport Beach Christmas Boat ParadeNewport Beach, California
This parade is located in a ritzy part of Los Angeles County known for million-dollar homes and celebrity homeowners. As a backdrop to the flamboyant boat parade, the bayside homes and businesses are beautifully decorated with everything from animated rooftops to dancing Christmas trees. Prizes are awarded as part of the “Ring of Lights” competition. This bright light boat parade has been going on for more than a century.
Huntington Harbor Cruise of LightsHuntington Beach, California
This was voted one of the Top 10 by Coastal Living Magazine. This is a ticketed event. To reserve your tickets call 714-840-7542.
Santa Barbara Parade of Lights and FireworksSanta Barbara, California
This event begins with a Santa’s Village setting and they bring in 10 tons of snow, a real treat for California kids who rarely see snow amidst the palm trees.
Ventura Harbor Parade of Lights and FireworksVentura, California
Sidney Lighted Sailpast Boat ParadeVancouver Island, British Columbia
Start the festivities off with a delicious pancake breakfast. Breakfast often serves more than 150 kids, who then get to see Santa. Hot drinks are served throughout the parade to adults, and kids are given glow-in-the-dark sticks to twirl.
Hawaii Kai Marina Christmas Boat Parade
With a tropical backdrop, this parade offers bystanders free Blinkies to toss around, a stage of early musical concert entertainment before the parade and lots of free parking.
U.S. East & Gulf Coasts
Patchogue Riverfront Committee’s Boat Parade
Patchogue, New York
This parade happens sometime in late November. The popular riverfront celebration also schedules a preview of the brightly decorated boats on display a few days before the parade.
Gloucester Boat Parade
The parade starts up at Jones Creek off the Annisquam River, travels through the River and then around Gloucester Harbor (outer and inner) where the boats then anchor for the Fireworks Display which occurs once the parade has finished. The fireworks are shot off form Stage Fort Park, right off of Historic Stacy Boulevard. Spectators may view the parade and fireworks display from the banks of the river, the boulevard, boats anchored in the harbor, or anywhere else they can see the spectacular display.
Holiday Flotilla at Wrightsville BeachWrightsville Beach, North Carolina
This flotilla is heralded as one of the top 20 must-see events of the Southeast. This event features a popular 5k run and a festival in the park.
Santa sails into New York City HarborHarbor Town, New York
When Santa sails into port, it’s as popular as the Macy’s Parade. Santa makes his appearance on the final boat of this flotilla.
Cocoa Village Boat ParadeCocoa City, Florida
Cocoa Village is always looking for boaters to join the parade. Not only will they have a slew of dressed up parade boats, they also offer free, family-oriented movies at the nearby park.
Davis Island Yacht Club ParadeTampa, Florida
Davis Island Yacht Club claims to be “The Sailingest Club in the South.”
Fort Walton Beach Christmas Boat ParadeDestin, Florida
Fort Walton Beach is so hospitable the city fathers are offering families 70 percent discounts on stays at four-star hotels just to entice them to come and enjoy this popular holiday parade.
Parade of BoatsCharleston, South Carolina
Charleston invites sailors to simply register with the city of Charleston, decorate their boats from stem to stern, and join this popular parade. They throw a party for captains and crew complete with prizes in power and sail categories. The Best-in-Show Award is given to the highest scoring boat overall.
Alexandria Holiday Boat ParadeWashington, D.C.
Rain or snow, this event along the Potomac River includes powerboats, sailboats and even the district’s fireboat. Parade committee members design competitive categories such as “Best in Show,” “Best Thinking outside the Christmas Box,” and a full weekend of holiday festivities.
Hampton Lighted Boat ParadeHampton, Virginia
Hampton invites captains who wish to enter their seafaring vessel in this Virginia parade to contact the Hampton Public Piers at 757-727-1276.
Inner Harbor Lighted Boat ParadeBaltimore, Maryland
This parade is sponsored by the Fells Point Yacht Club. Anyone wishing to attend or participate is encouraged to contact the yacht club at <www.fpyc.net>.
Holiday Boat ParadeDunedin, Florida
Even tugboats are part of this boater-cade . . . along with a seafaring Santa.
St. Petersburg Holiday Boat ParadeSt. Petersburg, Florida
This parade is a bright and beautiful St. Petersburg/Clearwater tradition on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Boats turn into gigantic floats full of glowing palm trees. There’s a bouncing inflatable Santa Claus, chili cook-offs, and lots of family fun.
