Boat Camping Can Take Many Enjoyable Forms

By Ken Schultz

Mar 27, 2024

Boat camping can be enjoyed on many different types of craft, onboard or ashore, on your own or with an outfitted group, and on many bodies of water

If you’re a camper as well as a boater, it’s a logical extension to wonder about the possibilities of combining these two activities in some manner. Every year many people go boat camping in one way or another, whether overnight or a few days, for a lengthy vacation, or for long journeys.

I’ve never taken a more than week-long boat camping journey, but I’ve boat-camped in several places for varying durations and reasons. In most, my companions and I left our boats in the evening to tent-camp ashore. In some cases, we made our own meals and transported our gear and in others we were part of a group for whom meals and gear transport were provided by an outfitter. Fishing was an objective for a few, pleasure boating/cruising the objective for others.

Many Ways to Discover Boat Camping


Here are the primary ways to combine camping and transportation by boat, as well as their attributes:

• Canoe. Primarily for rivers and lakes, moderate distances, portaging possible, adequate gear storage, camping ashore in designated locations.

• Kayak. Primarily for rivers and lakes but coastal tripping possible, moderate distances, portaging possible, gear storage generally more limited than canoes, camping ashore in designated locations.

• Motorboat. Larger bodies of inland water as well as coastal tripping, moderate to long distances, ample gear storage possible, camping onboard possible, many anchorage opportunities.

Houseboat. Large inland lakes and river systems and protected coastal waterways, moderate to long distances, ample gear storage, eating and camping onboard likely, many anchorage opportunities.

• Sailboat. Large inland lakes and river systems plus protected coastal waterways and open water, moderate to long distances, ample gear storage, eating and camping onboard likely, many anchorage opportunities.

Obviously, there’s a different level of comfort and experience to be had with the aforementioned activities. Even within these categories, things vary depending upon the type of boat and storage capacity, and whether you’ll need space to also accommodate fishing gear. I once spent a week houseboat camping with my family and towed my fishing boat behind the houseboat as we journeyed, which greatly increased the ability to tote personal as well as fishing gear. If you have a large motorboat with a cabin, you may be able to sleep a good number of people aboard. The operators of large sailboats almost always sleep aboard, except when reaching port after many days at sea.

What To Bring


You probably don’t need to be told what camping necessities to bring with you regardless of what type of boat camping you do, but this checklist will help as a reminder, regardless of your vessel type. Remember that boating and outdoor travel always requires attention to dry storage of necessities.


Outfitted Boat Camping Experiences


One way to enjoy boat camping and make it easier on yourself is to be part of a group that is escorted by an outfitter. There are many such opportunities in some wilderness areas; the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota is a prime example.

My wife and I once took a five-day group camping-kayaking trip on the Suwannee River with an outfitter who does a number of such waterway excursions in the Sunshine State. Each night we camped at a different state facility; the outfitter transported our camping gear daily from site to site, supplied all meals, and on the last day ferried us back to our vehicles at the starting point.

Of a similar nature, you might consider a river sojourn, several of which exist in Pennsylvania. “Sojourns” are five- to eight-day downriver paddle-camping events with large groups. Most participants are kayakers, and the events allow for single-day, multi-day, and full-week participation, with campsites pre-arranged and meals available.

Some, like the Delaware River Sojourn, provide daily meals, gear transportation, the possibility of boat rental, lunch and evening educational programs, assistance for novice paddlers, and safety boat escorts. I’m well acquainted with this nonprofit sojourn, having paddled with them multiple times and because my spouse is a co-creator and steering committee member. It’s been run annually since 1995 except for the 2020 pandemic year, and experiences 75 to 100 participants on many days, a lot of them returnees.


Whatever suits your camping interest, there’s a way to do it, in or with a boat.

Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is