Top Boating Destinations
A boat opens up the world to exploration and experience you couldn’t have otherwise had. There is always something new to discover and new waters to cruise. In some parts of the world, the perfect confluence of weather, geography, and culture makes for a boat setters paradise. These locations are some of the top boating destinations in the world. People flock to these locations, only adding to the festive feeling these locations so often have.
Making a list of the best locations is always a tall order, though. With so much water and coastline on the planet, hundreds and hundreds of amazing places to visit by boat. Some would argue that the very best spots are the ones that never make it on a list in the first place. Those are rare unspoiled dots on the map. For much of the boating community, some spots are just too good not to share.
What Makes a Top Boating Destination?
Everyone has a different reason that they like to be out on the water. Some people prefer a quiet and murky little pond; others want white sandy beaches and blue waters. With a boat rental, you can visit any body of water that fits your lifestyle.
All the top boating destinations are built around a culture of seafaring and life on the water. This culture played a large part in picking the top spots. This boating culture permeates everything from the quality of the marinas and the availability of waterside seafood to the general quality of the other boaters on the water. Boating in crowded waters with people who don’t know how to handle their boat can quickly go from fun to scary. When a place has a boating legacy, you can feel it; it makes everything you do on and off the water easier.
The natural beauty and environmental health also factored into picking the top boating destinations. A large part of the joy and benefit of boating is being able to stare in awe and wonder at a beautiful sunset or watching an amazing display of wildlife swim around you. Unfortunately, some places in the world have been destroyed by runoff, overfishing, and/or climate change. These places are often teetering on the edge of destruction if they haven’t already succumbed to it, so more boating is the last thing they need.
Some places have an abundance of wildlife and offer some amazing fishing. In the places where fishing is especially spectacular and very welcome, that was considered one of the factors for top boating destinations. The fishing industry is deeply ingrained in some places, which overlaps with the boating culture mentioned earlier.
The Top 10 Boating Destinations
The Bahamas is a boaters paradise with unrivaled natural beauty, world-class fishing, and the kind of boating culture you can only find in a country made up of almost 700 islands, cays, and islets. Without exaggeration, you could spend a lifetime of boating getting to know these waters. This archipelago would be a worthy destination even if it was situated in the middle of the Atlantic, but it just happens to be nestled between two other amazing boating destinations.
The spectacular Florida Keys and the rest of Florida are only 50 miles away to the northwest. It is very common for boaters to travel between the two locations. To the south of the Bahamas, you have Cuba and Hispaniola as well. Of the 700 islands and cays within the Bahamas, only 30 are properly inhabited, leaving thousands of open waterways to explore. The waters are warm, crystal clear, and teeming with amazing fish.
You can expect blue and white marlin, swordfish, mahi-mahi, wahoo, and tuna, among many other species of fish. While shallow waters mostly surround the island chains, they also surround one of the deepest canyons on the planet, offering some amazing fish. The Great Bahama Canyon plummets to depths of 13,000 feet from relatively shallow 30-foot banks. Any seasoned fisherman can tell you that a depth change like that means big fish are in the area.
If you’re going to the Bahamas, you should also take a trip to Florida and vice versa. With almost 1,400 miles of coastline, Florida was always destined to become a boater’s haven. From the Keys to the northern reaches of the state along the Gulf of Mexico, there are amazing spots for cruising, fishing, and simply enjoying nature. The state’s western coast offers ports of call like Naples, Tampa, and Panama City, while the eastern coast is home to Miami, Daytona Beach, and Jacksonville.
You could easily spend all of your time living it up down in the Florida Keys, though. This south Florida archipelago is home to an eclectic populace. It’s the southernmost location in the United States, and it’s the kind of place where chickens and Iguanas run free, and legacies from literary giants like Ernest Hemingway still live on. The Keys feel like an extension of the Bahamas but with an American twist. The waters are beautiful, the fishing is spectacular, the food is great, and you might find yourself wanting to stay.
Many people do just that. Much of South Florida is built for boaters, with many communities offering private docks and marinas. Coastal cities are often divided into canals and waterways for locals to drive their boats out to open waters. While boating along Florida waterways, don’t be surprised if you see waterside restaurants ready to serve dockside. For many Floridians, boating is second nature, and it is just as common as driving.
Rhode Island is the smallest state in the U.S., and nearly 14% of its 1,200 square mile area is water. As with Florida, that geography made Rhode Island predestined for a legacy of boating and fishing. Boating is so important here that even the state flag features an anchor. As one of the original thirteen colonies, Rhode Island offers a boating experience that feels deeply historical. For boaters more accustomed to tropical environments boating here feels especially removed from time.
Newport in particular has become one of the go-to spots for boating. Restaurants serve fresh fish, and seagulls screech above grey northern waters. Colonial architecture and unspoiled nature line the coast offering a glimpse into the area’s past. Sailing, in particular, has become synonymous with the region, and yachts anchored in the bay are reminiscent of races that took place in the early decades of the 20th century.
The Great Lakes
The great lakes are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, and that alone makes them worth a visit. Each lake on its own is massive and can even be seen from space. This size makes these lakes seem like great seas, but you can experience some unique boating here because they are lakes. These great lakes are bordered by an eclectic mix of large cities, ancient wilderness, and small fishing towns. You have Chicago on Lake Michigan and Toronto on Lake Ontario, for example.
Within the Great lakes themselves, you will find around 35,000 islands to be explored while the waters themselves are busy with all kinds of sea creatures. Fishing in the Great Lakes can be an adventure unto itself. Cruising around one of these lakes is a great North American adventure. One night you’ll be floating in the marina with skyscrapers out your window, and a couple of nights later, you can be in a desolate area with nothing but yourself and the stars.
