The holiday boat parade season is upon us. People will be flocking to the waterfront to look at the lights and celebrate the holidays. Passenger vessels as well as private vessels will be going out on evening excursions and joining boat parades. Asinpastyears, Coast Guard Marine Inspectorswillbeconducting additional inspections of vessels involved in the parades and evening trips. Here are a few pointers and other things that everyone should be aware of to minimize the impact on safe and legal operations.


Parade I.D. numbers MUST be displayed on your starboard side. One at BOW, one MID SHIP, one at the STERN and well-lighted for judging and emergency identification. If numbers are not properly lit and placed, we will not be able to photograph your entry.
All boats must be under auxiliary power for circling the parade route. Average speed is 4 to 5 knots. The harbor will be under restricted usage the afternoon and evening of the parade, and spectator craft will not be permitted in the parade area. Non-parade vessels entering and leaving the harbor during these hours are requested to contact the Harbor Master for escort.

Towing is permitted ONLY with prior approval of the Parade Committee. Tows must be well-lighted and within about 10 feet of the mothership.
No fireworks, rockets or flares are allowed. Inland Rules of Road are in force, and all rules and regulations of the U.S. Coast Guard and Harbor Master must be followed.

Parade line formation will be under the direction of the Parade Committee Boats. Every Parade participant should practice steerageway at night before the evening of the Parade to familiarize himself/herself with boat movement in darkness.
Running lights must be operative and visible. Procedures regarding safety and possible emergencies for hazards will be covered at the Skippers Meeting.


Your boat will be judged from the STARBOARD side only. Judges will be stationed at a number of sites around the Parade route. This should encourage the entrants to stay close to the shore and provide a uniform level of entertainment for the entire Parade route. Your Parade I.D. numbers must be well lighted for the judges. Since the boat entrants pass the judging sites several times during the course of the Parade, judges will award points each time, which will be averaged later.


A design is the first step in successful decorating. Keep the design simple, concentrating on the basic theme you select. A good single idea, effectively carried out, will have the most impact on judges and spectators. Many colors of lights can be used but a single color or white is most effective. Consider the number of crew aboard, and make their costuming an integral part of your design. Costumes can be rented, or made simply of muslin or cotton, and painted. All members dressed in a single color, white or black, and use accessory items like hats, vests, large ties, belts, match your theme.


Decorations don’t have to cost a lot but they must be fireproof or fire-retardant. Although plywood is best, heavy cardboard reinforced with wood stringers, or foamcore can be used for signs, props or backgrounds. They can be painted with non-soluble paints, glittered, or covered with decorative sheeting, aluminum foil, mylar or plastic sheets. Under good floodlights, these can look like a million. Large flat areas should have holes or flaps cut in them so they do not act as sails. Sailboats can make use of their rigging to haul displays, light strings aloft. You may want to have 25’ to 50’ extension cords, power surge cords, duct tape, nylon line and floodlights on board.


Check your boat’s ballast weight when fully decorated and with crew aboard and balance accordingly. The use of a walkie-talkie is advisable from deck to skipper, the noise of engine, generator and music make it nearly impossible to be heard. Have one person in charge of the CO2 fire extinguisher by the power plant.



Determine how large a generator you will need. Don’t underestimate the wattage, as your lights will be dim. Rentals are available, pay in advance if necessary to reserve yours. Mount the Generator securely on an open deck area where an exhaust extender hose can go over the side away from decorations. The generator can be placed on a piece of carpet and held down with 2x4s to help deaden the noise.

Pre-measure the fuel for the generator, check with your manual to find out how much gas it holds, and how much juice it puts out. Have 3 or 4 gas cans ready with the pre-measured amount of gas in each, so that there will

be no spillage while refilling during the parade. Use 4 people to refill the generator while underway in the parade: one to hold the funnel, another to pour the PRE-MEASURED amount into the generator, the fourth to carry the CO2 extinguisher. REMEMBER THAT GASOLINE CAN EASILY IGNITE ON THE OUTSIDE OF A HOT GENERATOR. If batteries are used, stow them, so nothing can be dripped on them to cause sparks and a fire.


Be sure that your hard work and care with props and signs are visible by using flood or spotlights placed out from the side of the boat. 2x2s can be used as outriggers to carry flood secured at one end, and extended approximate 6ft from the hull. Strings of lights of many colors can be exciting, but colors restricted to a specific plan, or a single color are most effective. Twinkling or “tracer” lights can be knockouts. Strings of lights and other decorations can be easily and safely fastened to rails, deck fittings, etc..Using plastic garbage bag ties. Be sure that none of your lights shine directly on the skipper. The glare might make it difficult to see other boats.


Special effects and animation can be as varied as your budget, but you might consider as useful to your design the following: balloons, color wheels for spots, fog machines, bubble machines. Some animation can be effective without motors or other power drains. Consider “kid power”, a crew member pulling a rope, block and tackle, lifting a lever, turning a crank that moves props or rotates lights.


Music can be an important part of your overall presentation. Carefully pick music to fit your theme and mood. To avoid a dead lull between selections or repeats, retape the section of music many times on a cassette tape or use a continuous loop (these are available from 30 seconds to many minutes. It would be best to time your music before buying the tape. Place your speakers on the starboard side, where your audience will be.

Use light patterns other than just lining your rails.
Use Animation

Deck displays and light with a variety of color for attention!
One, two or even three colors in specific patterns can be very attractive.

The more lights, the better the impression.
Light the objects (Santa, Snowman, etc. …) you want to be seen from a distance

Can your decorations be seen clearly from 300 to 400 feet?
Make things BIG. Is your ID number on the starboard bow?


“…we had 2, 3 and even 4 boats abreast go by us…”

#1 boat (closest to the judges) get the most attention

#2 boat gets some attention

#3 boat may be ignored

#4 boat WILL be ignored



We do not judge you until we find your number

If we see your number as you approach, we have sufficient time to look you over

Numbers mounted on the bridge or salon windows are usually found when the boat is about 10 degrees past us

Many bow numbers fold in half because of the wind and are not readable

Many times we can only identify the boat by the stern number. In those cases, the boat is judged only from the stern


By the time we see and record your number, you are gone • We do not see details of your decorations


The center is 500 feet from the seawall. You are very difficult and often impossible to see. Your numbers are not visible, so you are not judged.



The front boat gets most of the attention
2nd boat gets some attention
3rd boat gets about as much attention as a boat going 9 knots