Boating FAQ

 Everything you need to know about safety, getting ready to boat, instruction and equipment, and how to get involved.

What to Expect

Where at Bartram’s Garden does boating happen?

All boating programs take place at the Bartram’s Garden Community Boathouse, located at the base of the Bartram’s Garden meadow. This is a very safe and quiet stretch of the river. There are no strong currents or biting fish.

Is there a wait at a public walk-up boating program?

On very busy days, wait time can be over half an hour. We are only able to send out a limited number of boaters per session. During a public walk-up program, there is a 30-minute time limit per boat. All boaters must stay in a large designated area off the banks of the Garden. We close the sign-in table 15 minutes before the program end time (for example, if boating ends at 2 PM, plan to arrive before 1:45 PM).

What paperwork is involved?

Every adult (18+) must sign a waiver. Once a waiver is signed, it is good for the whole season. An adult may not sign a waiver for another adult.

Are there any age limits?

All minors (age 17 and under) must have a waiver signed by a parent or supervising adult.

Youth ages 12-17 may operate a rowboat or kayak by themselves; however, a parent or supervising adult must also be present on the water at the same time in another boat. Youth ages 11 and under must be accompanied by a parent or supervising adult in a two- or three-seater kayak or rowboat.

What are the river conditions like?

The dock is on a wide, calm, flat water section of the Tidal Schuylkill River with very little commercial boat traffic. We do encounter an occasional speedboat or jet ski; however, we are operating in a no-wake zone.

Strong currents only occur after very heavy rains and we cancel in those conditions. There are no biting or stinging fish. This section of the river is tidal; the river rises and falls by about six feet, twice a day, due to the pull of the moon and sun.

Planning Your Visit

Will I get wet?

Yes, you will get wet, especially in a kayak. In some of our tandems (2-3 seater kayaks), your seat and legs can get soaked. The rowboats are drier, but water still finds its way into most of the boats.

What should I wear?

In all weather, it is recommended you wear clothing that can get wet, especially synthetic materials, silk, or wool. Avoid wearing heavy shoes like boots. 

In cooler weather, avoid cotton (no jeans!). Cotton does not trap heat when wet and puts boaters at risk for hypothermia. In cooler weather, we may not allow you in a kayak if you are wearing jeans and/or heavy boots.

We will supply life vests for all guests.

Are there lockers for me to store my belongings?

No. You may leave your belongings with a volunteer at the sign-in table; however, we recommend you leave your bags in your vehicle or at home. Bartram’s Garden is not responsible for lost or stolen items.

Is there a weight limit?

We have kayaks with weight capacities up to 500 pounds. For safety reasons, we will ask guests to go in boats that are most appropriate for their size.

Is the dock accessible?

Yes, our dock is accessible, complete with ramps, handrails, and three accessible kayak launches. However, there is no vehicle access to the dock. We have staff on hand to transport guests from the parking lot to the dock if they require this kind of assistance.

If you have any accessibility questions or requests, please contact before you arrive.

Can I bring my dog?

Yes, well-behaved dogs that can be kept under control are welcomed. All dogs must be leashed at all times. Dog owners are 100% responsible for their dogs. Safety Boaters will not attend to dogs that jump off the dock or out of boats. We do not have life jackets for dogs.

Boats, Equipment, & Instruction

What types of boats do you have?

We have four types of boats available:

A. Single sit-on-top kayak. Very stable. Seat & legs get wet. Fits 1 person.
B. Tandem sit-on-top kayak. Very stable. Seat & legs get wet. Can fit up to 2 adults, 2 adults + 1 child, or 1 adult + 2 children.
C. Single sit-in kayak. Less stable. More dry. Easier to turn. Fits 1 person.
D. Rowboat. Will not tip. Dry. Requires practice to maneuver. Can fit up to 3 adults; great for adults with very small children.

How many people can fit in a kayak?

We have single sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks that can fit one person and sometimes one person with a very small child on their lap. We also have 2-3 seater kayaks.

How many people can fit in a rowboat?

We have rowboats that are very stable and seat up to three adults. The rowboats will not tip over, but they are more difficult to maneuver.

What equipment and training is provided?

We provide basic equipment: a rowboat, single or 2-3 seater kayaks, paddle or oars, and life jackets for all ages. We will also provide basic instruction for new boaters.


What if I fall out of my boat?

It is a rare occurrence, but sometimes people fall out of their kayak. However, this is no reason to panic! 

Everyone wears a life vest, which will keep you afloat even if you do not know how to swim. We have trained Safety Boaters on the water who can help you get back into your boat or back to the dock. There are also safety ladders at the side of the dock if you fall while getting into or out of your boat.

This is a very safe and quiet stretch of the river. There are no strong currents or biting fish.

Over the past six years, we have put over 30,000 people on the river, most of them brand-new to boating. We have never had any serious injuries or incidents during any of our boating programs.

Under what conditions are boating programs canceled?

Due to safety considerations we cancel in the event of:

  • High winds (over 15mph).
  • Lightning.
  • Unseasonably cold air and/or water temperatures.
  • Extreme heat.
  • If there has been rainfall of 0.25” or more within the past 24 hours, which may trigger combined sewer overflows (CSOs).
  • Flood conditions.
  • Public health conditions that prevent our staff and volunteers from safely assisting boaters.

To inquire about cancellations, please check our social media.

Groups, Volunteering, Rentals, & Launching Your Own Boat

How can I be more involved?

The Garden’s fishing and boating programs are sustained by a team of more than 90 dedicated volunteers. Learn more here.

Can I bring a large group to walk-up boating?

No. Our walk-up programs are designed for families, individuals, and small groups of friends. There is no advance registration and we have a limited supply of boats.

If you are the leader of a community-based group/organization/center based in Southwest Philadelphia, Eastwick, or Grays Ferry and would like to schedule a boating program for your group, please contact  in advance.

Can I launch/land my own boat from/on the dock?

Yes, non-motorized boats are welcome! The dock is a PUBLIC dock and the Tidal Schuylkill River is a PUBLIC waterway. No launch permit is needed.

There is no vehicle access; you must carry in your boat. We recommend parking via the 51st Street Entrance and carrying your boat in. See this detailed map for access points and parking info.

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

Can I rent a kayak or rowboat?

No, we DO NOT offer rentals. Our friends at the Independence Seaport Museum at Penn’s Landing offer inexpensive rentals.

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