The Top 10 Ways to Get on the Water in Seattle (Plus a Few More)
A Guide to Floating Transportation, Sightseeing, Maritime History & Events
Auto and Passenger Ferries
- Washington State Ferries, the nation’s largest ferry system, carries 23 million passengers per year aboard 28 vessels serving ten routes. Ferries range in size from small, high-speed passenger-only boats to vessels that carry 2,500 passengers and 202 automobiles. Among the most popular and scenic routes are the ones leaving Seattle’s waterfront. These car ferries (also open to foot and bicycle passengers) travel to Bremerton (on the Olympic Peninsula) and Bainbridge Island. Several other routes operate on Puget Sound with comparable fares and regular sailings, including Mukilteo-Clinton (Whidbey Island) and Edmonds-Kingston (Olympic Peninsula). April-October, the Anacortes-San Juan Islands-Sydney, B.C. route winds from the Washington mainland through the beautiful San Juan Islands (with stops at four of the largest islands) to Sydney, B.C on Vancouver Island, just north of Victoria, B.C. For information and schedules, call (206) 464-6400, (888) 808-7977 in Washington state and British Columbia or visit wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.
- Two ferries operate between Port Angeles (Olympic Peninsula) and Victoria, B.C. Blackball Transport, Inc. operates an auto/passenger ferry (M.V. Coho); Call (360) 457-4491, (250) 386-2202 or visit cohoferry.com. Mid-spring through early fall, Victoria Rapid Transport, Inc. (“Victoria Express”) offers a passenger-only ferry between the two cities. For information call (360) 452-8088 (U.S.), (250) 361-9144 (Canada) or visit victoriaexpress.com.
- Alaska Ferry Adventure operates auto/passenger ferries year-around between Bellingham, WA, 80 miles north of Seattle, and several southeastern Alaskan ports. Fares vary depending on season, automobile and final destination. For information call (800) 382-9229 or visit alaskaferryvacations.com.
- Victoria Vacations operates several high-speed passenger-only catamarans from the Seattle waterfront to Victoria, B.C. throughout the year with a two-to-three hour crossing time depending on the vessel. Seasonal Seattle-San Juan Island trips are also available. Fares vary depending on season and destination. Special packages and discount fares for seniors, children and groups are available throughout the year. For information call (800) 888-2535 or visit clippervacations.com.
- Kenmore Air, which began operation in Seattle in 1946, is one of the oldest and largest float plane operators in the world with a fleet of 25 aircraft logging some two million miles and carrying 125,000 passengers a year. Kenmore Air offers regularly scheduled flights between Seattle and Victoria, B.C., as well as Friday Harbor and other points in the San Juan Islands, Olympic Peninsula and British Columbia’s Gulf Islands. Charters, fishing and other packages plus 20 minute Seattle “flightseeing” excursions are also offered. Flight times between Seattle and Victoria are just one hour one way. Fares change seasonally and vary according to destination. For information call (866) 435-9524 or visit kenmoreair.com.
- Seattle Seaplanes also flies from Lake Union, offering year-around sightseeing flights as well as “dinner flights” to popular restaurants and resorts in the San Juan Islands, Victoria, B.C., Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula and the towns of Port Ludlow, Port Hadlock and Poulsbo on the Kitsap Peninsula. Charters, special occasion flights and flight instruction are also available. For information call (800) 637-5553 or visit seattleseaplanes.com.
- Argosy Cruises offers travelers in a hurry several options for getting out on the water. Take a one-hour narrated tour of Seattle’s harbor, Elliott Bay; tours depart from Pier 55 on the Seattle waterfront several times throughout the day depending on the season. Argosy also offers a two-hour locks cruise, also departing from Pier 55. The narrated tour passes through Hiram M. Chittenden Locks along the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The U.S. Government operated locks raise and lower boats between six and 26 feet between fresh and salt water. Argosy’s popular Lakes Cruises offer either a one-and-a-half hour trip around Seattle’s Lake Union, departing from South Lake Union docks, or a one-and-a-half hour trip departing from Kirkland (east of Seattle) on Lake Washington. For more information on all of Argosy’s tours, call (888) 623-1445 or visit argosycruises.com.
