5 Tips for Boatgating: How to Tailgate on Your Boat

Whether you’re cruising to a waterfront stadium on game day or cruising to a raft-up of boaters all cheering for the same team with the game on TV, you’re going to want to do some boatgating. Boatgating is the combination of two great American pastimes: boating and tailgating.

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Photo Courtesy: University of Washington Athletics/GoHuskies.com

Arguably, boatgating is better because you’re out in the fresh air instead of stuck in bumper-to-bumper stadium traffic. And, with a boat that is properly outfitted for boatgating, the day can include the element of enjoying the water with family and friends.

Here are five tips for tailgating on your boat during baseball, basketball, football or any other sporting season.

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1. Have a DD (Designated Driver)

First things first: Safety during boatgating is paramount. If adult beverages are going to be served as part of the day’s fun, then it’s of paramount importance that you select a designated driver in advance.

As the U.S. Coast Guard says, there are strict rules in every state for boating under the influence. Penalties can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat-operator privileges. In some cases, you can go to jail. The Coast Guard and officials in every state work together to remove impaired boat operators from the waterways.

So, before you start boatgating, designate a sober skipper. At some marinas, you can ask for a yellow sober skipper wristband as part of the Sea Tow Foundation’s Sober Skipper Pledge campaign.

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dog boatgating tailgating

2. Keep the Kiddos (and Dogs) Safe

When boatgating involves a raft-up with other boats (see Rafting Up 101: How to Raft Up with Other Boats), the adults can get so into the groove of the game that they lose sight of the kids and dogs on board. For this reason, it’s important to make sure that before kickoff or tipoff or the first pitch of the day, all the little ones—two-footed and four-footed alike—have properly fitting life jackets to keep them safe.

A number of marine retailers sell a wide variety of kids’ life jackets, including some in fun styles like cheerleader pink and hunting camouflage. There are versions that will fit kids of all ages, including options for infants.

For Fido, look to a company that specifically manufacturers canine life jackets (see Tips for Taking Your Dog Boating). You can find dog life jackets in a half dozen sizes to fit various breeds of dogs. Many of these products not only help to keep the pup buoyant in the water, but also have handles along the back, so you can lean over the side of the boat and lift the dog in.

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is it legal to grill on a boat

3. Fire Up the Grill

Now that the safety considerations are taken care of, it’s time to boatgate! First and foremost, you’ll need a great marine grill to cook up all the burgers, hot dogs and chicken that you’d find at any tailgating event—perhaps adding in some shrimp or fish as a nod to the gods of the water.

Portable electric or propane grills can be great on a boat, but stay away from charcoal briquettes, which do cooperate in the saltwater environment.

If you plan to do a lot of boatgating, then consider investing in a boat-ready mount for an electric or propane grill. That way, you won’t have to carry the grill to and from the boat every time your favorite team is playing and you want to do some boatgating.

Mounts are available for most types of boats (with round or flat railings), and sometimes you can purchase a grill and mount set, depending on the model.

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Photo by: Craig Bisacre, Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics/UTSports.com

4. Pack a Cooler (or Two)

Ice-cold drinks are another must-have element of any great boatgating day. If your boat has a refrigerator on board, that’s great—stock it with plenty of water along with the drinks of your choice. Dehydration in the sun is a boater’s worst nightmare.

If there’s no fridge on the boat, then you’ll want to have the best coolers for boaters. As with grills, coolers come in lots of shapes and styles.

  • There are hard-sided coolers with handles that you can roll from the car to the dock with ease.
  • There are soft-sided coolers that you can carry like duffel bags or backpacks, and then stow easily as they empty out during the day.
  • There are even coolers that float, if you intend to spend a lot of time in the water.

Remember that if a boat has no ice maker, you’ll also need to pack plenty of ice (some boaters bring a whole extra cooler of ice, if space on board allows for it). Also keep in mind that you’ll need a place to stow all your empty cans, bottles and juice boxes until you can get back to shore and properly dispose of the trash.

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5. Bring Float Toys & a Waterproof Stereo

The one big difference between boatgating and tailgating is, obviously, the water—so why not make use of it? Boatgating doesn’t have to take place solely on the boat. It can also take place just off the swim platform, where friends and family can cool off in the water with floating toys and tunes.

For the music, one option is to choose a portable, floating Bluetooth speaker. You can find many waterproof speakers that run for 15 hours on a single battery charge. Some are not only waterproof, but dust-proof as well, which means the speaker is completely protected against sand—and it can handle occasional splashing on the boat’s deck, and if it happens to go overboard.

If you and your boatgating friends also want to spend the day lounging in a few feet of water to keep comfortable, then floating toys are a must-have. You can find a wide range of floating rafts and games that can take any boatgating afternoon to the next level of fun. From inflatable rafts and doughnuts to foam noodles and floating beverage holders, the options are endless for decking out your boatgating party in style.

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