9 U.S. Presidents Who Loved Boating: Exploring Presidential Nautical History

Presidents and boats go way, way back. From 1880 until 1977, nearly every president had the privilege of using the official White House yacht. However, President Jimmy Carter ultimately decided to sell the "Sequoia." But the USS Despatch, Dolphin, Sylph, Mayflower, Potomac, Sequoia, Williamsburg, and Honey Fitz all came before then!

 In honor of Presidents' Day, this blog post will dive into the fascinating history of presidents who have enjoyed boating. Discovering which presidents own boats is pretty intriguing – it shows that they're just people with hobbies, like us!

Through the Years: Which Presidents Owned Boats?

Presidential yachts had the potential to serve diplomatic purposes in addition to transporting the Commander-in-Chief. However, people often used them for enjoyment – or fishing! And some of the presidents who owned boats have a fascinating history behind them. 


1. Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln was the first (and only) U.S. President to hold a patent. Oh, and guess what? It was for boating! In 1849, he secured a patent for a nifty device to help vessels navigate over shoals. Additionally, Lincoln was avidly interested in the boats he used for transport and enjoyed examining designs for naval ships.

2. Ulysses S. Grant

Because he was President during the Reconstruction period, Grant didn't have much time to be leisurely boating during his term. But, after leaving office, he went on a boat world tour with his family for over two years. Tracking was challenging back then, but historians estimated they traveled to over 26 countries by boat!

3. Theodore Roosevelt

The USS Mayflower, once a warship, found a new role as a presidential yacht, all thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt. And some significant history went down on that ship. Guess where the talks to end the Russo-Japanese War took place? Right on the Mayflower! 
It's not surprising he conducted business on a boat, given his strong focus on strengthening the Navy during his presidency.

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4. John F. Kennedy 

JFK was no stranger to navigating vessels during his lifetime, from boyhood to his presidential years. He spent his childhood sailing around the ports of Massachusetts and ended up leading boats with troops during World War II. And he even celebrated his last birthday aboard another presidential yacht, the Honey Fitz.

5. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fun fact: President Franklin D. Roosevelt cleverly chose to make his first major appearance after the Democratic convention while he was standing on a boat. He was known to have loved fishing – especially after his polio diagnosis. Angling and sailing became hobbies he could easily enjoy once his health declined. 

6. George H.W. Bush

The 41st President, George H.W. Bush, had a lifelong passion for boating. In fact, he's known to have loved speedy vessels! Throughout his life, he had quite a collection, including a 28-foot Cigarette and a 38-foot Fidelity V. He even made it into the International Game Fish Association's "Fishing Hall of Fame."

Entertaining Stories of Presidents Who Enjoy Boating

Presidents who have enjoyed boating have had some fascinating stories on board – beyond using them for leisure or transportation.

7. Grover Cleveland

Did you know that Grover Cleveland once underwent a tumor removal surgery on a boat? He did it because the U.S. economy was down in his second term (and feared that his health issues would cause concern).

So, he spent four days on board to avoid public panic. The surgery was successful, and nobody knew of it for years.

8. Barack Obama

Our 44th president, Barack Obama, is well-known for being an avid boater and watersports enthusiast. It's not surprising, given his upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia!

In the early years of his presidency, he often took his family on boat excursions to discover new places, like the Gulf of Mexico. More recently, he has been paddleboarding with his family in Hawaii, flyfishing in Yellowstone, and taking boat rides with well-known stars like George Clooney.

9. Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson is on the long list of presidents who own boats, and he even courted his second wife (Edith Bolling Galt) on the USS Mayflower. While World War I was raging, Wilson famously expressed his fondness for his boat, which provided a much-needed escape from people's overwhelming pressures and demands.

So, Which U.S. Presidents Were True Seafarers?

As it turns out, boating is a popular hobby among U.S. presidents! Back in the day, boats offered peace and practical travel. Today, it is more about unwinding and discovering the various activities that boating can offer. 

Read Next: 3 Ways Boating Soothes the Soul & Helps You Find Solitude