- Ride the Ducks of Seattle provides the unique experience of touring Seattle by both land and sea. Tours are conducted in vintage DUKW vehicles (“Ducks”), amphibious landing crafts developed by the United States Army during World War II. The Seattle tour encompasses the sightseeing of downtown Seattle by land and the sights on Lake Union by water. Duck schedules vary throughout the year. For more information call (206) 441-DUCK or (800) 817-1116 or visit ridetheducksofseattle.com.
- Argosy Cruises offers Tillicum Excursion a four-hour experience to nearby Blake Island State Park. A unique dining experience including a clam nectar appetizer, and Northwest-flavor inspired buffet featuring traditionally-prepared alder fire roasted fish. The Northwest Native American storytelling performance and hand-crafted art are all inside a cedar longhouse surrounded by lush forest and rocky beach for guests to explore. In addition to the public cruises, special event cruises, packages and group charters are available. For information call (888) 623-1445 or visit argosycruises.com.
- Waterways Cruises & Events operates public and group charter cruises aboard a fleet of luxury yachts that cruise Puget Sound and Lakes Union and Washington. For information call 206-223-2060 or visit waterwayscruises.com.
Kayaking & Canoeing
- The Northwest Outdoor Center located on Seattle’s Lake Union rents kayaks by the hour. Some 20 different types of kayaks are available, along with expert instruction before you shove off. Lake Union is an urban lake just blocks from Seattle’s downtown and offers seven nautical miles of shoreline, dotted with residential houseboat communities, lakeside restaurants and seafood bars, the Center for Wooden Boats and an array of maritime industry. The Northwest Outdoor Center also offers group tours, including Full Moon Paddles and Golden Gardens Sunset Tours. Classes and day trips outside the city are available as well. For information call (206) 281-9694, (800) 683-0637 or visit nwoc.com.
- Warm summer days lure canoeists to the quiet marsh waterways around the Washington Park Arboretum. The University of Washington’s Waterfront Activities Center rents canoes and rowboats by the hour. Specific hours vary throughout the year depending on daylight; call for current hours. For information call (206) 543-8800 or visit botanicgardens.uw.edu/washington-park-arboretum/activities.
- Experience the Alki Peninsula while overlooking the Seattle skyline with Alki Kayak Tours. Guided tours include Elliott Bay Sea Kayak Tour, Alki Lighthouse Sea Tour, Seattle Sunset Sea Kayak Tour and more. Alki Kayak Tours also offer inline skate, bike, longboard and boat rentals. For information call (206) 953-0237 or visit kayakalki.com.
- The San Juan Islands, 80 miles north of Seattle, are known around the world as a kayaker’s dream. The islands are home to a resident Orca whale population, nesting bald eagles, sea lions and a bounty of nature that is often viewed at close range by kayak. San Juan Outfitters operates from Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor (on San Juan Island), offering 3-hour, 5-hour and family oriented guided tours led by naturalists. For information call (866) 810-1483, (360) 378-1963 or sanjuanoutfitters.com.
- Crystal Seas Kayaking, also operating from Friday Harbor, offers 3-hour, day, sunset and multi-day guided tours, including whale watching. For information call (877) 732-7877 or visit crystalseas.com.
- Located just inside Shilshole Bay Marina, Ballard Kayaks offers rentals for single, double and family double kayaks and stand up paddle boards by the hour. Ballard’s scenic Shilshole Bay is home to multiple seals, sea lions, osprey and great herons. Ballard Kayaks also offers a variety of kayak tours of the Ballard Locks, the Puget Sound and Discovery Point. For more information, call (206) 494-3353 or visit www.ballardkayak.com.
Sailing and Small Boat Charters
- A wealth of boat charter companies offer a wide variety of sailing and small boat cruises ranging in length from an hour to half- and full-day cruises and longer. Contact the following companies directly for full details.
- Emerald City Charters, operating from Pier 54 on the Seattle waterfront, features 90-minute and two and a half hour private and group sailing excursions June through October. For information call (206) 624-3931 or visit sailingseattle.com.
- Windworks Sailing Center, operating from Shilshole Bay in Seattle, offers corporate, group and private sailing excursions. For information call (206) 784-9386 or visit windworkssailing.com.
