CHICAGO – September and October are a sweet spot for boating and sports fans alike as baseball and football season overlap with boating season. Boatgating, the combination of two American pastimes — boating and tailgating — is one of the most unique ways to enjoy game day at stadiums across the country.
According to television sports analyst and former pro football star Jason Taylor, “There are several major stadiums on or near water where boatgating has become one of the more popular ways to gear up for the game. Outside of being on the field, catching a game from my boat may be one of the best seats around. Boating while you tailgate puts a whole new spin on the pre-game party.”
Boatgating, also dubbed sailgating, stern-gating or transom-gating, has become a unique way for boaters and sports fans to experience the tradition of tailgating with an extra element of fun. Game day starts and ends with a relaxing cruise on the water, much more enjoyable than sitting in pre- or post-game traffic. For those with boats furnished with access to a grill, refrigerator and ample seating area, boatgating becomes even more convenient. No lugging of grills, chairs or other cooking gear when it’s all on board.
Best boatgating stadiums are:
Husky Stadium (Seattle, WA)
University of Washington football fans have the right idea – arrive by boat, moor in Lake Washington, and pick up the shuttle boat service to Husky Stadium. The game day views of the Cascades and scenic Lake Washington from this locale are tough to beat. Unfortunately, for the 2012 season boatgating is on hiatus as Husky Stadium undergoes renovations with the team playing home games at CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle.
For the Captain: Moorage is available on a season or single-game basis and permit pricing is based on the boat’s length – make sure to get the necessary information into the Tyee Office no later than Thursdays before game days (or earlier since space is at a premium). Once anchored in Union Bay, a boat shuttle service picks up boatgaters for the quick trip to the stadium. The inbound ride is free with a $6 fee for the outbound trip purchased at the Waterfront Activity Center – avoid long post-game lines by buying the return ticket before entering the stadium.
Neyland Stadium (Knoxville, TN)
The Vol Navy, as this infamous group of football and boating aficionados are known, arrive by boat to cheer on the University of Tennessee Volunteers during home football games. On the banks of the Tennessee River, Volunteer Landing is a three-mile riverwalk in downtown Knoxville that includes a visitor center, full-service marina and restaurants. For home football games, expect plenty of boats tied up and grills fired up amidst a sea of orange and white.
For the Captain: Volunteer Landing Marina offers 140 covered slips, including transient slips from 24-70 feet. There are seasonal rates available for football season. Visit TheMarinas.net or call 865-633-5004 for more information. Houseboats and pontoon boats are available for rent as well. Booking early is recommended as this is the place to be on game day.
Heinz Field (Pittsburgh, PA)
Located on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, Heinz Field is situated on the banks of the city’s famed three rivers – Monongahela, Ohio and Allegheny. Avoid the car traffic and arrive by boat. Join this group of dedicated football fans on the water, including many who arrive days in advance to secure prime spots on the wharf.
For the Captain: Space is limited on the public wharf during Steelers games, so to get a spot on the wall (instead of tying up with other boats), arrive early. There’s pro baseball nearby too and boat access is often easier for to secure. Don’t forget it’s a no wake zone in the Pittsburgh Pool on weekends.
EverBank Field (Jacksonville, FL)
With its relatively warm weather year round, many football fans skip the highway and take to the waterway on game day. Stadium cheers can be heard throughout Metropolitan Park Marina on the St. Johns River, which is walking distance to EverBank Field. The marina offers nearly 80 slips that can accommodate boats up to 80 feet. The annual Gator Bowl and Florida-Georgia game held at EverBank Field offer college football fans the chance to get in on the boatgating fun.
For the Captain: Metropolitan Park Marina’s boat slips are open to the public, but on a first-come, first-served basis. Visit JaxParks.com, at least a month before game day, to reserve a slip. For daily dockage rates, contact the Jacksonville’s dockmaster at 904-630-0839.
Soldier Field (Chicago, IL)
A Soldier Field tailgate takes on new meaning when you discover one of the best kept secrets in Chicago – getting to the game by boat. Located just east of Soldier Field, Burnham Harbor has 1,120 slips in a protected cove on Lake Michigan – get in on the action early in the season though, Burnham closes for the season in mid-October.
For the Captain: Football in Chicago and Soldier Field tailgates are beloved traditions for fans of the “Monsters of the Midway.” With boatgating limited to the first half of the season, take advantage of home games early in the season when the likelihood of good boating weather is best (and the harbor is open). Burnham Harbor offers day slips, but be sure to call ahead and reserve at 312-747-7009.
Nationals Park (Washington, DC)
Gangplank Marina provides more than 300 slips in the protected waters of the Potomac River’s Washington Channel giving baseball fans a perfect spot for that nautical tailgate. When boatgating festivities wrap up at Gangplank Marina, catch the first pitch by hopping aboard the water taxi, which drops off at Diamond Teague Park, the closest location to the ballpark.
For the Captain: Gangplank Marina offers limited transient slips for boats up to 125 feet. To reserve, boaters must submit an application form and follow up by phone to confirm the reservation at least two weeks before game day. Contact the dockmaster by phone at 202-554-5000 or GPDockOffice@comcast.net.
AT&T Park (San Francisco, CA)
AT&T Park is known for its prime location on San Francisco Bay. Boatgating options are available at nearby South Beach Harbor; where demand is high. Catch all the action or even a splash hit—home runs that land in the water on the fly without hitting the Arcade or Portwalk—from a boat in McCovey Cove, where the scoreboard and replay screens are visible.
For the Captain: For those with a ticket to the game, there are more marina options near AT&T Park, such as Pier 39 or San Francisco Marina Yacht Harbor, where boats can dock and catch a bus or cab to the game. These harbors are busy with the America’s Cup qualifying events in August and October, so confirm your reservation by calling the harbormaster to guarantee a spot.
Citi Field (New York, NY)
Skip the subway and head to the ballgame by boat. Cruise past the Statue of Liberty and take in the best views of Manhattan’s skyline – all before even getting to the game. Dock at World’s Fair Marina for some boatgating festivities before making the short walk to the stadium. Tennis fans can even join in on the fun by taking the open water to the U.S. Open, held later this month at Arthur Ashe Stadium near Citi Field. (By Discover Boating)