15 Fun Things to do on a Boat/Houseboat

When you are heading out on the water the last thing you want to do is be bored. I have written other articles about activities for toddlers and young children but today I will be writing about fun things to do for EVERYONE! 

Some of these items will require the participants to be over a certain age because of certain laws but most of them could be done with the entire family or group that is on board. I will give you 15 fun activities to do while boating to help keep your trip fun and exciting. 

Kayak on the Water

1. Use Personal Boats

A great thing to do while on a boat is get into smaller boats! Kayaks and canoes are a fun way to get around the water and you can have races or just find little inlets, go fishing from your canoe etc. 

Many people also like using stand up paddle boards as well as some other personal sized vessels. There are many different inflatable versions of these boats that you can use to help save space on board your main boat. This will allow you and your passengers to go many different places without having to move the boat every time. 

If you are in the competitive mood you can do boat races or see who is the fastest at going from one place to another. If it is just kind of a lazy day slowly paddling around the lake looking for fish or waterfowl can be a fun adventure too. 

Woman Diving

2. Go Diving

There is nothing quite as much fun as explorer under the water. People will often take snorkeling gear but in many lakes and rivers the water will be too murky to see much. That is where diving comes into play. 

Now you could certainly rent scuba tanks and gear or buy your own but that equipment can be quite expensive to buy and even renting it often isn’t cheap. That is especially true when you have to rent it for an entire week because you don’t want to go back and forth to the marina. 

There are a couple other options that many people don’t know about. The first is personal sized tanks that instead of attaching to your back they just go right in your mouth. Most of the time these tanks last around 10 minutes of dive time before you have to put more air into them.

Some of these personal sized tanks come with pumps to air them up manually but that can be quite a hassle and will often take much longer to pump up than what you would expect. 

Another option is to use the Blu3 Nemo diving system. This is a relatively new system that allows you to be underwater for around 60 minutes and you can dive up to 10 feet down. They are in the process of making a larger model with a 40 foot dive depth but it hasn’t been released yet. The Nemo floats on top of the water and pumps air through the tube to the diver below. It runs on a battery pack that allows 60 minutes of dive time before needing recharged. 

During that  60 minutes below the surface you are completely free to move around as the Nemo floats above water and is free to move with you. That will allow you to have the freedom to explore many different areas underwater in your hour of dive time. 

The Nemo runs about $800 for the system but you can buy an additional battery etc for a little more. If diving is something you are seriously interested in then the Nemo is currently one of the best ways to do it on a small scale. 

A Boy Fishing

3. Go Fishing

Of course I couldn’t make a list of fun things to do on a boat without mentioning fishing. Fishing is something that most everyone will enjoy and it can be done from the boat, from shore, or even from your canoe or kayak. 

Every lake or river will have fish of some kind but be sure and follow the applicable laws in your area in regards to fishing licenses. Most places will require anyone over the age of 18 to get a license and children and teens can fish for free but make sure to do your research before you start fishing. The last thing you want is to get a fine from the DNR while on vacation. 

One of our favorite things to do is end or start the day with fishing. It can be a relaxing way to unwind or just a great way to slowly wake up in the morning. Since you will already be on the water you won’t have to get up very early at all to get some good fishing time in the morning. 

Man Exploring

4. Go Exploring 

This was my favorite thing to do as a teenager and still remains my favorite until today. I love to explore! Whether it is the woods, the water, under the water, or just an old abandoned property exploring is in my blood! 

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Most of the people on board your boat will enjoy a little exploring as well and some might just love it! Using the personal craft from number 1 you can explore coves and inlets and even little streams that feed the lake or river. 

My personal favorite is to find a little river and paddle upstream until you can’t go any further. As you get closer to the mouth the vegetation will start to get thicker and the trees will start closing in on you. It always makes me feel a little bit like I’m exploring an unknown jungle. 

If you don’t have canoes or kayaks then exploring on foot can be tons of fun as well. Since you can anchor or beach your boat in many uncharted areas you can easily spend hours wandering around or just going up and down the beach looking for “treasures” that have washed ashore. 

My family has always collected rocks and many an afternoon was spent scouring the beach or shallow water for the perfect rocks. After finding the best ones we would always sit down and show each rock to each other. Yes, I know finding rocks sounds lame but there are so many different types and colors in many lakes and rivers that there are always new ones to find! 

Beach Metal Detecting

5. Go Metal Detecting

This one ties in closely to exploring but it requires more equipment. Metal detecting is quite a popular thing to do on land but did you know they make underwater metal detectors? Yes, you can get metal detectors that are entirely waterproof and are designed to be submerged. 

If you just have a cheaper metal detector you can still have tons of fun scouring the beaches for all kinds of buried items. Often you will only find a few cents or just some random trash but the thrill of the hunt is what makes this so exciting! 

