tips for light up boat parades

7 Winning Tips on Decorating Your Boat for the Lighted Boat Parade

Written by Diane Byrne
November 17, 2023

Last Updated on November 30, 2023 by Boatsetter Team

Shine your way into the hearts and minds of the crowd—and judges—with our advice.

With the holidays fast approaching, all sorts of festive celebrations are in the planning stages, including lighted boat parades. If you’ve ever watched one of these, you know just how much fun they are. Dozens of decorated-to-the-hilt vessels, from small runabouts to large motor yachts and sailing yachts, try to outdo each other.  

For those of you who’ve never participated in one but want to get in on the action this year, you’re in for a treat. Decorating your boat for a lighted boat parade adds the “wow” factor to an already-fantastic experience. These tips will get you off on the right foot (or should we say lightbulb?)

  1. Follow a theme 
  2. Light it up, up, up 
  3. Include motion 
  4. Make some music 
  5. Consider your power source 
  6. Get in costume!
  7. Operate at safe speed 

Book a boat & enter your local boat parade— ‘Tis the season!  

1. Follow a theme

The good news here is, some parade organizers set a theme for the participants, so that makes it pretty easy. If you’re free to choose, what suits your personality? Are you a jolly elf, for instance, or more like a grinch? 

For the wordsmiths among you who consider yourselves pun kings and queens, you could be “in snow business” or “all the jingle ladies.” Another idea: wear matching ugly Christmas sweaters that adhere to the theme. Whatever your choice, make sure the overall holiday décor of your boat conveys it. Let your imagination run wild! 

2. Light it up, up, up 

boat christmas lights

When decorating your boat for a lighted boat parade, there’s no such thing as too many strands. Seriously. Some boats have pretty much every square inch of hull and superstructure covered. Run the lights up your mast, wrap them around your handrails, outline your outriggers, and rim the perimeter of your boat, too. Zipper ties are invaluable in holding everything securely in place. 

Both sides of your boat should match as well. Whatever you do, just make sure you don’t impede your vision from the helm. Furthermore, test everything at night well before the parade, so that you know the lighting design is bright enough for onlookers to see from shore. This could be a few hundred feet away. Testing also lets you identify any bare spots. 

3. Include motion

Some of the most creative lighted boat parade participants incorporate animated figures. Good examples are the inflatable lawn displays you can buy at the big-box stores. Additionally, you can find animated multi-piece lighted displays. 

The possibilities range from a colorful Santa train to a snowman juggling presents and to leaping reindeer. Again, just like with the lighted strands, ensure you have clear sightlines from the helm. 

READ MORE: Top 5 United States Holiday Boat Parades

4. Make some music

boat sound system

It wouldn’t be a lighted boat parade without some appropriately festive music. Even better: Select music that emphasizes your theme. No need to go buy expensive stereo equipment if your boat isn’t outfitted with an on-deck sound system. A good ol’ portable stereo or Bluetooth speakers linked to your mobile phone can do the trick.

5. Consider your power source

Firstly, use LEDs to minimize the necessary current draw. Secondly, never overload your boat’s circuits, so be mindful of how many strands you connect together and plug into one particular place. If you need supplemental power, never, ever use a portable generator. You risk carbon monoxide poisoning, and burns or a fire if the unit accidentally tips over, especially if a wake hits your boat. 

Instead, use an inverter running off your boat’s battery if you’re using AC-powered lights. If your boat already has a permanent generator, you can tap into it. Breakers or ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are good for preventing more current flowing along power cords from exceeding safe levels. 

6. Get in costume!

Santa Claus driving a boat on the sea

Decorating your boat for a lighted boat parade involves decorating yourselves as well! The above-mentioned ugly Christmas sweaters idea works here, as do Santa and the elves, Frosty the Snowman and family… you name it. Plus, props are always a good idea.

7. Operate at a safe speed

Low or no wake is key. Considering your boat, and everyone else’s, is likely carrying extra weight from the festive displays, stability isn’t the same as it is normally. Moreover, the deck needs to be clear and clean for your family or friends to handle dock lines when leaving and returning to your slip.

What to read next: 6 Best Holiday Destinations in the US

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