How Do People Get to Those Boats?

(Those boats out there on the water.)

Experiencing Malta in summer or autumn
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Boat-Related Questions

I recently took a short trip to a coastal New England town. I saw many things there: oysters, Oysters Rockefeller, grilled oysters. But the most curious thing I saw was this:

Boats parked on the water, far away from land or even a dock. “How do people get to those boats?” I wondered aloud. The question was not met with a response any of the many times I spoke it. “How do people get to those boats? ... How do people get to those boats?” Finally, after explaining to the New Englanders around me that, no, I’m really asking, how do people get to those boats, I was given an answer. “Yeah … I actually don’t know.”


While it is clear that others are able to live with an answerable mystery lurking inside their minds, I am not. I of course have several of my own theories:

  • People are asleep on the boats.
  • You have to wait until you see someone on their own boat and you ask them for a ride.
  • You swim to the boat.
  • There is a guy in town with a motorboat and you count on him to do you this favor every time you need to get to and from your boat, and then you give him a gift card around the holidays.

But I would like a definitive answer, and I would like it now. Luckily for me, Captain Stephen Glenn Card, director and dockmaster of the New York Sailing Center, a sailing club and school, was available for a quick call to explain to me how people get to those boats.

“That’s not a stupid question,” he began, which I am including so you understand that I am actually asking a smart question. “It’s a logical question. They’re sitting out there. How do you get there?” Yes. Please tell me.

Card said it depends whether the boat is mooring temporarily on its own travels, or if it’s in its permanent seasonal mooring, and okay, first, what is mooring? “Mooring in its broadest sense is parking a boat. What it usually means when you moor is that you tie the boat up to a semi-permanent anchor that will usually be in an anchorage.” (An anchorage is a place where boats can lower their anchors.) (Please keep up.)

The mooring is basically a huge, heavy anchor attached to a long chain, with a big float at the top of the chain that allows a boat to tie to it. “So a lot of yacht clubs and private or public marinas have moorings out in these anchorages, and then the boats come and go from those moorings.”

Okay. And then?

“If it’s a private yacht club or a marina that specializes in this, they have something called a launch,” Card said. Okay, now we’re getting to it. A launch is, apparently, a small shuttle boat that takes people back and forth from the dock or pier to their individual boat. “You show up at the facility and they’re there waiting to take people out when they arrive,” Card said. “To come back in, most facilities have you call them on a marine radio, VHF.”

An interesting twist. The marina, or whatever, will specify which VHF radio channel they use, and you hail the launch operator with your radio when you want them to come and get you. (Card said that larger boats, usually about the mid-20 foot range or higher, have a dedicated radio inside the boat called a fixed mount radio. But other boats have handheld radios, and many have both, for ease of use. I was curious about this ... “apologies” if you are not.)

So that’s part of the answer, but if you aren’t around a yacht club or marina that has a launch, you sometimes have to do something else. Are you ready? I’m trying to make this as exciting for you as it is for me. ARE YOU READY?! Card used Manhasset Bay as the example setting for explaining the “something else.” “In Manhasset Bay, part of Port Washington, Long Island, the township maintains a bunch of free moorings that can be used on a first-come, first-served basis.” So, to get to shore once you tie up there — well, first of all, some people will just tie up there to hang out on their boat with no intention of coming to shore at all. They just want to hang out and party on their boat, and isn’t that nice for them. “But some people on cruising boats, especially over a certain size, will have their own dinghy to ferry themselves in,” Card said. (A dinghy is a small boat.). So you drive your dinghy in, and then you park it at a dinghy dock. There are also inflatable versions which can be deflated and stored more easily on smaller ships.

But, if you don’t have a dinghy, you just have to plan ahead and find a harbor that has a launch service. “You look up what’s available in that area, you hail them on the radio, and arrange to have them come pick you up for a per-trip fee.”

Huh. So, there you go. I guess that’s how people get to those boats.