If you do have a waterproof metal detector I would recommend staying in the shallows as it can be quite difficult to dig in deeper water. If you stay where the water isn’t quite so deep you can use a shovel or even your hands to dig down and locate the metal. 

Surprisingly many underwater metal detectors can be purchased online for under $100 with some even running as low as $50-60. For an afternoon of fun everytime that you go boating that is certainly cheaper than many other things that you could buy. 

Cook Together

6. Cook Together

Cooking is a great opportunity to have some fun while on your trip. If you are near a beach you can make a fire and cook over the open flames. If you are on board a larger boat many will have ovens or cooktops that you can use to make food together. 

What we always did was make the food as a family and then the adults would do the cooking with the kids help. The food prep is something that most teens can do and working together in the kitchen can be as fun as you make it. 

One meal that we often made was a hobo dinner that was made in aluminum foil and then cooked either over the fire or in the oven. You can also just do simple hotdogs and brats and cook them over the fire like a campout. 

Cooking on your boat doesn’t have to be like a five star restaurant. Just keep in mind that you are trying to have fun so don’t get upset about a little mess or a little tasting the food or dessert during the prep or when the food is done. Making memories isn’t about doing everything perfect it’s about who you do it with. 

Jet Ski

7. Use Powered Watercraft 

Powered watercraft are great to have fun if you are a young child all the way up to older adults. They are simply a blast to ride or ride on even if you aren’t driving. There are a couple of major cons to powered watercraft. 

The first con is the cost. Not only are powered watercraft expensive to buy but they also require money to maintain and fuel up. If you rent a powered watercraft you will often pay a rate of $50-$60 per hour! That puts powered watercraft over budget for most people unless you only rent it for a few hours. 

The other major con is not everyone can use one. Each state has different laws about powered watercraft but most states require you to be 16-18 to be able to pilot it by yourself. Some states are a little younger but the laws vary state by state so be sure and check the laws in your local area before you book or buy one. 

Powered watercraft can be tons of fun but those two cons make them less than ideal for most people and situations. I felt they needed to be included in this list as they are just way too much fun to leave off. 

Camping Outdoors

8. Camp on Shore

Camping while boating may seem a little counterintuitive, especially if you are on board a boat where there are sleeping quarters. Camping on shore is a great adventure for teens or young adults especially if everyone else is on board the boat. 

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When I was a teen we once camped out on shore with nothing but our sleeping bags. We stayed up late enjoying the fire and stars and then slept on the ground with the entire sky above us. To be honest, even as a teen it was a little nerve racking as I wasn’t sure what animals were around but it is certainly something I won’t ever forget. 

If camping on shore doesn’t work then you can just lay out the sleeping bags on deck and sleep under the stars that way. Sleeping in a new place or in a different way is certain to be something that many teens will enjoy and letting them have a little independance on the trip is a great way to help them build self confidence as well. 

Jumping into the Water

9. Go Cliff Jumping 

Going cliff jumping can be dangerous if the water isn’t deep enough or if the people jumping aren’t very good swimmers so make sure to make all the necessary checks before hand to keep yourself safe. 

Assuming that everything checks out then cliff jumping is a great way to have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something that will seriously scare you. Even if you aren’t afraid of heights cliff jumping will require quite a bit of nerve, especially if it’s your first time. 

I remember the first time I went cliff jumping it was only 15-20 foot high but once I was on the top it felt like miles! I’m not exactly afraid of heights but I am a little wary of them so jumping off a high place into the water seemed fun… until I was up top. Once I was up there I think it took me ten or fifteen minutes to psych myself up enough to actually jump off! 

Of course it was tons of fun and after doing it the first time the ensuing times got easier and easier but that first time was quite nerve racking. I would definitely recommend everyone does it at least once as jumping off a cliff will reveal something inside of you that you might not have known you had. 

If there are no areas where you could go cliff jumping at then jumping off the boat can be a good alternative. Especially if you are on a houseboat and jump off the upper deck you will get some of that same fear and euphoria when you jump into the water for the first time that you would have from jumping off a tall cliff. 

Inflatable Boat

10. Play on Inflatables

Inflatables are a must have for every boating trip but some of the larger inflatables are perfect to play on for everyone on board. When many people think of inflatables they think of inner tubes, balls, and small things like that. Inflatables have become much more than that in the last few years. 

One of my favorite inflatable to have on board your boat is an inflatable slide. There are a variety of different sized slides but some of the best ones are big enough where multiple people can go down at one time. You can often put the end of the slide right off the edge of the boat so that when you slide down you then have a few foot drop into the water. 

One thing to be aware of with all inflatables is that they can take up tons of room once they are inflated so ideally you will want to have a pump that can not only put air into the inflatable but that will suck air out when you are done playing with them. 

