The Boating Community Celebrates the Holidays

With Halloween in the rearview mirror, I guess it's fair to say that the holiday season is upon us.

The 41st annual Oakland/Alameda Lighted Yacht Parade is on December 2 in the calm waters of the Oakland Estuary with the theme of A Winter Wonderland.


Published: December, 2017


With Halloween in the rearview mirror, I guess it’s fair to say that the holiday season is upon us. As I write this in early November, we are looking forward to (in chronological order) Thanksgiving on November 23, the start of Hanukkah on December 12, Christmas on December 25 and the first day of Kwanzaa on December 26.


For some these are religious observances, for a lot of us it is all about friends and family, and for many it is both. There are certainly plenty of ways to celebrate: family and office parties, decorating trees and homes, caroling, services at your place of worship, the giving and receiving of gifts—not to mention family feasts!


The boating community has a unique and very colorful way of doing its part during this season of celebration. Boat owners adorn their vessels with lights, decorations, costumed people and pets, and go on parade. I’d like to tell you about six Lighted Boat Parades that are happening here on San Francisco Bay so that you can add one (or more) of them to your schedule of holiday celebrations.


On Saturday, December 2, the first of these parades, called the Oakland/Alameda Lighted Yacht Parade, takes place in the Oakland/Alameda Estuary. This is the event’s 41st anniversary and the theme this year is “A Winter Wonderland.” It starts just after sunset, about 6 p.m., and Jack London Square and Wind River Park are excellent viewing sites. Another attractive alternative for viewing the parade is to reserve a window table at one of the estuary’s waterfront restaurants—dinner and a show without having to move!


On the next Saturday, December 9, there will be several celebrations to choose from. Sausalito will be hosting its Lighted Boat Parade and Fireworks. This will be the 30th year for the Sausalito parade; as many as 40 decorated vessels will participate. The parade will start at 6 p.m. just north of the Bay Model and proceed south to the boardwalk at Old Town. The best outdoor views are from the Bridgeway Promenade and the ferry pier in the downtown area. Several restaurants, including Spinnaker, Trident, Barrel House, and Scoma’s Sausalito, offer great indoor viewing. As an extra added attraction, this boat parade will also include a fireworks display at 7:30 p.m.


At the same time and about 30 miles to the north, a flotilla of decorated yachts will be entering the Petaluma River Turning Basin. This historic harbor is located right behind the Great Petaluma Mill in downtown Petaluma, and the yachts will be on display all evening. And there will be a Lighted Boat Parade in Vallejo’s Mare Island Strait after the tree lighting ceremony during the Mad Hatter Holiday Festival (see page 22).


Also on the evening of December 9, a parade is happening on the San Rafael Canal. This one starts at 5:30 p.m. and is sponsored by the San Rafael, Loch Lomond and Marin Yacht Clubs and the Classic Yacht Association, along with support from local business partners. This will be the parade’s 10th anniversary. The number of lighted boats participating each year has grown from a few in the early years to approximately 90 lighted boats in 2013. The number of spectators viewing the parade has also grown—from a few hundred to several thousand.


Local residents living in the canal area even decorate their homes and host gatherings in celebration of the festive event. Montecito Plaza, the Beach Park at the end of Yacht Club Drive and Pickleweed Park at the mouth of the creek make great outdoor viewing areas.


The following Friday, December 15, is your last opportunity, this time at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. This year marks the parade’s 23rd anniversary. There are often more than 50 boats from the Fisherman’s Wharf fishing fleet and the Sea Scouts as well as the St. Francis and Golden Gate Yacht Clubs. Starting at 5:30 p.m., boats will parade from Pier 39 west to the St. Francis Yacht Club and back, ending about 8 p.m. Great viewing locations can be found at Pier 39, Aquatic Park, Fort Mason, the Marina Green, Crissy Field and of course from the restaurants on the wharf.


So, pack a picnic or make dinner reservation and go enjoy a unique way to celebrate the season.


On a personal note: I’m going to take the next three months off for some R&R and travel. My column, “Sailing Adventures,” will be back in Bay Crossings in the April 2018 edition, just in time for Opening Day on the Bay.


All photos by Fred Fago, Maritime Photographer Extraordinaire!

The boating community has a unique and very colorful way of doing its part during the holiday season of celebration. Boats are adorned with lights, decorations, costumed people and pets, and go on parade.

There are at least six Bay Area lighted boat parades scheduled for December.