Boating on a budget: 9 places you can launch on the water for free in Philly

You don’t have to join a yacht club to take advantage of the city’s rivers.

The Frankford Boat Launch

The Frankford Boat Launch

Miguel Martinez / Billy Penn
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Updated June 1

Turns out, Billy Penn readers are nautical. We discovered this a few weeks back, when a reader named Tom reached out with a question about boating.

“I grew up my whole life in Port Richmond and like to think I know every inch of this city,” he wrote in an email, “but I can not think of a place where I could back up a boat to the water and have fun. Is it even doable without being a part of a yacht club or other organization?”

Good question, Tom! We did some digging, and discovered that finding an inexpensive, impromptu spot to dock a boat in Philly might be nearly as difficult as parking a car.

Most private marinas require hefty fees. For a summer membership, some docks charge at least $500 for small watercrafts and upwards of $5,800 for larger ones. Others ring you up by the foot, which can add up quickly depending on the size of your vessel. Some allow you to dock as a guest, but charge by the foot per hour, so you’ll be shelling out a pretty sum.

Luckily for the less well-off aquaphiles among us, a handful public boat launches do exist.

According to this map published by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (yup, that’s a thing), there are at least four in Philadelphia — three on the Delaware and one on the Schuylkill.

Open year-round and totally free to the public, these docks are perfect if you’re looking to get on the water on a budget.

Frankford Boat Launch

Frankford Arsenal

Frankford Boat Launch

Miguel Martinez / Billy Penn

At the confluence of the Frankford Creek and the Delaware River, this dock is open for boating, fishing and even hosting a picnic along the water. Getting there can be a little tricky — apparently the roads approaching the launch aren’t named — but if you throw its official address (5625 Tacony St.) into your GPS, you should be good to go.

Tacony Boat Launch

Tacony Boat Launch

Tacony Boat Launch

Miguel Martinez / Billy Penn

In Northeast Philly at 7071 Milnor St., this dock will afford you a great view of the Tacony Palmyra Bridge Walkway to the south. And yes, we promise it’s actually kind of pretty.

Linden Avenue Boat Ramp

Linden Avenue Boat Ramp

Linden Avenue Boat Ramp

Miguel Martinez / Billy Penn

This ramp at Linden Avenue along the Delaware is a great place to dock your boat, grill up some food and apparently celebrate the Birds. Disclaimer: a few questionable Facebook posts lead us to believe there’s some illicit behavior happening here. Consider yourself warned.

East Park Canoe House Ramp

And if you want to take a trip over to the Schuylkill, the East Park Canoe House Ramp downriver of the Strawberry Mansion Bridge is your best bet. Owned by Temple University Athletics, this Fairmount Park spot has been called a “cousin” to West Philly’s Boathouse Row. Also, it won a Grand Jury Award from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia last year.

Side note: In Philly, there are also a handful of boat launches that are designed for non-motorized watercraft. You can’t dock your boat there, but you could kayak or pattleboat from these waterfront spots, mapped by Parks & Rec.

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