How to get on a boat during the summer in Chicago | Summer Guide | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Summer Guide

How to get on a boat during the summer in Chicago

Especially if you don't own one (or know someone who knows someone who does)


  • Bobby Sims

David Lee Roth once said, "Money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it." The correlation between personal fulfillment and watercraft ownership makes sense. But what to do when you're boat obsessed yet can't afford so much as a kayak, don't have a single boat-adjacent friend, and have never been able to convince a wealthy family to let you be their Captain Ron? Time to pursue other ideas . . .

Hop on the water taxi
It's slow. It's not private. And it's unspectacular to the Metra commuters who use it for daily travel to and from the Ogilvie and Union train stations, but the Chicago Water Taxi might be the easiest and most affordable solution when you're itching to get on the water—any water. On summer weekends (and weekdays beginning May 29), the bright yellow boats sail from the Loop to Chinatown, so for a mere $5 you can enjoy a scenic tour of the Chicago River all the way to Ping Tom Memorial Park. On Wednesday and Saturday nights, a special fireworks cruise takes passengers up and down the river, concluding with a dazzling view of the Navy Pier fireworks display ($19 for adults).

Take a not-quite-three-hour tour
If you live here and have yet to experience a Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise, are you really even a Chicagoan? During the 90-minute tour, highly knowledgeable docents describe the history and design of more than 50 noteworthy buildings—the Aqua Tower, Marina City, Mies van der Rohe's AMA Plaza, et cetera—for a quintessential summer experience that stirs some learning into your leisure. A kajillion tourists can't be wrong!

Rent an electric boat
You've probably seen little electric-powered boats with canopy tops cruising up and down the Chicago River on summer afternoons. These easy-to-drive Duffy boats are available for rent from the Chicago Electric Boat Company and, as zero-emissions watercraft, offer an environmentally friendly option for the would-be seafarer. An 18-foot, ten-passenger picnic boat costs $150 an hour, and you or a member of your party (any licensed driver over the age of 21) can captain it. You can even BYOB, as long as there's a designated driver. Or you could hire a private skipper . . . whatever, um, floats your boat.

Set sail
Live out a Christopher Cross song by spending a summer's day on a sailboat with ten of your best friends. Charter one for 11 people for two and a half hours via Chicago Sailboat Charters ($449, or $499 for a power boat). If you're willing to share a boat with a few strangers, take a friend or sig-o on a semiprivate charter, on which you're grouped with up to four more people for a more economical $199.

If all else fails, go public
You've got no qualms about looking for a date on the Internet—so what's keeping you from broadcasting your boat-centric desires online? One example to follow is that of a couple from Pilsen, Matt and Heidi, who took to an online message board for nautical enthusiasts called, where they posted a boat-wanted ad in which they described themselves as "two non-creeps" looking to help someone sail their vessel. (They also promised to bring beer.) "A guy responded and invited us to come out with him," Matt says. "There are a ton of rich, lonely people with boats and not enough crew to sail them." His other hot tip? "Go down to the docks on team racing night"—a Wednesday-evening function hosted by the Chicago Yacht Club May 24 through September 27 at Monroe and Belmont Harbors—"with a six-pack and offer to be what's called 'rail meat,' where you weigh the sides of the boat if it's windy."  v

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  →