Annapolis Boat ParadeAnnapolis, Maryland
A boat parade is just one event in Maryland’s state capital during the holiday season. The U.S. Naval Academy plays an active role in the boat parade and there are also candlelight tours, holiday concerts, and lovely shops throughout this historic seaport town. Free shuttles from convenient parking lots at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium will transport visitors to the boat parade area.
St. Pete Beach Holiday Boat ParadeTampa, Florida
You don’t have to be in the St. Pete Beach parade to enjoy it, but for those who participate, organizers remind captains to ensure their boats’ lights are in good working condition, to get there early and plan to stay a little later to avoid the rush, to be equipped with enough life jackets for everyone on board, to have a chart plotter with “tracking” turned on, and to enjoy the show.
Boca Ciega Yacht Club Christmas Boat ParadeTampa, Florida
The Boca Ciega parade is about 30 years old and going strong. To enter your boat in this parade, there’s a small fee of $5 and the donation of two unwrapped toys for the Gulfport’s Police Department. The toys are donated to needy children as part of Operation Santa.
Winterfest Boat ParadeFt. Lauderdale, Florida
The Winterfest Boat Parade organizers claim theirs to be the “World’s most-watched boat parade.”
Regatta of Lights, St. Augustine Yacht ClubJacksonville, Florida
This annual boat parade celebrates St. Augustine’s historical seaborne image and rich nautical heritage. Participants include sailboats, sport-fishermen, trawlers, shrimp boats, and other vessels (both commercial and pleasure craft).
Pompano Beach Holiday Boat ParadeMiami, Florida
With its own claim to fame, Pompano Beach boasts that it has the oldest and most continuous boat parade in the United States. In fact, the parade is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012. There is no entry fee for participating boats and as many as 50 to 75 boats participate each year.
Key West Lighted Boat Parade
Key West, Florida
In Key West, all participating boats are entered in an impressive raffle that promises great prizes. Participants pay a registration fee of $25 per boat.
Florida Keys - 2013
Key Colony Beach Lighted Boat Parade (Marathon Area)
Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 6:00 PM (sunset)
Starts at the 7th Street canal and winds through canls on the west side of the city. Best viewing includes the dock area behind city hall and the post office. After-party at the Key Colony Inn, 7800 E. Ocean Drive. Contact: 305-743-7214 or <http://www.kcbca.org/kcbca-events/holiday-lighted-boat-parade/>
Boot Key Harbor Boat Parade (Marathon)
Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 6:00 PM
Dinghies, mega-yachts and vessels in between will cruise the harbor in this Middle Keys holiday event. Best viewing sites include Lazy Days South, Marathon Marina, Sombrero Dockside Lounge and Burdines Waterfront. Contact: <http://www.bootkeyharbor.com/christmas_parade.htm>
Lower Keys Lighted Boat Parade (Lower Keys)
Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 7:00 PM
All boats are welcome. Sponsor, the Lower Keys Rotary Club, expect Santa and Mrs. Santa to arrive and hand out candy to the kids. Best viewing includes Old Wooden Bridge Guest Cottages, No Name Key Bridge and Big Pine Community Park, all off U. S. Highway 1. Contact Steve at 305-923-5370 or email to email@example.com.
Key Largo Boat Parade (Key Largo)
Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 7:30 PM
"Christmas Rocks!" is the theme for this parade in Key Largo's Blackwater Sound. It's free to enter: one grand-prize winner and one randomly selected lucky boat will receive $500 each. Great viewing at Sundowners, Jimmy Johnson's Big Chill, Señor Frijoles, the Marriott Key Largo Bay Resort and Caribbean Club. Winner's Party at Sundowners after the parade. Contact: 305-451-4502, or <http://www.keylargoboatparade.com>
Schooner Wharf Bar & Galley Lighted Boat Parade (Key West)
Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 8:00 PM
Kayaks, fishing craft and schooners will be festively decorated in Key West's Historic Seaport for the 23rd Annual event. Music from the Gerald Adams Elementary School Steel Your Heart Band, and The Doerfels. Contact 305-292-3302 or <http://www.schoonerwharf.com>.
Christmas on the Water Boat ParadeBiloxi, Mississippi
Last year, Mark Oehmichen’s “Blow Me Away” Sailboat took first place in the Pleasure Sailboats Category of this local Christmas parade.
Indian Rocks Beach Christmas Boat ParadeIndian Rocks, Florida
Legend has it this beach community got its name because American Indians discovered natural sulfur rock springs where a native medicine man healed their chief. These days, they’re creating new legends with their annual Christmas boat parades.
Treasure Island Holiday Boat ParadeTreasure Island, Florida
There are plenty of prime viewing spots on this island retreat.