Dock and Community Boathouse

Join us on the river!

Bartram’s Garden is a place where visitors can safely enjoy boating, fishing, and learning on the Tidal Schuylkill River. Our large public dock includes space for fishing and boating, including accessible launches.

Free Boating

Saturdays, 10 am-2 pm

May 11 to October 12, 2024

Our free public boating programs are suitable for people of all ages and skill levels. We provide all equipment and instruction for kayaking or rowboating.

No registration or experience is required. Minors must be accompanied by an adult. See our Boating FAQ for complete details.

Check our calendar for all upcoming boating opportunities. Program may be canceled in the event of inclement weather or unsafe river conditions.

Group Boating

If you are the leader of a community-based group based in Southwest Philadelphia or Grays Ferry and would like to schedule a boating program for your group, please contact in advance. Boat rentals and other group reservations are not available.

Launching Your Own Boat

Non-motorized boats only. The Schuylkill River is a public waterway and our dock is a public dock, so no launch permit is needed. Our newly expanded dock features three accessible launches.

There is no vehicle access to the dock; you must carry in your boat. See this detailed map for access points and parking info.

If you have a disability that requires vehicle access, please contact

Free Fishing

More than 40 species of fish live in the Tidal Schuylkill River, including channel catfish, white perch, common carp, bluegill, and American eel. Join us for weekly free catch-and-release fishing in spring and summer or borrow a rod and tackle from the Welcome Center.

Visitors may fish at any time from our public dock or from additional riverfront locations along the North and South Mile. Live bait is available for purchase from our vending machine located in the Barnyard by the Welcome Center.

Weekly Free Catch-and-Release Fishing

Wednesdays, 5-8 pm

May 1 to August 28, 2024

We provide free rods, tackle, bait, and basic instruction for catch-and-release fishing every Wednesday from 5-8 pm in spring and summer. First-come, first-served as supplies are limited. No experience is necessary; great for beginner anglers. No fishing license required.

Program may be canceled in the event of inclement weather or unsafe river conditions.

Rods, Tackle, and Bait

Rods and tackle are available to borrow, free of charge, from the Welcome Center at Bartram’s Garden (hours vary seasonally). Equipment may be borrowed for up to a week at a time.

Photo by Ambra Hook

Community Boathouse Volunteers enjoying an exclusive kayaking excursion and training at the Boathouse. Top photo courtesy Ambra Hook.

Community Boathouse Volunteers

Applications for 2024 are currently closed. Complete the application here to be added to the 2025 prospective volunteer list.

The Garden’s free boating and fishing programs are sustained by more than 90 dedicated volunteers.

No previous boating, fishing, swimming, or river experience required! Volunteers get access to our fleet of kayaks for personal use.

Volunteer orientation will begin in April 2024. Volunteers must attend a 3-hour orientation and commit to 6 shifts between May and October 2024. Shifts are approximately 2.5–3 hours long.

Volunteer Eligibility & Pre-Requisites

  • Volunteers must be at least 18 years old to sign up. Minors may help out alongside their parent/guardian.

Physical Requirements

  • A degree of physical fitness is important: volunteers work outside in the heat and move around a lot. There is moderate to heavy lifting. Volunteers are responsible for setting up and breaking down and that usually means carrying kayaks and equipment. However, if you are unable to do heavy lifting due to injury or mobility issues, we will do our best to accommodate your ability needs. There are numerous roles that do not require heavy lifting. If you have questions about accessibility, please contact
  • Prior kayaking or rowing experience is helpful but not required. We will teach you! Many volunteers started out with little to no boating experience.
  • Knowing how to swim is not required. We encourage volunteers who do not know how to swim to take swimming lessons. We have funds available to get you started with adult swimming lessons!


Communication & Inclusivity Requirements

  • All Volunteers need access to a computer and/or smart phone and an email address to sign up for shifts. All our shift scheduling is done online.
  • Good communication skills, including an interest in working with a diverse group of people.
  • A commitment to our goal: to create a welcoming, accessible, affirming, fun and safe experience for guests of all abilities and from all backgrounds. We value a culture of respect, honesty and cooperation. We place a particular focus on improving access for Philadelphians in the Southwest neighborhood, which is where the Boathouse is located. Racism, classism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, and xenophobia are not welcome at the Boathouse and will not be tolerated.
  • A sense of humor, flexibility and an interest in the Tidal Schuylkill River. Volunteers are encouraged to give feedback to staff at any time.

Time Commitment & Scheduling

Time Commitment

  • New Volunteers are expected to attend a 3-hour orientation and contribute 6 shifts per season. Our season is May through October.
  • Shifts are approximately 2.5–3 hours long.
  • If your shift is cancelled due to bad weather/river conditions it still counts as a completed shift.
  • New Volunteers starting mid-way through the season will have a reduced shift requirement.

When are shifts?
Shifts mostly occur during our public programs:

  • Saturday Free Boating: Weekly walk-up program, early May to mid-October. Two shifts available: 9:15am–12:15pm and 11:45am–2:45pm
  • Wednesday Free Fishing: Weekly walk-up program, May through August. Two shifts available: 4:30–7pm and 6–8:30pm
  • One-off special events, such as the Southwest Fish-Off on a Sunday in the fall

There may be additional shifts (times vary) for Boathouse Workdays to maintain equipment, prepare for and clean up from the season, and to help host field trip groups and community partners for boating and/or fishing.

All Volunteer shifts are scheduled in advance via an online sign-up tool.

Volunteer Tasks & Expectations

During a Volunteer shift, tasks may include

  • Carrying boats & supplies
  • Fitting guests with life vests
  • Explaining safety precautions to guests, answering questions
  • Helping boaters in and out of kayaks, demonstrating basic kayaking technique
  • Monitoring boaters on the water from a kayak and assisting boaters in trouble
  • Fishing support: baiting hooks, setting up / fixing rods, demonstrating how to cast
  • Workdays: mainly cleaning boats and life vests and moving boats

We teach you all of the above at orientation. New Volunteers will work alongside seasoned Volunteers when they start.

Additional expectations include:

  • being on time
  • being on a low-traffic email listserv
  • using an online tool to sign up for shifts
  • helping find a replacement if you have to cancel
  • following rules of the Boathouse

Exclusive Boathouse Volunteer Perks

As a Community Boathouse Volunteer, you will receive:

  • FULL ACCESS (24/7!)  to the boathouse fleet of kayaks and rowboats for your own personal use to take out on the river, including with your guests. You are given an access code to the boathouse after your first shift.
  • Access to occasional volunteer kayaking excursions
  • A free Bartram’s Garden membership
  • A free T-shirt
  • Access to swim lessons if needed (for volunteers who can’t swim)

Learning From the River

Water Quality Monitoring

Our Denkyem River Guardians monitor the river’s water quality and use the data to advocate for better protection of the watershed.

Denkyem River Guardians

We offer paid internship opportunities for local youth and young adults.

Tidal Schuylkill River

Learn more about this vibrant tidal ecosystem at the heart of Southwest Philadelphia.

Upcoming Events

Saturday, June 15, 10:00 am

Saturday Free Boating

Get Information

Wednesday, June 19, 5:00 pm

Wednesday Free Fishing

Get Information

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