Free Kayaking and Rowboating every Saturday at Bartram’s Garden!

Globe Times - Family with lifejackets

Every Saturday, from April 27 through October 19, 11am–3pm, we offer free walk-up kayaking or rowboating on a quiet stretch of the Schuylkill River. We have a mixed fleet of kayaks of all sizes and stable rowboats. We also have trained rowers who can take you and your family out in a boat if you would prefer to not row or paddle your own boat!

Are you interested in trying boating but nervous about getting out on the water? Below we try to answer all your questions about our unique program!

First, the basics.
No experience or registration is necessary. All are welcome. This is a walk-up program––show up, sign a waiver, and we will get you out on the water.

There is a 30-minute time limit for kayaks, 45 minutes for rowboats. There are boundaries that we ask you stay within so we can monitor everyone on the water.

What equipment is provided?
All the basic equipment you need: a rowboat or kayak, paddle or oars, and life jackets for all ages and sizes. Volunteers provide basic instruction for new boaters.

How many people can fit in a kayak?
Single kayaks can accommodate one person, up to 300lbs.
Tandem kayaks (2- to 3-person kayaks) can accommodate either two adults; an adult and a child; or two adults and a small child, as long as the combined weight does not exceed 500lbs.

What happens if I tip my kayak?
It rarely happens, but kayaks sometimes tip over. We have trained volunteer Safety Boaters who will help you get back into your boat or back to the dock. We have a Safety Chase Boat that is also available to help you out of the water. Everyone wears a life vest and they keep you afloat! There are no biting fish in the river or strong currents that will pull you under or carry you away, and the water won’t make you sick if you get wet.

How many people can fit in a rowboat?
Up to three adults.

Will I get wet?
Yes! Everyone gets a little wet, especially in a kayak. In our 2- or 3-person kayaks, your seat and legs could get soaked. The rowboats are much drier, but water still finds its way into the boats. Please dress in clothes you don’t mind getting wet in.

Are there any age limits?
All minors (youth under 18 years old) 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 an adult or by one of our trainer rowers in any boat.

Is Saturday Free Boating ever cancelled?
Yes! We are very concerned about safety, so we cancel if the river is unsafe for boating. This happens in the event of high winds, lightning, excessive temperatures, and/or combined sewer overflows. Sewer overflows happen when there is a rainstorm up to 24 hours before Saturday morning. They are unsafe because they elevate the bacteria levels in the river. Please check our Facebook page or the Bartram’s Garden website for any last-minute updates on cancellations, www.facebook.com/bartramsboathouse

What should I wear?
In cooler weather, avoid cotton––no jeans! Cotton will not keep you warm if it gets wet. It is recommended you wear synthetic materials, silk or wool. Avoid wearing heavy boots. Wear a hat and sunscreen.

How can I be more involved?
Our programs are run by an amazing team of over 100 trained Boathouse Volunteers. This is a great volunteer gig if you love being out on the water. If you want to volunteer or have any questions about Saturday Free Boating, please email Danielle Redden at danielle@bartramsgarden.org.

Where does Saturday Free Boating happen?
All our boating and fishing programs happen from the dock & Community Boathouse at Bartram’s Garden, at the north end of the site on the river. There is no vehicle access to the dock, so you must walk down the meadow path or bike path to get there. You can park in the Visitor Lot near the main entrance at 5400 Lindbergh Blvd or at 51st and Botanic Avenue. Follow signs for Saturday Free Boating.

Are there other activities at the Boathouse on Saturdays?
There are picnic tables at the Boathouse, as well as walking and biking trails leading to and from the river. We also have fishing rods available for loan at the Welcome Center and bait available for purchase.

Every 3rd Saturday of the month the Bicycle Coalition will provide free bike rentals and guided rides of the Bartram’s Mile, a new walking and biking path along the river. Bikes will be available at the Boathouse.

What if I have a physical disability or mobility issues?
The ramp to the dock is wheelchair-accessible; however, we do not have an ADA-compliant boat launch (this is coming in 2020!). Our goal at the Bartram’s Garden Community Boathouse is to provide a welcoming, safe, affirming, and fun experience for everyone. Getting in and out of the boats requires squatting low and pulling oneself up, which can be challenging for people of any ability. Our team of volunteers and staff will work with you to try to best accommodate your needs. If you have any questions about accessibility and our programs, please contact Danielle Redden, River Programs Manager at danielle@bartramsgarden.org or 267-243-5231.


Information on fishing for your fishing piece:

Fish the Tidal Schuylkill at Bartram’s Garden
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. The most common catches are catfish, perch, sunfish, and bass.

On the last Wednesday of every month from May to September we provide free rods, tackle, bait, and basic instruction for beginner and intermediate anglers. This is a drop-in, walk-up event. No fishing license is required. These are catch & release events––we will help you safely release your catch back into the river.

The dates for Last Wednesday Free Fishing are:
May 29th 6-8pm
June 26th 6-8pm
July 31tst 6-8pm
August 28th 6-8pm
September 25th 530-730pm.

Free Rods and Tackle Boxes Available for Loan: Want to fish at other times but don’t have the necessary equipment? From April to December we have rods and tackle available for loan, for free to anyone with a fishing license. Fishing licenses can be purchased online from the PA Fish and Boat Commission: https://www.fishandboat.com/Fish/FishingLicense/Pages/BuyAFishingLicense.aspx
Youth 16 years and younger do not need a fishing license to borrow rods or tackle.

Bait (worms) and hooks are also available for sale in the Welcome Center, April to December! The Welcome Center staff can also help you apply for your fishing license.

Our Southwest Fish Off is a Fall fishing derby-style event, where anglers of all experience levels are welcome to compete. This is a free event with music, food, and prizes. Pre-registration is recommended; we cap registration at 50 participants. This year’s Fish Off is Sunday, October 6th, 8am–12pm. Register online at bartramsgarden.org

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