Cruising the NY Harbor and the Hudson River

For the best times of your life, visit New York to participate in its vibrant theater scene and to become active on and around the mighty Hudson River. From Albany to New York’s famous harbor (as well as around all of New York’s coastal boroughs), there are a wide variety of water-based activities, from boating to swimming; far more than most people can imagine.

To help you learn more about your boating options, this article describes five very different types of Hudson River and New York Harbor cruises.

Above, meet First Mate Pam Johnson who was tending the sails of the Sea Feber, a 30-foot Catalina owned by Captain Shell Huber of Sail the Hudson. Our experience on this small craft was the most exciting Hudson River ride we ever had!

With charters limited to six people, plus the captain and a skilled mate (like Pam Johnson, pictured at the beginning of this article), not only do you realistically feel the sea, you might also acquire new friends.

Personal charters like this one provide great flexibility. In the case of the Sea Fever, passengers (like my husband, above) can take turns at the wheel, plus scamper up on the deck and helped tend the sails, personal skills permitting.

Expect a highly casual atmosphere (especially if the ship is booked for back-to-back charters) and salty conversation. If the wind is up, also expect a thrilling ride (and damp clothing). And, if you don’t get damp from sea spray, water balloon fights might finish the job.

Check with the captain before finalizing the charter to make sure you understand what you can bring on board. That said, even though you can try your hand at steering while the vessel’s underway, no prior sailing experience is necessary.

If you aren’t familiar with the majesty of the Hudson River Valley, check out our article, Visit the Hudson River Valley, to see what it has to offer.

Numerous cruise lines offer tours along the length of the Hudson. I am particularly partial to cruising on the historic Commander, owned by Hudson Highlands Cruises, because of its historic appearance, exceptionally smooth rides, and its West Point boarding location, where I recommend that you start your trip. This boat also departs from nearby Haverstraw and Peekskill.

By starting your cruise at West Point, you not only have access to the Hudson River, you have access to historic West Point, itself; something not usually available, unless you join a formal tour (consult West Point’s web site for more information).

To board the ship at West Point, you, your passengers, and your car must pass military inspection, including ID’s for everyone. The bonus is that when you return from your cruise, you can drive through West Point’s grounds.

Skyscrapers, of course, are on everyone’s mind when they visit New York and cruising along its waterfront makes it very easy to see them. The famous Circle Line tour boats, for example, hold hundreds of passengers and employ highly skilled guides who keep everyone informed about the buildings and entertained throughout their voyages (tipping at the end of the trip is encouraged).

On beautiful summer days (sunny or hazy), expect long boarding lines. These lines are made somewhat easier by freelance beverage vendors who help keep waiting people refreshed. For convenience, bring a bottle of water with you. Also consider bringing a small umbrella to shelter yourself from the sun while waiting to board. Do not, however, use the umbrella during the cruise, as it will block other people’s views.

NOTE: Beverages and snacks are sold for cash only during the cruise, so bring money.

Some of the more picturesque tour boats are offered by the Classic Harbor Line, located at Pier 62 in New York’s stunning Chelsea Piers (a must-see even if you don’t plan on sailing).

Pictured above is their beautiful Schooner America 2.0, which offers a particularly exciting cruise during high winds. If motoring is more your style, however, and you want an unusual experience, board one of their 1920’s-style yachts and once on, pretend that you are a part of another era.

Newer tour boats, like the Circle Line’s Zephyr (above), look like ocean-going yachts, although they serve the same purpose as the Circle Line’s standard tour boats. This particular ship, however, provides a climate-controlled, multi-level environment, making it a good choice for people who prefer greater comfort and shorter voyages.

Resources Mentioned in This Article

  • Sail the Hudson: Enjoy highly personal New York Harbor cruises on a 30-foot, Catalina sail boat. Join others, or charter the boat from Captain Shell Huber for your own friends and family. For discounted sails, as well as lessons, join their sailing club.
  • Hudson Highlands Cruises: Enjoy Hudson River cruising on the antique river tour boat, The Commander (almost 100 years old as of 2011), as it glides along the most beautiful sections of the river. Cruises leave from Haverstraw, Peekskill, and West Point, covering a distance to Newburg and back.
  • Circle-Line Sightseeing at 42nd Street and Circle Line Downtown: Enjoy cruising with the largest tour boat company in New York City. It offers the most available seats on any given day (especially important during great weather) on a variety of ships, including classic tour boats, speed boats, and the Zephyr, which looks like a modern, ocean-going yacht.
  • Classic Harbor Line: Enjoy standard and dinner cruises on the New York Harbor in authentic old motor yachts or stunning schooners. Board at Chelsea Piers, an exciting destination in and of itself.


Ask Karen Little at The article and photos (originally published in 2011 and now updated) are by Karen Little. All rights reserved by