The Adriatic Sea
Exploration is at the heart of boating, yet too many articles on top boating destinations forego that in favor of telling you exactly what marina to leave your boat in. The Adriatic Sea is big, and like other locations on our list, you could probably spend a lifetime exploring its coasts and waters. This northern arm of the Mediterranean Sea is nestled between Italy and the Balkans, with over 1300 islands.
There is almost no limit to the exploration and beauty you can experience from these waters. The coastline is littered with beautiful historic cities that you can easily visit one after the other. In one week, you could explore the canals of Venice, enjoy authentic Sarma in Croatia, and find an ancient uninhabited island with ruins. Boating in the Adriatic is an adventure. The region also boasts remarkable biodiversity, which makes it great for diving, fishing, and simply finding inspiration in nature.
The Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean speaks for itself. These are legendary waters visited by the richest and most adventurous people on the planet. Great works of literature and iconic myths have their origins here, and even in modern times, you instantly feel the significance and weight of that past. The rocky Grecian isles, the knowledge that North Africa sits just over the horizon to the south, the awareness of cultural and natural diversity around you all make this sea unique.
With the right boat, enough money, and enough time, all you have to do is pick the adventure you want, and it’s there at your fingertips. Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and more all border these waters with thriving seaports built on thousands of years of mariner tradition. This is one of the things that make the Mediterranean one of the best boating destinations in the world. You aren’t limited to one cuisine, one climate, or one culture. You are free to explore however you want.
The Waters of New Zealand
As an island nation, New Zealand offers up a great boating experience. Two large islands and around 600 smaller islands make up the landmass that is the country, and across that terrain, you find beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, and great thriving cities. Auckland, the most populous city in the country, is known as “the city of sails” because of the 135,000 boats registered there. This boating metropolis is even hosting the 36th America’s Cup sailing race in 2021.
If you visit between December and April, you’ll find locals out on the water at every turn. Sailing is the most prominent for boating, so if you sail, visiting New Zealand is a must. The numerous secluded bays and inlets make perfect hideaways where you can drop anchor and float the day away. Jet boating is available for the more thrill-seeking among you and can be found along most major rivers. This natively New Zealand creation is wildly fun.
Just as you would find with New Zealand, the island nation of Australia was always destined to be one of the top boating destinations in the world. The “land down under” is expansive, with miles of coastline to explore. While the beautifully barren outback offers up its adventures, the gorgeous waters surrounding the nation are where boaters find their excitement. Off the coast of Queensland, in the Coral Sea, you’ll find the Great Barrier Reef, which is the world’s largest coral reef system comprising over 2900 reefs.
Diving the Great Barrier Reef is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Australia offers up many other remarkable moments on the water, though. Cruising the famous harbor waters off Sydney, you’ll see the iconic Sydney Opera House. While visiting the Great Barrier Reef you can then tour the Whitsunday Islands to experience the rugged and natural beauty the country has to offer. You might then take a tour down south towards Melbourne and move on towards Tasmania. Everywhere you go, you will experience a mix of incomparable natural splendor juxtaposed with world-class urban environments.
Boating the Galapagos islands is a wild trip back in time that leaves you feeling far removed from the modern world. To reach the islands, you have to venture over 500 miles off the western coast of continental Ecuador into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The journey alone is a harrowing and memorable experience for any boater. Arriving at the Galapagos Islands, you’ll be struck by their ancient beauty and the feeling that you have stepped back into the Triassic era. An active volcano, rugged terrain, and great scaly Iguanas set the stage.
This is where Charles Darwin conducted his famous evolutionary research on finches, and you’ll see why these islands are a biologist’s dream. There are sea lions, giant tortoises, iguanas, numerous finches, cormorants, hawks, and much more. Keeping in mind that you are over 500 miles from the nearest continental landmass, the biodiversity is amazing. With a keen eye, you might even spot a Galapagos penguin which is the only living tropical penguin in the world.
The Society Islands
The Society Islands of French Polynesia are known all over the world for their breathtaking beauty. The fourteen islands are better known for the more famous among them, Tahiti and Bora Bora, but those famous destinations are often just the starting point for some of the best boating in the world. Located in almost the exact center of the South Pacific Ocean, these islands are about as far removed from the rest of the world as you can be.
The islands themselves are beautifully tropical and diverse, while the waters offer up some of the best diving and fishing anywhere. Diving in colorful reefs, you might see lemon sharks, giant manta rays, or some other species of spectacular marine life. If you’re lucky and can go at the right time of year, you might even witness, or participate in, the annual outrigger canoe race from Huahine to Bora Bora. This race is thrilling for any boat lover, and the afterparties only add to the experience.
Visiting the Top Boating Destinations
At one early point in boating history, visiting some of these top boating destinations was only an option for naval captains, explorers, and pirates. Now, with the wide availability of boat rentals and captains for hire, you can experience the best of what the world has to offer. Try sailing down the east coast of the United States, visiting Rhode Island and Florida along the way. From there, jump down to the Bahamas and enjoy those pristine waters.
Along European coastlines, you can explore the Adriatic Sea before making your way down to the Mediterranean and the adventures it promises. You can cast off far from land in places like the Galapagos Islands or the Society Islands for the more adventurous at heart. For intrepid world travelers, you could then travel further east until you hit New Zealand or Australia. The globe is dotted with amazing boating destinations that every avid boater should experience in their life. All that’s left to do is pick a spot and set off.