Boat Camping

Kathleen Roberts
Author Janet Groene
Author Janet Groene

Boat camping may sound like something new, but the truth is, it's been around for quite some time. Just what is boat camping? Find out in this interview with author Janet Groene.

Boat Camping Interview with Janet Groene

What Is It

What is boat camping?

Much of the best fun in boating is 24-hour boating, but many boats are too small to have sleeping quarters on board. Picture a jon boat, ski boat, day sailer, whitewater raft, runabout, canoe or kayak. Just add a featherweight tent, a tiny stove and food for a couple of meals and you're good to go after the sun goes down. Pull the boat up on a deserted shore and make camp. If the boat is very light it can be combined with a tent or tarp and it becomes part of the shelter. There are also lots of lightweight, freestanding tents small enough to carry in a very small vessel. A clever backpacker can carry overnight gear on a water bike; two or three people can easily overnight out of an airboat.

Nature is at its most active in the early morning and at twilight. If you are prepared for overnighting with your boat, you'll see and hear things that day boaters never do: a deer comes to the water's edge to drink, an eagle swoops down and grabs a fish in its talons, a raccoon rattles by to wash its oyster meal before eating it. Be lulled to sleep by the chuckle of water lapping at the shore and wake up to bird calls that begin just before first light.

How popular is it?

We'll probably never know how many people boat camp because they aren't always in official campgrounds. However, many state parks do have boat-in campgrounds. Hontoon Island in the St. Johns River in Florida is one; Burton Island in Lake Champlain is another.

Canoe camping in the Sea of Cortes, Mexico is very popular and several outfitters offer gear and guidance. Often these parks provide crude shelters and in Everglades National Park a canoe trail has campsites on raised platforms. You also don't read much about boat camping in publications because the focus in magazines and e-zines is usually on one thing such as paddle sports, fishing, sailing, camping and so on. This is a crossover sport that falls between the cracks.

Getting Ready

Camping with a boat is great for the whole family.

What gear is needed?

You need a shelter and that in turn depends on whether you'll sleep in, on or under the boat or rig a shelter separately from the boat. Unless campfires are permitted along your route and firewood available, you'll also need a one-burner camp stove, a pot or two, eating utensils, drinking water, first aid supplies, flashlights, maps or charts and perhaps a cell phone or other means of being in touch. It's pretty much the standard backpacking checklist. File a float plan with authorities or make sure a friend or relative knows where you are and when you'll be back.

Where are the best places to go?

If you want to be official about it, check out the many state and national parks, and scenic waterways, that offer campsites reached only by boat. Most boat camping is, however, unofficial. A lone boater took his jon boat down the Ohio River and camped each night along a deserted shore. A sailor island-hopped in the Bahamas. Canoe and kayak paddlers sleep on uninhabited stretches along Baja. Many lakes and rivers are peppered with small, uninhabited islands where one can nudge a boat ashore and pitch a tent for the night. Just be respectful of No Trespassing signs.

What concerns should people be aware of when planning to go their trip?

Don't trespass. Get local advice so you are aware of local hazards such as gators, snakes or deer ticks. Be aware of the water's own hazards so you don't get stranded by tides or caught in an unexpected current. Have a Plan A, and also Plans B and C.

File a float plan or have someone on the Outside know your plans so a search can be called for if you don't report in. Keep one step ahead of your food and water needs. Fish and forage all you like, but don't rely on nature's pantry. In my blog, CreateAGorp, I publish healthful trail mix recipes that can make a complete snack, breakfast, dinner or lunch. They keep well, take up little space and provide good nutrition without excess salt, sugar and fat.

Other Concerns

How does one take care of needs such as bathroom, cooking, bathing on a boat?

You're on the water, so that takes care of bathing and dishwashing. Backpacker and camping supply places sell personal water treatment devices. Some purify water, others can de-salinate water and make sea water potable. Your water needs depend on the waterway you're on and how often you can expect to re-supply. Many boat-in campsites have drinking water available. I like collapsible jugs because they take up no room when empty.

Bathroom needs too depend on the situation. Primitive toilets are usually provided at boat-in campsites. Some wilderness areas require everything to be taken out with you, including human waste, so take plenty of plastic bags with a larger bag to seal those bags inside. In other instances, one digs a pit toilet.

As for cooking, this is standard backpacker stuff using lots of dehydrated foods, powdered drink mixes and, if you have room, cans that need just a warmup. My blogs CampAnd RVCook and BoatCook are for boaters and campers who have a little more space to carry food and cook it. Focus is on ease of preparation and cleanup.

Is this a good thing to do with children?

It's a wonderful family sport for grownups who are savvy and resourceful boaters and campers. I met a woman who canoe-camped the St. Marys River in Georgia with children ages 9 and 10. She had a camp stove to warm up canned foods. Some canoes are large enough for expedition camping. She had a good-size tent and enough room for a three-day supply of food.

Camping Tips

What tips can you offer for a successful outing?

Make every ounce count. Make every cubic inch count. Be prepared for both boating and camping in the waters, weather and terrain where you are going.

What should everyone know about this type of camping?

It's not a social sport. It's for people who want to get away from marinas and campgrounds.

What else would you like to add?

I'm glad to answer questions and concerns at janetgroene@yahoo.com. My books on boating and camping are available at Amazon. Click on Advanced Search and put Janet Groene in the search window. Books include ABCs of Boat Camping, Cooking on the Go, Creating Comfort Afloat, Camping Digest, and many more.


LoveToKnow would like to thank Janet Groene for taking the time for this interview..

Boat Camping