Published: December 2013 Southern Boating
© 2013 Troy Gilbert
The Gulf Coast has always dressed up for the holiday season, from wreaths and garlands strung on the St. Charles Avenue streetcars in New Orleans to the decorations and lights lining Palafox Blvd. in Pensacola. The Gulf Coast boating community also puts on a show for residents on bayous and bays from Biloxi to Cedar Key and from Fairhope to Punta Gorda as their lighted and decorated boats celebrate their holiday spirit on their wintery home waters.
Throughout December, these fleets prep their boats and parade along shoreline restaurants, waterfronts and beaches and bring a distinctive magic to the season. Sailboats and powerboats interspaced in their holiday lights and reflected in the dark waters as they slowly motor on their set routes are a sight to behold for children and adults alike.
The organizing authorities for these events vary widely and they are always looking for new participants. From impromptu groups to yacht clubs to municipalities, there appears to be no ideal method for hosting a successful parade other than undertaking them and spreading the word. Many develop local sponsors or at least pair with waterfront restaurants, and nearly all offer prize contests for the most lavishly decorated boats. Participation also varies widely along the coast with numbers ranging from as low as ten vessels to nearly a hundred and entrance fees also bounce around, with most free or at negligible amounts.
Potential legal liability is one of the reasons why many of these parades tend to fall under an official boating organization such as a yacht club or boating association – one of the many realities of our modern age. The Coast Guard is also incorporated by many organizations in order to provide a safe environment as they would for any regatta or boating event. Nearly every parade has a website or Facebook page disseminating information.
Besides the beauty and tradition of many of these events, there are economic benefits as well. Waterfront restaurants become ideal viewing stands and homes and boathouses along the routes are known to host lavish holiday parties with the on-the-water holiday spectacle as a backdrop. All of this only adds to the enjoyment of a city’s waterfront and can easily captivate the non-boating public to become interested in boating.
The real benefits come with having a group of children onboard, donning life vests and reindeer antlers with the skipper and crew wearing Santa hats. The magic is very real as holiday music plays out across the water, as fireworks pop above the masts and fly bridges decorated with lights and new boating traditions and memories are instilled in young and old alike.