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Boating Seattle

Quite simply, Seattle just may be the most water-oriented major city in the United States. That’s great news for boaters.

Seattle’s position on the protected waters of the Puget Sound, along with the mountainous backdrop, give it one of the prettiest settings imaginable. Add lots of bays, inlets, canals, passages, lakes, and more, and you have a watery paradise.

One great way to acclimatize yourself to Seattle’s waterways is to try one of the routes with Washington State Ferries (206-464-6400 or 888-808-7977), the nation’s largest ferry system. With 27 vessels serving ten routes, the ferries range from high-speed passenger boats to vessels that carry 2,500 passengers and 218 autos. The most popular and scenic routes are along the Seattle Waterfront: car ferries travel to Bremerton (on the Olympic Peninsula) and Bainbridge Island, with passenger-only ferries to Bremerton and Vashon Island.

Other great ferry options on Puget Sound include Mukilteo-Clinton (Whidby Island) and Edmonds-Kingston (Olympic Peninsula). Further afield, the Anacortes-San Juan Islands-Sydney route is a classic, winding from the Washington mainland through the beautiful San Juan Islands (with stops at four of the largest ones) to Vancouver Island (just north of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada). Argosy Cruises (206-623-1445) also offers several Seattle area get-acquainted sightseeing cruises.

A list of Seattle sightseeing options has to include: the stunning Seattle Waterfront (Pier 51 to Pier 70); Pike Place Market, where fishmongers juggle the fresh catch; Pioneer Square, the birthplace of Seattle that’s now a trendy shopping and dining area; the Seattle Art Museum (206-654-3100); and the Space Needle (206-443-2111), the city’s signature monument (with great 360-degree views of the watery surroundings).

As would be expected, there are several excellent water-oriented sightseeing attractions as well. Odyssey, The Maritime Discovery Center (206-374-4000), is situated on Pier 66 of the Seattle Waterfront, and features 44 interactive exhibits in four galleries. Visitors can take a ‘Virtual Kayak Journey’ or practice loading ships with a high-tech crane simulator.

The Seattle Aquarium (206-386-4320), located on Pier 59, is the region’s premier aquarium, with several permanent exhibits that include salmon, sea otters, Pacific Northwest tide pools, and more. In addition, the unique Center for Wooden Boats (206-382-2628) on the southern shore of Lake Union offers a free look at an array of classic wooden boats.

Maritime festivals and events are also big in Seattle. For instance, on the first Saturday in May each year since 1913, the city celebrates the official Opening Day of boating season with the opening of Montlake Bridge and a Parade of Boats with hundreds of motor and sail boats, crew in full regalia. Festivities include races and a trophy ceremony. It’s sponsored by the Seattle Yacht Club (206-325-1000).

In mid-May, the Seattle Maritime Festival (206-461-5840) celebrates the city’s water-based heritage with lots of events that culminate in the popular Tug Boat Races, which are the largest in the U.S. During the winter (January), boaters warm up at the Seattle International Boat Show (206-634-0911) in Seahawks Stadium and Seattle Exhibition Hall--an annual event for more than 50 years. Running concurrently with this show (and again in May and September) is the Lake Union Boats Afloat Show (206-748-0012), which features a wide array of watercraft afloat at Chandler’s Cove on Lake Union.

The marina situation in Seattle couldn’t be better for boaters. Shilshole Bay Marina (206-728-3006 or 800-728-3006) is operated by the Port of Seattle and, at 1,500 slips, is the city’s largest. The marina is located in the neighborhood of Ballard, in northwest Seattle at the Puget Sound entrance to Lake Washington Ship Canal. Along with full services, it offers stunning views of the sound and Olympic Mountains.

Elliott Bay Marina (206-285-4817) has 1,200 slips at the foot of Magnolia Bluff on Seattle’s harbor. Along with full services, three dining establishments are right there, including Seattle’s largest--Palisades, an 11,000-square-foot restaurant specializing in Northwest seafood and boasting spectacular views of the harbor, Seattle’s skyline, Puget Sound, and the Olympic Mountains.

Of course, other small marinas, public ramps, and facilities for boaters are situated throughout the area. Seattle’s Convention & Visitors Bureau (see below) can help boaters find the best bet for their boats and circumstances.


For boating and tourism information, contact Seattle’s Convention & Visitors Bureau at 206-461-5840 or visit www.seeseattle.org. In addition, the Washington Boating Safety Officers Association website (www.boatwashington.org) is a great resource.