On the River FAQ

SATURDAY FREE BOATING ON HOLD DUE TO COVID-19

Our popular Saturday Free Boating is ON HOLD for the 2021 season, while we recruit new volunteers, await vaccinations for our high school interns, and make sure everyone has proper training. Learn more.

Boating on the Schuylkill River

Frequently Asked Questions

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. View map.

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

On very busy days, wait time can be over a half hour. We are only able to send out a limited number of boaters per session. 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 open the sign-in table at 6pm. We close up the sign-in table at 7:30pm.

What sort of paperwork is involved? 

Every adult 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 be present on the water with them. Youth ages 11 and under must be accompanied by a parent or supervising adult in a two- or three-seater kayak or rowboat.

What types of boats do you have?

We have four types of boats available (see images below):

  • Single sit-on-top kayak. Very stable. Seat & legs get wet.
  • 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.
  • Single sit-in kayak. Less stable. More dry. Easier to turn.
  • Rowboat. Will not tip. Dry. Requires practice to maneuver. Can fit up to 3 adults; great for adults with very small children.

What equipment 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.

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.

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 if I fall out of my boat?

It is a rare occurrence, but sometimes people fall our of their kayak. However, this is no reason to panic! Everyone wears a life vest, and they will keep you afloat. We have trained Safety Boaters on the water who can help you get back into your boat or back to the dock. There are no strong currents or biting fish in this section of the river; it is a very safe and quiet stretch of river. 

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.

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.

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
  • combined sewer overflows (CSOs), which may happen when there is a rainfall up to 24 hours before the start of a program.

To check about cancelations, please call 215-729-5821 ext 113.

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 with the cycles of the moon.

What should I wear?

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

Is there a weight limit?

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

Is the dock ADA accessible?

Yes our dock is ADA accessible, complete with 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 Danielle Redden at danielle@bartramsgarden.org or 215-729-5281 ext 113 before you arrive.

Can I bring my dog?

Yes, leashed well-behaved dogs that can be kept under control are welcomed. Dog owners are 100% responsible for their dogs – Safety Boaters will not attend to dogs that jump out of boats. We do not have life jackets for dogs.

Can I bring a large group?

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 coming with a group, you will likely not be able to all get out on the river at the same time.

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

Can I rent a kayak or rowboat?

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

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

Yes! The dock is a PUBLIC dock and the lower Schuylkill River is a PUBLIC waterway. No launch permit is needed. However, there is no vehicle access to the dock. We recommend parking via the 51st Street Entrance and carrying your boat in. Here is a map of parking and load in options near on our site.

How can I be more involved?

Our programs are run by an amazing team of over 100 trained Boathouse Volunteers. If you want to volunteer, email Danielle Redden at danielle@bartramsgarden.org.

four types of boats are available