Boston Harborfest/Tall Ships Guide for Boaters

You may have heard that some rather large sailing ships and U.S. Navy vessels are coming to Boston from June 28 to July 5 for Harborfest/Navy Week, which encompasses the 2012 Operation Sail Tall Ships event and War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration.

A total of 20 ships (including 13 of the tall kind) are scheduled to visit Boston, and boaters have a great opportunity to view them from the water. Naturally, the harbor will also be a circus, with all manner of official and recreational vessels buzzing about, so let’s take a look at some of the things you’ll need to know if you’re planning on bringing your boat to the event.

Chart: Port Traffic Patterns

First, a special traffic pattern will be enforced in the Inner Harbor from 9:00 a.m. on June 29 to 6:00 p.m. on July 6. The pattern involves a harborwide counterclockwise flow (see map), with a 5-mph speed limit. Security zones will be enforced around the visiting and underway Navy vessels and tall ships.

The waterway between the World Trade Center Pier and the Fish Pier, as well as the waterway within the Reserved Channel, will not offer unhindered navigation. Due to the navigation restrictions in these waterways, when vessels over 125’ enter the area, on-scene patrol personnel will halt the flow of vessel traffic and allow no other vessel in the channel until the larger vessel is clear of the narrow channel.

If you want to stay overnight in the harbor, options range from public moorings to private marina slips—but most spots are filling up fast.

Public Moorings

Numerous public moorings have been installed throughout the Harbor Islands park. The moorings are currently free on a first-come, first-served basis, although their condition is unknown (the Boston Harbor Island Alliance and the Mass. Maritime Academy are currently figuring out a mooring management system). In other words, use at your own risk. The moorings are scattered throughout the islands, but the majority are near the public camping islands of Bumkin, Lovells and Grape.

Spectacle Island Public Marina

Photo/New England Boating

Another option is to reserve a slip or dock space at Spectacle Island Marina, now managed by the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Spectacle Island Marina provides daytime (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday), as well as daytime and overnight (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) dockage for visiting boaters.

Rates are as follows:

Day Dockage: Docking at the floats is available daily from 9:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

  • Boats 26’ and under can dock for a base fee of $20.
  • Boats 27’ or greater will be charged the base fee, plus $2 per foot above 26’.
  • Docking fees are waived for load-on of load-off of guests, no more than 15 minutes. There is no provision for fractional times.

Overnight Dockage: Dockage available from 6:00 p.m. until 9:30 the next morning is available Thursday through Sunday morning, except when holidays expand this service.

  • Boats 26’ and under dock for a base fee of $30.
  • Boats 27’ or greater will be charged the base fee, plus $3 per foot above 26’.
  • Reservations at Spectacle Island Marina are not required, but are recommended on Friday, Saturday and Sunday during summer. Reservations can be made more than 24 hours in advance of arrival, and cash payments may be made upon reservation. The reservation is fully refundable if you cancel the day before scheduled arrival.

To make a reservation:


There are a number of general anchorages with good holding ground inside the harbor, including Dorchester and Hull bays, if you can find room among the moorings. You can also tuck in around many of the islands, but be prepared for the big tides and a lot of boat wakes.

Camping Out

Another option is to camp on one of the Harbor Islands. Grape, Lovells and Bumkin Islands all have moorings, docks (for loading and unloading only), campsites with grills and restroom facilities, and are staffed by rangers through Labor Day, but camping is also allowed on some of the other islands via special permit. The islands listed above have moorings nearby, as well as dinghies to get to and from shore.

You can reserve a site at the above islands at Boston Harbor Isalands: Permits and Reservations CLICK HERE.

Camping during the shoulder seasons or on the “out islands” requires a permit, available by calling (781 740-1605 x 205).

You can get more information on Harbor Islands camping facilities CLICK HERE.

For a great article on kayak camping on Great Brewster CLICK HERE.

Launch Ramps

Weymouth: Located on the Back River, on the southern end of the harbor. Great 2-lane ramp. Good parking. Floating docks. $7 fee. Attendant on-site.

Winthrop: Another good ramp is located in Winthrop at 649 Shirley Street. $5 fee. Lots of parking. No floats or tie-up. Attendant on-site. This ramp puts you in the northern end of the harbor, near Logan Airport.

Charlestown: Two-lane ramp with lots of parking, located on Terminal Street below the Tobin Bridge. No fee. Opens at 7:00; closes at 11:00. Great access to Boston Inner Harbor.

Private Marinas

For a complete list of Navy week public events CLICK HERE.

For a list of ship-viewing times and locations CLICK HERE

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