East Bay Boating Culture

From learning the ropes and taking the tiller to basking on a yacht – everything you need to know to get on the water this summer


Boating is more than just a recreational activity in these parts. There are more than 13,000 marine-related jobs in Rhode Island and over 1,700 marine-related businesses. In fact, the state is considered a leader in the “blue economy,” which encompasses economic sectors with a direct or indirect link to Rhode Island’s coasts and ocean. These include defense, the marine trades, tourism and recreation, fisheries, aquaculture, ports and shipping, and offshore renewable energy, as well as higher education and research institutions and marine-focused advocacy and civic groups. With a direct economic impact of more than $5 billion – a number that’s projected to double by the end of this decade – Rhode Island’s blue economy has been recognized both nationally and globally. 

Whether you’re looking to sail along the Sakonnet River, dock and dine at waterfront eateries along Mount Hope Bay, kayak along the Kickemuit, stand-up paddleboard Portsmouth’s shoreline, or tack on a 12-meter yacht while learning exactly why Newport is the Sailing Capital of the World, we’ve assembled the best of local boat builders, charter experiences, and harbor cruises, as well as tips on how to feel like a yachtie so you can live your best Ocean State summer life. 


Located in the heart of Bristol, the Herreshoff Marine Museum offers youth and adult sailing classes in the summer and fall (the latter start mid-September). The museum’s Herreshoff Seamanship Program teaches the principles of sailing, and sailors-in-training can get to know the legacy, design, and performance of the museum’s stunning vessels, be it Herreshoff wooden sloops up to 16 feet or a Sea Sprite 23 (class sizes are limited and are filled on a first come, first served basis). Private lessons are also available for that one-on-one experience. All boats utilized in Herreshoff’s sailing school are also available for rent with a $250 yearly “Columbia” level membership and demonstrated sailing ability. If landlubbing is more your speed, check out the museum’s exhibits and campus. The Nathanael Greene Herreshoff Model room, named for the famed Bristolian and renowned naval architect, holds a collection of 500 models significant to the Herreshoff legacy. Herreshoff.com

Did you know the premier marine trades and modern manufacturing school in the US is right here in the smallest state? Located on Newport’s harborfront, IYRS School of Technology and Trades is a non-profit, post-secondary experiential learning institution. Since its founding nearly 30 years ago, the school has soared, recently being named one of Newsweek's Best Maker Schools in the world. Here’s what sets it apart: you can visit the campus and watch boat builders in training, crafting vessels by hand, not so differently than the way it was done centuries ago. Restoration Hall, built in 1903, has an elevated catwalk where visitors can take it all in. Grab some iced coffee at neighboring Mokka Coffeehouse (you’re welcome in advance) and peruse the three-acre campus and marina (warning: you may be tempted to change careers and enroll after your visit). IYRS.edu

Newport’s newest attraction, The Sailing Museum, opened this past May with much anticipation – and it’s not hard to see why. Housed in the striking stone Armory building on Thames Street that was built in 1894, the museum will wow both sailing enthusiasts and non-sailors alike with its interactive exhibits, including the grinding challenge, where you can see if you have what it takes to raise and trim the sails and move the boom, or enter the dome where you get the sensation of flying over the water at 50 knots (it’s more intense than you may think!). A personalized journey through six thematic areas, the museum is also littered with fascinating sailing artifacts and captivating videos that tell sailing’s story through the centuries. The non-profit museum is home to the National Sailing Hall of Fame and America’s Cup Hall of Fame, so there’s plenty to see, do, and learn in this Ocean State gem (plus kids 10 and under are free). TheSailingMuseum.org

Founded in 1983 after the loss of the America's Cup in local waters (a day that lives in Newport infamy), Sail Newport has grown to be New England's largest public sailing center and is considered Rhode Island's premier public sailing site. The organization’s purpose is to make learning to sail easy, fun, and affordable while also offering rental programs so people can have access to boats. With tomorrow’s sailors in mind, Sail Newport works to attract new enthusiasts of all different ages and backgrounds to the sport. Here you’ll find programs designed for everyone from the first-timer or those who are a little rusty steering the tiller to seafarers looking to sharpen their skills. Families or groups can schedule a Try Sailing experience with one of their certified instructors and up to four adult guests (or up to two adults and three children) where you’ll learn the ins and outs of sailing, or sign up for a weekly group adult learn-to-sail program where you’ll dive deeper into sailing instruction aboard a J/22. SailNewport.org


The world's most expensive superyacht, the History Supreme, is worth nearly $5 billion and is made of solid gold and platinum. But you don’t need a billionaire's bank account to get out on the water. With more than 400 miles of coastline, boating in the summertime is virtually a requirement here in the Ocean State, whether boating on the bay is new territory for you or you’re an old salt. 