There are tons of inflatable boats, rafts, and toys that you can get that will allow you to have hours of fun in or on the water. If you are interested in finding the coolest inflatables currently available, I wrote an article of the 13 best inflatables that can be found here

Water Skiing

11. Go Water Skiing

When you are going to be on the water being towed around at high speeds on skis is always a lot of fun. Most people will have difficulty water skiing without lots of practice so you can be towed while on an inner tube or they even have flying towables that you can ride on that when you start speeding up you get lifted off the water! 

This activity is tons of fun but is really only good for teens and younger adults. Most younger children  won’t be able to do it and older adults won’t want to so the people who will enjoy this activity is narrowed down a bit. 

One other issue with water skiing or towables is that they require a craft that can move fast enough to tow the person around. If you have a slower houseboat your vessel might not move fast enough to allow the water skier or person being towed to have fun or even get out of the water. 

You can use a powered watercraft to tow the person or the towable but again, they are quite expensive to rent or buy so that is an additional expense for this activity. 

You do need to make sure that you follow all applicable laws when water skiing or using a towable. Most states require everyone to wear life jackets with some states requiring multiple people watching the person who is on the water to ensure they don’t get thrown off and the vessel’s driver not see it. Be sure and look up the laws in the area you plan on visiting to see what the requirements are in that local. 

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Boat Wheel

12. Drive the Boat

Obviously this activity is more geared towards teens but even adults can enjoy doing something new if they haven’t driven a boat before. Letting a teen pilot the boat could certainly be the highlight of their vacation and something that they will remember for many years to come. 

If you are going to let a teen drive be sure and have an adult watching closely to ensure that they don’t do anything crazy or just get distracted. I wouldn’t let an inexperienced person dock or beach a boat but once you are on the open water it is relatively safe to let them pilot the boat. 

Most states have specific laws regarding the ages of who can pilot a boat but almost all of them require adult supervision so make sure to check your local laws before letting your five year old drive your boat. 


13. Have a Movie Night

This is certainly one that can be done at home as well as on board your boat but there is just something special about watching a classic movie under the stars. Whether it is your favorite classic kids movie or a more recent popular one, it is always fun to enjoy some relaxation after a hard day of doing nothing. 

One thing that we love to do is get a projector and then hang a sheet against a solid wall and watch the movie that way. It is a great way to have a large screen that everyone can enjoy. They also make inflatable projector screens or you can buy a screen and hang it on an exterior wall that you have. 

The main issue with this is it requires electricity so if you don’t have a generator on board or if your generator is very noisy then this may not be the idea for you. Trying to hear a movie over the loud sounds of a running generator isn’t exactly what I would call fun. 

Starry Sky

14. Watch the Stars

When you are out on your boat and anchored or beached for the night you will probably have the best views of the stars that you have ever had in your life. Most of the time you will be quite a ways from civilization and it is quite amazing how much the night sky lights up when you don’t have other lights around. 

For stargazing you can certainly bring a telescope and pick out the more popular constellations but what we always do is just shut off all the lights on board and just gaze at the enormous expanse of space. Rather than making it a time of learning you can just have the kids try and count the stars or see if they can find stars that make a pattern in their own mind. 

There is nothing that will make you forget your troubles or the strain of life as quick as laying back and seeing how little our troubles are when compared to the universe around us. 

Volleyball Net

15. Play Sports

This idea covers so many different things but rather than splitting it out to a bunch of different headings I felt like lumping them all together made more sense. Since everyone will have a different favorite sport there are many different sports you can play on board, on the beach, or even in the water. 

Do you like basketball? They make an inflatable basketball hoop that you can use to play basketball on top of the water! Are you a soccer fan? Set up a couple of nets on deck or on the beach and have at it. Volleyball is of course a popular beach sport but it can be played in the water as well with an inflatable net or just set it up on deck and someone has to go in the water and get it anytime they hit the ball out of bounds. 

You can even buy floating golf balls and hit them off the boat and then go collect them later. The possibilities are endless when it comes to which sport and how you play it. Don’t hold yourself to only playing a game by the regular rules either. Some of the most fun is had playing sports when you change the rules to fit the water, beach, or boat you are playing on. 

Whichever of these ideas you like always remember the main thing is to have fun. You are on vacation so don’t get hung up in the competition or the exact rules of any game that you play. It isn’t worth fighting over if something is in or out or if the rules were altered a bit. After all, you are going to be on board the boat for the rest of your trip and you certainly don’t want everyone to be mad at each other by the end of it! 

As Always, 

Happy Boating

Matthew Robbs

I love the outdoors and especially spending time with my family. Whether on a boat or at the beach, my happy place is near the water.

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