Boating in the Thousand Islands | BoatUS (2022)

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It may not have always been smooth sailing, but island life finally turned this enthusiast into a real boater.

Boating in the Thousand Islands | BoatUS (1)

(Video) Explore the Thousand Islands | PowerBoat TV Classic Boating Destination

Each of the Thousand Islands is a unique kingdom, adorned with cottages, shacks, or castles, and there are almost two thousand of them between New York and Ontario on the St. Lawrence River. (Photo: Ian Coristine)

My voyage through the Thousand Islands began more than four years ago when I started writing stories about the region, and founded Island Life Magazine. Writing about islands without a boat became something of a challenge. I had a kayak, but that wasn't going to get me far, so I explored the St. Lawrence River as a nautical hitchhiker, aboard tall ships, yachts, Sea-Doos, skiffs, and powerboats. The more I was out on the water, the more I began to love boating.

The Thousand Islands are world famous for its castles and cottages, its boathouses and storybook bridges. There are 1,865 islands, spanning two countries along this storied 50-mile stretch of the St. Lawrence River. You can see two castles on two islands in one day here: Boldt Castle on Heart Island near Alexandria Bay, New York, and Singer Castle on Dark Island in Chippewa Bay, New York. There are islands with idyllic names like Fairyland, and more menacing monikers like Deathdealer, and enchanting water worlds to explore like the timeless tranquility of the Lost Channel. So, it's not surprising the perfect way to truly discover this destination shared by Ontario and New York — between Kingston and Cape Vincent and Brockville and Morristown — is by boat.

Boating in the Thousand Islands | BoatUS (2)

Boldt Castle, a millionaire's gift to his wife, is now open to the public, with docking and tours.

The islands here are rugged creatures, pink granite and wind-swept pines slumbering under blankets of snow in the winter, but a boater's paradise in summer. Many islanders, a hearty breed of cottage owners on both sides of the border, return to the river as soon as the ice thaws. Boating is not just a recreation for them — it's a necessity of island life. I discovered this firsthand in the summer of 2011. I rented a small island on the Canadian side of Blacksnake Passage, with a rustic cottage in an area of the river known as the International Rift. What If Island (yes, "What If" is its name!) was 69 feet from New York's Wellesley Island. My golden retriever Stella swam to America on more than one occasion. What If looks out onto Lake of Isles, a favorite boating destination en route to the Rift, which takes boaters under the Thousand Islands International Bridge, bustling with traffic overhead, and transports them to an amazingly tranquil narrow ribbon of river between Ontario and New York.

A Hard Start

What If Island came with an aluminum boat named The Red Fisherman. There was only one problem: I didn't have much experience driving a boat. Bob, who rented me the island, gave me a few pointers and a test drive. The mainland dock was near the village of Ivy Lea and the 15-minute voyage to What If seemed an eternity. I held my breath and steered carefully behind tour boats of camera-toting tourists that left Stella, clad in a neon-yellow dog life jacket, and me bobbing in their wake. Sometimes it seemed impossible to get the pull-cord motor on The Red Fisherman to start, and on trips back to the mainland, I had to get through the choppy current running among a string of little islands including Virgin Island with a statue of the Virgin Mary perched atop a hill. "Hail Mary," I'd mutter as I passed the statue toward Smuggler's Cove and braced for my clumsy docking attempts, which involved slowing right down, bumping the dock, killing the engine, grabbing the dock for dear life — and hoping for no witnesses.

Boats of all kinds — merchant ships, center-consoles, cruisers, classics, and luxury yachts — ply the Thousand Islands. Over a century ago, steam yachts belonging to millionaires who built the first grand summer estates during the region's Gilded Age were common on the river. Waldorf Astoria hotelier George C. Boldt built Boldt Castle on Heart Island near Alexandria Bay, New York, for his beloved Louise, but halted construction when she died in 1904 at 42. It was left vacant and vandalized, covered in graffiti, for decades. Now, every summer, tourists descend from tour boats and flock to the refurbished castle operated by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority. Singer Castle on Dark Island, New York, is a popular tourist destination operated by Dark Island Tours. Frederick Bourne, then-president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, built the 28-room castle with secret passageways and turrets as a hunting and fishing lodge in 1904.

Boating in the Thousand Islands | BoatUS (3)

The Gadfly, part of the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York.

(Video) Thousand Islands Boating Combined Video

The Death Of The Love Boat

I wasn't exactly on a yacht-and-castle budget when it was time to get my own boat last summer, and asked one of my magazine's marina advertisers if he had something I could afford, "just a boat that will get me around."

As a matter of fact," replied Lucas Pearson, owner of Village Quay Marina in Ivy Lea, "I do!" The 17-foot Starcraft runabout with a 115-horse motor, which had clearly seen better days, had the unfortunate name of Love Boat. I could start her with a key, a step up from The Red Fisherman. Despite acquiring a boater's license in Canada, I didn't have the courage to take Love Boat out on my own until after lessons from Lucas. Even so, on one of my earlier cruises near Ash Island, I misread a channel marker and managed to run into a shoal near a particularly picturesque area known as Lover's Lane. It was a quick trip back to the marina for a new prop. A veteran boater at the marina made me feel better when he showed me his footwear on the dock. One red Croc, and one green. He had one pair of each color and switched them accordingly when boating up or down the busy river — red, right, return!