It’d be downright blasphemous to have a story about boating and sailing without including the classic sailing thoroughbreds that put Lil’ Rhody on the map: 12 meters (or “metres,” the British spelling, which you’ll commonly see when referring to these boats). The America’s Cup, the oldest international competition still operating in any sport, was raced in Newport from 1930 until 1983 with majestic, painstakingly built wooden 12 meters racing until the debut of aluminum 12 meters in 1974. Today, more than a half dozen America’s Cup competitors call Newport Harbor home, including a handful on which you can take a two-hour sail in Narragansett Bay. America’s Cup Charters counts five 12 meters among its fleet including 1962 winner Weatherly, one of only three surviving wooden America’s Cup defenders in the world, and Intrepid, winner in both 1967 and 1970 and considered one of the most famous racing yachts of all time. Go along for the ride or roll up your sleeves and pitch in the thrill of sailing one of these historic gems. AmericasCupCharters.com

Making its seasonal debut this year, Tabasco is the newest addition to Newport’s fleet of charter vessels, and it’s making a splash (pun intended). Built in 1973 and spending most of her life off the coast of Maine, this 32-foot Wasque (way-squee) is perfect for groups up to six and comes with a captain and crew. Sit back with a BYO cocktail or mocktail in hand and get an up-close look at mega-mansions along the coast, lighthouses, private yacht clubs, and cool sights like Clingstone, the house on the rocks. Owner and captain Curtis Adam says whether embarking on a 1.5-hour cruise or 3.5-hour excursion, guests can choose their own adventure. “What I love about the boat is the ability to be anything. We can clear the deck chairs and have a dance party,” says Adam (bachelorette parties: take note for that last sail before the veil). Swimming in heavenly spots like Potter’s Cove and Mackerel Cove, both in Jamestown, is particularly popular. Also, the boat welcomes four-legged friends and is basically your Instagram content dream, so bring your charger. CharterTabasco.com

Want to throw a party with 39 of your closest friends? Enter Heron Luxury Charters, a 63-foot catamaran offering full-day, half-day, and sunset sails; all of which are exclusively private. Charming from the get-go with its signature Tiffany-blue hull, Heron is equipped with plenty of plush bean bag chairs to relax upon, two large trampolines for luxuriating, paddle-boards, floating water mats, and blankets for chilly sunset sails. But you’ll have to book this memorable charter experience in summertime as Heron heads south when temperatures start to drop. Chasing that endless summer – we feel you, Heron. HeronLuxuryCharters.com


You want to see live music. They want a sunset cruise. Date night solution: jammin’ aboard the Coastal Queen, a charming boat rain or shine with its covered but open-air upper top deck for catching fresh ocean breezes and weatherproof main salon on the main deck. While there’s a host of daily narrated tours including lighthouse and mimosa cruises, scenic bay cruises, and evening cocktail cruises, their special event cruises include wine tastings, live bands, beer tastings, and theme nights, like reggae night. Most daily cruises depart from Newport but special event cruises depart from Jamestown or Wickford, which allow you to explore those charming downtowns before or after your adventure. CoastalQueenCruises.com

Gansett Cruises out of Bowen's Landing on Newport’s Bowen's Wharf offers laid back, 1.5-hour narrated harbor boat tours and sunset cruises on Narragansett Bay with both covered seating and plenty of room on the bow and rooftop deck for sun-worshippers. M/V Gansett may just be the most “Rhode Island-esque” tour in all the state as they serve Del’s frozen lemonade, authentic coffee cabinets (AKA milkshakes to the uninitiated) and stuffies packed with Rhode Island quahogs – all compliments of the captain! Plus you can order from a host of locally brewed beers and wines and signature sea-worthy cocktails. Insider tip: morning cruises come with a complimentary mimosa, while sunset tours include a champagne toast. Plan accordingly. GansettCruises.com

Editor’s Note: With so many businesses, we’re sure to miss some. Please visit DiscoverNewport.com for additional listings and information.


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