How to Boating Around Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fort Lauderdale is a seemingly afloat city: some 165 miles of canals crisscross the neighborhoods, making the South Florida city compare to Venice. Mansions line residential canals (and are often overshadowed by yachts moored in front), while pleasure boats descend the New River that runs through downtown. Locals and visitors alike embrace the nautical life, flocking to Before Times at the world’s largest boat show or the Port Everglades cruise port on the Atlantic coast, which was one of the busiest in the world and has seen more than 3.5 million passengers pass in 2019.

If you have any doubts that one of the best ways to maximize your time here is to get on a boat, just ask a local.

“Boats are part of the way of life here on earth. If you come here and don’t get out on the water, you’re missing out, ”says Bryan Nelson, captain of 4Ocean (a B-certified company that strives to remove plastic from the world’s oceans, rivers and coasts).

Nelson, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, says, “There’s no canal that I haven’t crossed” – and a boat is also your key to exploring the city.

We spoke to Nelson and another native son of Fort Lauderdale, Captain Todd Fopiano of the charter company. YachtsUp, for their top tips on where to make the most of a Fort Lauderdale boat day.

Where to rent a boat in Fort Lauderdale

Boat rental companies like GetMyBoat offer a range of trips: private yachts for hire; autonomous catamarans; pontoons and Jet Skis. (Rates start at $ 50 / hour for a small powerboat and climb from there to private luxury charters.)

Fopiano, who rents onboard three of his boats through YachtsUp and GetMyBoat, says: “Most people want something bigger that you can move around comfortably without bumping into yourself. This is especially true now in our days of social distancing.

Once you’ve chosen the best boat for your party, and if you need to hire a captain, you can pick it up at the marina where it’s moored. Some boat owners can even tow smaller boats to the public dock from which you want to jump.

The best cruising spots

Just floating along Fort Lauderdale’s many canals makes for an exciting day on the water, and you don’t need to be an expert navigator to get around. “Fort Lauderdale is easy to navigate as they are mostly deep canals with very little shoal,” says Fopiano, who says the canal-lined and gated neighborhoods of Las Olas Isles and Harbor Beach, both accessible via the Intracoastal Waterway, are particularly scenic. “Every day, the ocean being too rough to venture out, the canals provide a safe haven for inland navigation.”

Nelson recommends heading to Whiskey Creek, a sheltered area within Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park, as a fun place to disembark by boat and spend a few hours relaxing. The park also has a concessionaire, Whiskey Creek Hideout, where you can rent paddleboards and beach chairs or grab a waterfront table for lunch. Try a South Florida classic like a mahi-mahi sandwich or conch fritters.

Another scenic (and free) Fort Lauderdale anchorage awaits you at Lake Sylvia, a sheltered canal that opens to a wide, lake-like waterway in the Harbor Beach neighborhood, says Fopiano. It is a good place to drop anchor for a floating lunch without waves on board, with a view of the sweetness of life all around.

Dock and dine at these local restaurants

You rarely run out of a waterfront restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. The New River, which runs through downtown Fort Lauderdale and is accessible via the Intracoastal Waterway, offers great options for docking the boat and having a meal, says Fopiano.

Rendezvous Bar and Grill is one of our favorites, ”he says. “A lot of people don’t even know he’s there [within the Marina Bay luxury yachting center]; it’s a bit of a little secret. Order the fresh seafood they serve, he advises, which can be mahi tacos or a grouper sandwich, depending on what bites.

TO Yot Bar and Kitchen, Fopiano says grab a table right on the New River for a view of the mega-yachts cruising past or being repaired right next door at the Lauderdale Marine Center. The restaurant’s lobster roll is on par with anything you’ll find in Maine, and you can also opt for Florida seafood like shrimp tacos and blackened mahi.

Nelson swears by the crab claw lollipops and shelled oysters right in front of you at Coconut, a long-standing waterfront haunt on the Intracoastal Waterway with boat dockage and good vibes all around.

And the two captains say don’t miss 15th Street Fisheries on the Intracoastal Waterway in Lauderdale Marina, where you can enjoy more seafood-centric dishes like Bahamian conch chowder, fresh mahi tacos, and king crab legs.

Before getting back on your boat, stop to feed the giant tarpon with shrimp that you can buy from a store on the quayside. The silvery-scaled fish can grow up to eight feet long and swirl avidly in the waters below.

>> Next: The AFAR guide to Fort Lauderdale

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