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Camping on water

A small motor boat with a pilot house, a C-Dory, provides a snug camping space on a beach in the Mississippi River.
A small motor boat with a pilot house, a C-Dory, provides a snug camping space on a beach in the Mississippi River.
Photo by Janda Raker

Can you camp on water? You’ve heard of walking on water, but camping? First, let’s define “camping.” According to Oxford American Dictionary, to camp is to live for a time in a camp, tent, or camper, as when on vacation. So camping on water would involve doing the same thing on water.

Friday Harbor marina, in the San Juan Islands of the coast of Washington State, hosts a variety of boats with campers aboard.
Photo: Janda Raker

How can you do that? Most commonly, you could camp on or in a boat or on some sort of platform that floats. That can be done on rivers, lakes, canals, coastal areas and open oceans. The U.S. provides thousands of opportunities for such experiences, literally from sea to shining sea. A boat can be docked in a marina, nosed onto a beach, or anchored out in a lake, a gulf or coastal bay.

Of course, many types of boats to camp on are available, for purchase or for rent. Check boat dealers’ websites for availability to purchase or websites at the location you’re interested in visiting for rentals. Prices vary considerably according to supply and demand and degree of luxury. There are houseboats of many types and sizes, cabin cruisers, yachts, canal boats, runabouts, power boats with cuddy cabins or pilot houses, tugs, sailboats of all sizes, pontoon boats and many others. When planning a camping trip on water, be sure your equipment includes whatever is needed for privacy, drinking water, a means of cooking, and toilet facilities.

Camping on a boat is fun and convenient, and even travel trailers mounted on floats are seen in some waterways. But perhaps the most unique accommodations for camping on water are the chickees in the Florida Everglades National Park, available with a back country permit (click here for permit info), just like a campsite on land, and reachable by canoe, kayak or motorboat. (To see website click here.) The chickees are modeled after the Seminole Indians’ structures, which compensated for the lack of dry land in their habitat. Originally made of wood and thatch, most now provided by the National Park Service are platforms built of wood and metal, a couple of feet above the water level, with a roof covering a camp space, with a porta-potty on an adjoining platform, or a longer platform with two camp spaces, one at each end and a porta-potty in the center. (Click here for back country info.) On the platform, you can pitch your tent or hang a hammock and feel secure in your temporary home, while you watch the herons or listen for a dolphin to swim past.

If you want to get close to nature, camping on water, on boats, in floating travel trailers or chickees provides some of the most isolated and rejuvenating leisure travel possible.

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