10 Fun Fall Boating Activities


It's easy to assume fall signals the conclusion of boating season, but does it actually? It doesn't have to! Even in northern climates, there are fun boating activities—that most never think of, and that can extend the season for creating memories on the water.

It’s time to break tradition and make boating part of your fall traditions. Waterways are less crowded, days are cooler, and above all else, changing leaves add a brilliant splash of color to the backdrop for the time of year.

Here’s a list of 10 seasonal fall ideas to get you started and inspire your creativity for new ways to get the most time on the water, and the most enjoyment out of it.

  1. Sterngating
  2. Leaf Peeping
  3. Pumpkin Spiced Cruises
  4. Bird Watching
  5. Boat Camping
  6. Fall Fishing Tournaments
  7. Just Plain Fishing
  8. Fall Festivals
  9. Practice your Boating Skills
  10. Rent a Houseboat

1. Sterngating

Grilling on the boat

Few activities outrank college and pro football as a favorite fall weekend activity. The food and party atmosphere of tailgating before the big game is fun for everyone. Did you know that a parking lot is not the only place to tailgate? Another option is aboard your boat. There is even a buzzword for it—sterngating. It will change the way you look at gameday. If your favorite football stadium is near water, give it a try. In Knoxville, Tennessee, home to the Tennessee Volunteers, so many boaters sterngate that there is a name for the flotilla. Join the Vol Navy and see what the fun is all about!

2. Leaf Peeping

Fall color trees on lake

You take weekend drives into the countryside to see the fall colors. Why not hitch up the boat for a different view? The roadmap through your favorite drive might just follow a lake you’ve never visited. Think unobstructed views and escapes from traffic jams and crowded overlooks. You might even have the lake to yourselves. Remember to pack the camera to snap photos of the scenery. And don’t forget the pumpkin spice beverages to make the trip complete. Leaf peeping from a boat—there’s a new twist to a fall tradition normally reserved for automobiles.

3. Pumpkin Spiced Cruises

Older couple enjoying hot beverage

Pumpkin spiced everything. That’s the official taste of fall, right? If you’re into the taste and aroma of pumpkin, pack it along with other fall treats and goodies. Food and boating go together, especially if your stage for family fun is a pontoon or deck boat. And, throwing a dinner party is a festive, tasty way of enjoying the tastes of the season. Cooler days also tempt the appetite for hearty dishes like chili. Make it and other warm dishes ahead of time. You can reheat the tasty delights in a slow cooker at dockside. Propane grills are even optional on many pontoon boats. Invite friends, other boaters and discover the tasty fun of a dinner party at the lake.

4. Bird Watch from the Boat

Kid in swim holding binoculars

You might be overlooking—or speeding past—a quiet, peaceful activity to enjoy aboard the boat. All it takes is backing off the throttle. What makes birding different in fall, beyond the obvious comfort of cooler weather, are migratory species that winter in southern climates. Pack binoculars, a birding guidebook and begin checking off the birds you won’t see during other seasons. For safety’s sake, beware of your underwater surroundings in shallow water to avoid cutting short your birding expedition.

5. Boat Camping

People sitting around camp fire with sun tracker in background

You don’t need a campground to enjoy the peace and solitude of a camping trip. Sure, you give up the bonfire—a staple of fall evenings—but you escape the crowded campgrounds and get the best views around. All you need is a place to cruise, anchor out and pitch a tent onboard, if your boat is large enough. If not, you can adapt by pitching the tent ashore. Designated camping areas in state and national parks and recreation areas are options on larger bodies of water. Laws permitting, you might get to enjoy that bonfire after all.


6. Fall Fishing Tournaments

Nitro boat sitting in water with fish on fishing pole

If your boat is rigged for fishing, why not channel your inner competitive self by going rod to rod with other anglers? Ideally, it’s you against the fish, but tournament fishing is a great way to share the fellowship of fishing, learn more about the sport and maybe even take home a trophy. 


7. Laid Back Fishing

Two men fishing on Tracker Boat

If your idea of fishing is the more laid-back approach, fall is a great time to go. What’s cool, literally, about fishing during fall is that predator species like bass are more active than ever. Those fish are on the move, feeding and bulking up for the winter ahead, when their metabolism slows down and they eat less. 


8. Fall Festivals by The Water

Regency Boat sitting in canal

Find a fall festival in a riverside downtown district and you have the perfect excuse for getting there by boat. Cities along popular recreational waterways typically have boating facilities. Just plan ahead and make sure your boat can be accommodated. 


9. Boating Practice

Tracker boat pulling up to dock

Does docking at a crowded marina during summertime give you the jitters? Have you been too nervous to pilot your boat into a lock chamber on a large river system? Get over those skittish moments by honing your seamanship skills when there is more room to maneuver the boat, and less chance of getting stared down by other boaters. Uncrowded waters give you the time and space to practice, practice and practice some more! Come next boating season, you’ll have the skills and confidence to meet the challenges. As for transiting a lock, learning proper etiquette and navigation techniques can open up a new world of boating.


10. Rent a Houseboat

House boat sitting in water

Yep, that’s right. Rent a houseboat even though you already own a boat. Take it along, too. Houseboat rentals are common and very popular on large impoundments where overnight stays can last weeks at the time. And what better way to extend your boating season and viewing the fall colors than with a fall vacation aboard a houseboat? Tow your own boat along for the fun. If your rig is a fishing boat, then make home base aboard the houseboat. From there, you can untie the lines and take off for hours of fishing fun on unpressured waters. 


There you have it—a start to your fun-filled list of fall boating activities.

Just heed these words of caution. The chill in the air might be welcome, but not so much in the water. Take the necessary safety precautions during cool weather boating trips. Dress warmly in layers. On chilly mornings, watch your steps on frost-glazed marina walkways. Avoid needlessly splashing your passengers with chilly water when crossing windy lakes. And be sure to back off the throttle.

Otherwise, you might miss the sights, sounds and smells that awaken the senses during a season of fall boating!

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