On the River FAQ

Boating on the Schuylkill River

Frequently Asked Questions

When and where is Free Saturday Public Boating?

Free boating is Saturdays 11:00am – 3:00pm, from April 22nd to October 28th, 2017 (weather & river conditions permitting), at the Bartram’s Garden Community Boathouse, located at the base of the Bartram’s Garden meadow. View map. To find out about cancellations due to weather and/or river conditions, check out our Facebook page.

No experience necessary and all are welcome. On busy days, wait time can be over a half hour. We are only able to send out a limited number of boaters per session. Each excursion lasts 30 minutes and boaters must stay in a designated area off the banks of the Garden. On slow days we will extend excursions to 40 mins or an hour. We close up the sign-in table at 2:50pm.

What sort of paperwork is involved? 
Everyone must sign a waiver. Once a waiver is signed, it is good for the whole season. And adult may not sign a waiver for another adult.  Minors under 18 must have the waiver signed by their parents or supervising adult.

Will I get wet?
Yes, you will get wet, especially in a kayak. In some of our tandem (2 seater kayaks), your seat and legs can get soaked. The rowboats are drier, but water still finds its way into the boats.

Are there any age limits?
All minors (under the age of 18) must have a waiver signed by a parent or supervising adult. Boaters aged 12 to 17 can be in a rowboat or kayak by themselves, as long as a supervising adult is present. Youth under age 12 must be accompanied by a supervising adult in a tandem kayak or a rowboat.

What equipment is provided?
We provide basic equipment: a rowboat or kayak, paddle or oars, life jackets for all ages and lights. We will also provide very basic instruction for new boaters.

How many people can fit in a kayak?
We have 4 types of kayaks.
– Single sit-in kayaks can accommodate one person, up to 250 – 300lbs.
– Single sit-on top-kayaks can accommodate one person and are more stable than the sit-in kayaks. – Tandem sit-on-top kayaks (2 to 3 person kayaks) can accommodate either two adults, an adult, and a child or two adults and a small child. They are stable but still can tip over.

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. We have rowing interns on hand to give instruction. Our rowboats were hand constructed by Philadelphia public school students as part of the Philadelphia Waterborne Program.

What if I do not want to paddle or row a boat myself?
We encourage everyone to try to paddle or row themselves, however, we do have trained interns on hand who can take people out for a row if that is your preference.

What if I fall out of my boat?
We have trained volunteers on the water who can help you get back into your boat or back to the dock. Everyone wears a life vest, and they will keep you afloat, so as long as you follow the instructions of the boathouse crew and have your lifevest on and buckled you will stay afloat.

Are there lockers for me to store my belongings?
No. On Saturdays you may leave your belongings with a volunteer at the sign-in, however we recommend you leave your bags in your vehicle/at home.  Bartram’s Garden is not responsible for lost or stolen items.

Is Saturday Free Boating ever canceled?
We cancel in the event of high winds (over 15mph), lightning, unseasonably cold air and/or water temperatures, extreme heat and/or combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Overflows happen when the is a heavy rain up to 24 hours before Saturday morning. Please check our Facebook page for any last-minute updates on cancellations. Or call 267-243-5231. Go here more information on CSOs.

What are the river conditions like?
Our Saturday Free Boating takes place in an area just off the banks of Bartram’s Garden. This is a wide, calm, flat water section of the Schuylkill River with no commercial traffic, however, one does encounter an occasional speedboat or jet ski. It is tidal; the river rises and falls with the cycles of the moon. It can get windy at times, and we cancel when the wind exceeds 15 mph.

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 heavy jeans and/or boots.

Is the dock ADA accessible?
The ramp to the dock is ADA accessible, however, we do not have an ADA accessible kayak launch. Getting in and out of the kayaks and rowboats requires squatting low and can be challenging for people of any ability. Volunteers are on hand to assist with transfer from a wheelchair into a rowboat or kayak. If you have any questions about accessibility, please email Danielle Redden danielle@bartramsgarden.org.

Is there a weight limit?
There is no weight limit, however, we will ask heavier boaters to go in boats that are most appropriate for their size. Getting in and out of the kayaks and rowboats does require squatting low and can be challenging for people of any size or ability.

Can I bring my dog?
Yes, 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?
Everyone is welcome at public boating, but remember there is no advance registration and it is first come, first served. If coming with a group, you may not be able to all get out on the river at the same time. If you are a supervising adult (teacher/youth group leader) planning on bringing a large group of minors, please contact danielle@bartramsgarden.org in advance.

Do you offer other boating opportunities?
Yes. We offer free Sunset Paddles for Bartram’s Garden members every Tuesday evening, 6:30pm – 8:30pm, starting April 19th through the end of October. These small group paddles are from the Boathouse to South Street Bridge and back. Membership starts at $40 a year and you can sign up anytime. If you are already a member, go to the calendar, choose which Tuesday you would like to attend and follow the instructions to register.

We occasionally offer tours and other on the water events. Please see the calendar or our Facebook page for upcoming special river programs

Can I rent a kayak or rowboat? And what does it cost??
No, we DO NOT offer rentals. Our friends at the Independence Seaport Museum at Penns Landing offer inexpensive rentals on Fridays & weekends in season. Our friends at John Heinz Wildlife Refuge in Eastwick offer kayak tours on the weekends.

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. Here is a map of parking and load in options near on our site. There are also public launch sites at John Heinz Wildlife Refuge and the dock at Walnut Street