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 21nd to October 27th, 2018 (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 very busy days, wait time can be over an hour. We are only able to send out a limited number of boaters per session. There is a 30 minute time limit for kayakers and 45 minutes for rowboaters. All boaters must stay in a designated area off the banks of the Garden. We open the sign-in table at 11am. We close up the sign-in table at 3 pm. On busy days we close the sign-in table early as we have to have all boaters off the water by 3:30pm. We post all early closings on our Facebook page.

What sort of paperwork is involved? 

Every adult 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 tandems (2-3 seater kayaks), your seat and legs can get soaked. The rowboats are drier, but water still finds its way into most of the boats. Dress to get wet.

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 operate a rowboat or kayak by themselves, however a parent or supervising adult must be present on the water with them. Youth 11 and under must be accompanied by a parent or supervising adult in a tandem kayak or a rowboat.

From June – October we have trained rowers on hand who are available to take guests out in rowboat who do not want to row themselves. They can take minors out without their parent or supervising adult in the boat, however the adult must stay nearby.

What equipment is provided?

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

How many people can fit in a kayak?

We have single sit on top and sit in kayaks that can fit 1 person and sometimes 1 person with a very small child on their lap. We also have two types of sit on top tandem kayaks, one that can fit 2 people (2 adults or an adult and a child) and another that can fit 3 people (2 adults and a child or 1 adult and 2 children). See the photos on our Facebook page for various kayak configurations.

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 rowing interns on hand who can take people out for a row from June – October.

What if I fall out of my boat?

We have trained volunteer Safety Boaters 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 table, 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?

Yes! 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 there is a rainfall 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. We do encounter an occasional speedboat or jet ski. It is tidal; the river rises and falls with the cycles of the moon.

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 or call 267-243-5231

Is there a weight limit?

There is no weight limit, however, we will ask heavier guests 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 Saturday Free 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 youth, please contact danielle@bartramsgarden.org in advance.

Do you offer other boating opportunities?

Yes. We offer free Tuesday Sunset Paddles for Bartram’s Garden every week, 6:30pm – 8:30pm, starting April 24th through the end of October 30th. These small group paddles are from the Boathouse to South Street Bridge and back. Membership starts at $50 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 offer monthly Full Moon Rowboating. Our fleet of rowboats will be lit up with colored lights and DJ Osagie will provide bluesy full moon music, from 7pm – 9pm on: Tuesday May 29th, Thursday June 21st , Friday July 27th, Sunday August 26th and Monday September 24th.

We occasionally offer small group tour. 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. We recommend parking via the 51st Street Entrance. 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.

What about fishing programs?

The tidal Schuylkill River has been a popular site for fishing since the times of the Lenape. Over 40 species of fish can be found in this section of the river On the 4th Wednesday of every month, May – October, 6pm- 8pm we have Wednesday Sunset Fishing provide free rods, tackle, bait and basic instruction for beginner and intermediate anglers. No registration or fishing license is required. These are catch & release events. The dates are Wednesdays April 27th, May 30th, June 27th July 25th, August 29th and September 26th , 6-8pm.

Our popular Spring and Fall Southwest Fish Offs are fishing derby style events, where anglers of all experience levels are welcome to compete. These are free events with music, food and prizes. Pre-registration is recommended, we cap registration at 50 participants. Spring date is Sunday May 13th 3pm-7pm, Fall date is Sunday October 7th 8am-12pm.

Want to fish at other times, but don’t have the necessary equipment? We have free loaner roads & tackle available at the Welcome Center from April – December.

If you ever need bait or hooks, they are for sale at the Welcome Center.

How can I be more involved?

Our programs are run by an amazing team of over 100 trained Boathouse Volunteers. If you want to volunteer, email Danielle Redden at danielle@bartramsgarden.org.