Boating in the Thousand Islands | BoatUS (4)

Kim Lunman takes the helm.

Boating in the Thousand Islands | BoatUS (5)

(Video) The Thousand Islands

The unfortunately named Love Boat.

I had many solo voyages in Love Boat without incident, but one evening for dinner I visited some friends, who had a cottage on the mainland. Another friend, a seasoned boater and islander, joined me for the ride. On the way back, under a calm moonlit August night, Love Boat's engine stopped. A tow back to the mainland was my last ride in her. Lucas grimly informed me the next day that the motor was shot. This took me a moment to process. Love Boat? Dead? This was decidedly premature, occurring just two days before I was to take up residence on Lindsay Island near Gananoque. I'd rented a cottage on a 12-acre island shaped like a butterfly to write a story.

Lucas kindly offered his marina's workboat, a zippy little center-console KMV. I climbed aboard with my waterproof nautical chart, groceries, supplies, bags of clothes, and started the engine, heading for the Middle Channel under a postcard-perfect blue sky. By the end of that hot summer afternoon, I'd navigated my way 10 miles through this beautiful archipelago, with only a few wrong turns, docked at Lindsay Island, and slid the boat into the century-old, green boathouse. Sailboats dotted the bay. A blue heron swooped over the shoreline and into the horizon. It wasn't an epic voyage, but I'd made it on my own to this island, one of more than a thousand


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(Video) 1000 Islands Boating

lifestyle travel and destinations

April 2013


Kim Luman

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

Kim Lunman, award-winning writer and publishes Island Life Magazine, She winters in Brockville, Ontario, and travels the St. Lawrence River the rest of the year.

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The BoatUS Foundation provides this study guide to not only help with passing our free online boating safety course, but to provide a knowledge base for anyone wanting to learn about boating.

Rules of the Road state that vessels following the current have right of way over vessels going against the current on the Western River System.. Low-head dams in particular hold many dangers, and while they may be fairly safe at low water, they can become death traps when water levels rise.. Dam spillways, either from a large dams’ sluice, or from a low-head dam, create an undertow that can swamp your boat and pin you underwater.. Above the dam, you have hydroelectric intake tubes, water gates that can have large amounts of debris trapped in front of them, and low-head dams that can be difficult to see until you are on top of them.. The best course of action when cruising a new area is to check your map or chart for dams, especially low-head dams, and steer clear!. Over the last one hundred years much of America’s interior has been opened to cruising boats because of canal and lock systems such as the Tenn -Tom waterway and the New York State Barge Canal.. Debris in the locks may get caught between your vessel and the lock wall, causing damage to your boat.. Currents can be very strong, especially when the lock or dam gates are open.. When you near a lock, hail the lock-master or tender on VHF channel 16/14/13 (Your local chart will have the proper channel marked) for instructions on when you can lock through.. If you do not have a VHF, you may use three long blasts with your horn, or use small boat signal cord which many locks have on the outer approach wall of the lock.. If there is a main and an auxiliary lock, one long horn blast will mean that you are to enter the main lock (land side lock) two long horn blasts mean that you are to enter the auxiliary lock (river side lock).. Turbulence, other boats and the wind can move your boat around quite a bit inside the lock.. Many modern locks have floating bollards to tie your vessel to, but most older locks do not.. When it is time to leave the lock, you will do so in the order that you entered the lock.

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I've owned and operated just about every type of boat imaginable—my favorite boat is whichever boat that can get me on the water.. I love boating so much that I don't think I've worked a day out of those 30 years.. At the Foundation, I work with the staff on any and all projects, and I work a great deal with our external partners to promote safe and clean boating, and boating in general.. I've been with the BoatUS Foundation since August 2006 and I have worked in marketing, public relations and sales in the boating industry since I graduate college.. I've been a boater since I was 6 years old and grew up boating with my family in a 19ft ski boat on the Gulf Coast of Texas.. Our annual Greeting Card Program, Emergency Beacon Rental Program and Boat Donation Program also fall under my direction.. I've been boating most of my life, am fascinated by anything America's Cup and prior to working at BoatUS I was a professional sailor on the ocean-going maxi yacht racing circuit on a boat called "Mischievous.". As the Outreach Manager for BoatUS Foundation, I manage several of our partnership programs such as the Grassroots Grants Program and Life Jacket Loaner Program.. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management from the University of Maryland University College but have worked extensively on both safe and clean boating programs since I started with the Foundation in 2005.. Reel In & Recycle monofilament recycling program, EPIRB/PLB rental program and Life Jacket Loaner program are a few of the projects I help manage for the Foundation.. As the Education Coordinator for the BoatUS Foundation, my responsibilities include managing our ongoing online learning projects, editing content, and collaborating with the amazing talent we have here on staff.. As a Program Coordinator for the BoatUS Foundation, my responsibilities include coordinating the Foundation’s marketing, managing our social media accounts, and assisting with fundraising.. I grew up fishing on my cousin’s charter boats and water skiing with my dad.. As the Multimedia/Web Project Administrator for the BoatUS Foundation, my responsibilities include updating our website, graphic content, video production, and online course information, in addition to working with the team to develop new design initiatives and projects.. As the 3D Interactive Designer, I am responsible for creating 3D digital art as well as working with a team to help teach clean, safe boating.

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