Ah, the holidays. Time for food, festivities and family, which means overeating, overcommitting and feuds you hoped had been forgotten. If you want to lower your stress level this holiday season, how about dumping convention and heading down to the boat for something completely different—and probably much more fun?

Depending on where in the country you live, you may be able to have the best boating vacation of your life right when everyone else is stressing over last minute gifts, burned turkeys and Uber rides home from raucous parties. For Californians and Floridians, there’s not much to this since their boats are in the water year-round, but even if you’re sitting on your shrink-wrapped vessel in Boston in a snowstorm, chances are you can have the time of your life aboard regardless of the weather outside.

Let’s break down the components that make a good holiday.


Jingle all the way through the holidays on your favorite boat.

Holiday Entertainment

There’s always something happening in a marina so entertainment won’t be lacking. Why not go boat-to-boat caroling or trim a marina Christmas tree? A few boaters pitching in means the décor costs are shared, the clean up is easy and a few trees get saved. You can also take up a collection throughout the marina to donate to the local food bank or homeless shelter.

Some areas have holiday boat parades that are a festive way to celebrate. The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade in Southern California is in its 109th year and was named one of “top 10 holiday happenings” by the New York Times. Hundreds of delightfully decorated boats follow a three-hour route through Newport Harbor for five consecutive nights. It’s a spectacle not to be missed, and if you’re aboard in your slip, you have front-row seats. Boat parades occur all up and down the West Coast and throughout Florida.

Daytime fun is obvious. Unless your harbor is frozen, you can go kayaking or fishing and in some areas, you can even take a dip without turning blue. Let’s face it, if you were home, you’d probably be cleaning, wrapping or working, so why not get away to the boat and put all that traditional stuff on hold.

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What's better than enjoying warm cookies and a cold glass of milk? How 'bout enjoying them onboard of your beloved vessel?

Festive Food

Food is part of entertainment, especially during the holidays, but cooking for a crowd can be a chore and cleaning up is never fun. How about a progressive dinner where each boat makes only one course? Every boat can also have a signature cocktail and at the end of the night, you can walk home instead of driving.

Baking cookies is a great way to heat up a cold saloon without a diesel heater, and old-fashioned oil lamps provide both light and heat so put one of those on your early Christmas list. As for clean up, boaters never seem to be short on libations but be sure to keep WineAway on hand for those guests who get careless with the red wine.

If a giant turkey won’t fit into your boat oven, consider pre-baking it at home and then reheating it already carved once aboard. The same goes for other dishes but maybe this is the year to experiment with non-traditional menus. Just toss a piece of tuna steak on the grill with some wasabi glaze. That would make the Pilgrims’ hats spin.

For truly silly fun, do a dinghy potluck. A half dozen dinghies on parade makes for goofy good times. Then tie off to a buoy or drop anchor, circle the tenders and enjoy a dinner of random dishes that will have everyone laughing well into the evening.

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To transform your boat into your holiday hideaway, all you need is a couple strands of string lights and a handful of ornaments.


Just because you’re on a boat doesn’t mean your décor must be drab. Tiny live Christmas trees are sold everywhere including at grocery and craft stores. And you can plant the tree after the holidays instead of dragging its sad carcass to the curb in January.

Lights are a must. LED string lights are easy on the battery banks so wrap them around stainless rails, raise them high into your sailboat rigging and string them around the saloon. In extreme cases, your genset may get a workout but there’s no reason to sit in the dark since even dinghies can have a cheery ambience with little power draw.

Be careful how you wire everything together so you don’t create an electrical short and stock up on battery-powered candles because open flame on a boat should be kept to the barbecue.


Get ready to drop a few pounds of holiday weight by taking a morning paddle or an afternoon swim around your local bay.


All that rich food and sugar makes us a bit rounder during the holidays and exercise is hard to come by when you have a house full of guests or a busy social calendar. But on a boat, you’ll be getting exercise without thinking about it. Take a walk to visit marina neighbors (or go the showers). Get a gang of people to walk or bike to the beach for sundowners. Toss in the SUP and go for a paddle around the bay, or in the lower latitudes, swim every morning before breakfast.

Yoga on the foredeck will make you very Zen and the stress relief itself is reason enough to get away from it all and enjoy the holidays aboard.

For more holiday fun, read...

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in November 2017 and updated in December 2018.

Written by: Zuzana Prochazka
Zuzana Prochazka is a writer and photographer who freelances for a dozen boating magazines and websites. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana has cruised, chartered and skippered flotillas in many parts of the world and serves as a presenter on charter destinations and topics. She is the Chair of the New Product Awards committee, judging innovative boats and gear at NMMA and NMEA shows, and currently serves as immediate past president of Boating Writers International. She contributes to Boats.com and YachtWorld.com, and also blogs regularly on her boat review site, TalkoftheDock.com.