- Several charter fishing companies offer salmon and other saltwater fishing on
Puget Sound. Most provide tackle and equipment as well as licensed skippers or guides. Fishing seasons vary each year, so check dates and charter availability with the following companies directly.
- Puget Sound Sports Fishing, Inc., operating from Edmonds, 20 miles north of Seattle, provides tackle and experienced skippers for salt water fishing excursions. For information call (206) 546-5710 or visit pugetsoundsportsfishing.com.
- Possession Point Fishing Charters, operating from the Port of Everett, north of Seattle, offers year-around salt water fishing. For information call (360) 652-3797, (866) 652-3797 or visit possessionpointcharters.com
Major Seattle Marinas
- Shilshole Bay Marina, operated by the Port of Seattle, is Seattle’s largest marina with 1,400 slips. The marina is located in the neighborhood of Ballard at the Puget Sound entrance to the Lake Washington Ship Canal, offering views of the sound and Olympic Mountains. Seasonal rates are available for the marina’s 2,700 linear feet of guest moorage. Businesses at or near the marina include yacht brokerages, marine supplies, a boatyard with engine repair, sailing charters and lessons and restaurants. The marina is located at 7001 Seaview Avenue N.W. For information call (800) 426-7817 ext. 3006 or visit portseattle.org/maritime/shilshole-bay-marina. Mariners may tune to VHF Channel 17.
- Bell Harbor Marina is downtown Seattle’s only recreational marina, located at the Bell Street Pier/Pier 66. The marina has space for 70 boats, ranging from 30 to 150 feet. Guest moorage is available year-around. With its location on the Seattle Waterfront, it is the gateway to everything downtown has to offer, from world-class cuisine to entertainment to shopping. For information call (800) 426-7817 or visit portseattle.org/maritime/bell-harbor-marina. Mariners may tune to VHF channel 66A.
Maritime and Aquatic Education & Heritage
- The Seattle Aquarium features a stunning 40-foot, 55,000-lb. viewing window into a 120,000-gallon aquarium filled with salmon, colorful rockfish, vibrant sea anemones, other native Washington marine life and interactive divers. Other exhibits include two pools filled with sea anemones and sunflower sea star, a pacific coral reef exhibit, marine mammals and an underwater dome, the aquarium’s largest exhibit. The aquarium is located on Seattle’s waterfront at Pier 59. For more information call (206) 386-4300 or visit seattleaquarium.org.
- The Center for Wooden Boats offers a free look at an array of classic wooden boats, located at 1010 Valley Street on the southern shore of Seattle’s Lake Union. Rentals, workshops and lessons are also available year-around. For information call 206-382-2628 or visit cwb.org.
And there’s more…
Opening Day of Boating Season
- On the first Saturday in May each year since 1913, thousands of spectators line the shore of the Montlake Cut to celebrate Seattle’s official Opening Day of boating season. The Parade of Boats, sponsored by the Seattle Yacht Club, begins with a canon blast and the opening of the Montlake Bridge. Hundreds of sail and motor boats parade through, crew in full regalia according to the parade theme. Festivities also include sailboat and crew races and a trophy ceremony. For information call (206) 325-1000 or visit seattleyachtclub.org.
Vigor Seattle Maritime Festival Family Fun Day
- More than 30 festivals, special events, public tours and other activities area planned from April through May. The highlight is the annual Vigor Seattle Maritime Festival family Fun Day at Lake Union Park the second weekend in May. Visit seattlemaritime101.com for more information.
Seattle Boat Show
- More than a thousand boats of all kind fill Qwest Field Event Center during the end of January and beginning of February. The show, produced by Northwest Marine Traders Association has been an annual event for more than 50 years. For information call (206) 634-0911 or visit seattleboatshow.com.
Lake Union Boats Afloat Show
- Sponsored by the Northwest Yacht Brokers Association, the Lake Union Boats Afloat Show runs concurrently with the Seattle International Boat Show during the end of January and beginning of February. Boats Afloat offers a look at a wide array of water craft – all afloat in Seattle’s Lake Union, extending from the Center for Wooden Boats to Yale Street Landing. For information call (206) 748-0012 or visit boatsafloatshow.com.
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