Home Services Articles Books Photos Contact Us

American Boating Association...


Like the rest of Texas, they do things big in the Galveston/Houston area when it comes to boating. Not surprisingly, Galveston Bay is one of the biggest bays in the nation. That means there’s a boatload of great boating and more at this Gulf of Mexico destination.

The Galveston Bay area is the oldest deepwater port on the Gulf of Mexico west of New Orleans. When Galveston’s port is combined with nearby Houston’s, they become the largest port in terms of tonnage in the U.S.

Running about 30 miles in length to about 17 miles in width, Galveston Bay is actually made up of four separately named bays. There are East Bay and West bay in the south, Galveston Bay proper in the south and northwest, and Trinity Bay to the northeast.

The depth of the bay is generally 10 to 12 feet, with the one unusual exception near the center (between Redfish Island and Smith Point) where an ancient collapsed salt dome is at about 115 feet. The bottom is generally flat and muddy, thanks to years of shrimp trawling. Tides are minimal (one to two feet), though strong southerly winds can raise the water levels in a hurry. The shoreline is generally flat and marshy, where there aren’t refineries or other development.

The Southern Waterway Guide provides an excellent introduction to Gulf boating, as well as specifics about everything along the coast. The coverage for Galveston Bay is extensive, though it obviously doesn’t replace detailed charts for boating.

The Galveston area is a great base for exploring all of Galveston Bay. There aren’t a ton of transient slips in the area, so it’s definitely best to call ahead for reservations. There are more than 10 possibilities in the Galveston area and another 15 or so in the Clear Lake (Houston, see below) vicinity.

Up until 1900, Galveston was actually the largest and wealthiest city in Texas. However, a huge hurricane swept through the city in that year, with loss of life set at more than 6,000 and loss of financial power immense. It took almost a century, but now Galveston has returned to much of its former glory.

Old Galveston is generally preserved and renovated, with the architecture taking center stage. The Old Strand section of the city is a comfortable walk from the marina area, with shops, restaurants, and Col. Bubbie’s (a giant military surplus store) among the many highlights. Visiting boaters should be sure to see Ashton Villa, a Italian-style mansion built in 1893 by Samuel Williams, who was the state’s first banker and who financed the fight for independence from Mexico for Texas.

About a mile from the marina area, Pier 21 is a bustling development definitely worth a visit (or stay). Along with dining, shopping, and strolling, the possibilities include: visiting the 1877 iron barque Elisa; the replica paddlewheeler Colonel (varied cruises); the excellent Texas Seaport Museum; and the Harbour House complex (free dockage for those dining at one of the restaurants or those spending the night at the Harbour House Hotel).

While in the area, boaters also shouldn’t miss Offats Bayou, which resulted from dredging Galveston Bay to raise the level of Galveston Island. Here, Moody Gardens is a must-see, with an incredible aquarium, tropical rainforest, an IMAX theater, dining, and much more. The nice Moody Gardens Hotel & Marina is a great base.

Heading up to Houston (and who wouldn’t?), the goal is the city’s Clear Lake waterfront. The area has a big boating presence, with more than 10,000 locally registered boats of all types and a wide range of facilities all along the shore. There are many major marinas in the area, including Kemah Harbor Marina, Watergate Marina, Waterford Marina, Blue Dolphin Marina, Legend Point Marina, South Shore Harbor, and Marina Del Sol. The Hilton and the South Shore Harbour Resort Hotel at the western end of Clear Lake also feature dockage. Dining possibilities abound, with the south side of Clear Creek offering some of the best options.

A list of Houston highlights has to begin with the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, where boaters can learn all about another type of ‘ship’ that travels through space, rather than water. For a unique boating experience more than 50 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, Buffalo Bayou runs right into the midst of the Houston’s skyline (it’s the fourth largest city in the U.S.), passing by Allen’s Landing, where the city was founded, and the restored battleship, Texas.

Thus, from the Gulf of Mexico all the way to downtown Houston, it’s clear to see why Galveston Bay offers some of the best of America’s boating.


As mentioned above, the Southern Waterway Guide (800/233-3359, www.waterwayguide.com, regularly $36.95, but at a discount for $XX.00 for ABA members) is a great resource for Gulf of Mexico cruising. They also publish the Mid-Atlantic Waterway Guide and the Northern Waterway Guide.

For information about the Galveston area, visit their website at www.galvestoncvb.com or call 888/GAL-ISLE. For the Houston area, visit their website at www.houston-guide.com or call 800/4-HOUSTON.