Sailing & Boating in Maine

Maine Marina

Private yachts, fishing trawlers and lobster boats share anchorage in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Sailing is like flying. The billowing sails capture the power of the wind, pushing the craft along under guidance from its captain. Watch an eagle, wings outstretched as he rides an air current, subtle shifts in his body propelling him towards an inviting branch or rocky outcrop. It’s the same principle, the same feeling of freedom.

Along Maine’s 5,500 miles of undulating coastline there is plenty of open space to get a taste of that freedom. The roughly 2,000 coastal islands also provide the perfect excuse to take to the water and explore, some even providing protected coves to anchor for the night.

Those who prefer the steady hum of a broader-beamed motor boat will be similarly enchanted. Find a favored fishing spot or motor along the coast and watch the napping seals roll over and bark at your passing. Or take to one of Maine’s quiet ponds or lakes for a more low-keyed boating experience.

Sailing and Boating Maine’s Scenic Coast

Most of Maine’s coastline is in its natural state. Rocky outcrops surround hidden beaches. Seals and shorebirds make themselves at home on stretches of sand or in tidal marshes. Lighthouses dot the coast, while whales and dolphins swim offshore. Sailing along this pristine shoreline gives you plenty of photo ops, both on land and sea.

The lack of a large human footprint does mean that the state has fewer marinas than anywhere else along the Atlantic Coast. A stretch of the Downeast Region, running from East Quoddy Head to Schoodic Point, is totally wild, not a marina in site. Most facilities are in the larger coastal cities, near traditional/commercial ports or shipbuilding centers.

Portland has roughly a dozen marinas, offering everything from public boat launches to sail and motor boat rentals and charters. One of the largest facilities along the coast is the Northeast Harbor Marina in South Portland. It can handle boats up to 50 feet long, has plenty of parking and even has tennis courts. Outfitters offer sail and motor boat rentals, including fishing packages with gear.

Marinas and boat repair facilities along the Penobscot River offer services primarily for smaller craft, simply because of water depth at low tide. Kennebunkport marinas offer services and rentals as well as lobster boat tours, perfect for inexperienced sailors or those wanting to combine sightseeing with a bit of local-style fishing.

The Greater Portland area, Casco Bay and Camden all offer cruises on vintage windjammers. This is another great way to learn to sail since participants are encouraged to help crew the ship. Before you know it you’ll be hoisting sails and trimming jibs to make the most out of Mother Nature’s ocean breezes.

Boating in Maine’s Interior

Maine’s 2,500 lakes and ponds are pristine and wild-life rich because the state has taken steps to protect them. The Lake and River Protection Sticker insures that your boat isn’t carrying any foreign organisms and is safe. Some lakes and ponds do not allow motorized boats, or limit the horsepower of those boats. Jet-skies are also prohibited on some waterways.

One example is Adams Pond in Bridgton that allows motorboats with up to ten horsepower. In Baxter State Park, the only two lakes that allow motorboats are Webster and Matagamon. Nesowadnehunk Lake allows no power boats at all, while Mooselookmeguntic Lake prohibits personal water craft, such as jet-skis. Nearly all lakes and ponds allow canoes, kayaks, rowboats and even inner tubes. The latest information may be obtained at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries.

The state maintains nearly 400 public boat ramps and/or water access sites. Some are carry-in sites, suitable for small row-boats or canoes. Others are more elaborate, offering paved or graveled back-up ramps easily negotiated by boat trailers as well as picnic areas and restrooms.

Sailboats, particularly the larger ones. tend to stick to the coastal waters simply because there is not as much wind in the protected interior. Sebago Lake and Long Lake are two of the exceptions. The ASA Sailing School in Naples offers bareboat (sail it yourself) boat rentals, crewed boat rentals and beginner to advanced sailing lessons.

Boating Regulations and Safety

Most of Maine’s boating laws are just a matter of common sense, and are valid on all of Maine’s waterways. Just as drinking and driving is an accident waiting to happen, drinking and boating is just as unwise. On the water you have the added possibility of drowning if you are in an accident. Wear a life jacket, even if you consider yourself an excellent swimmer.

Before heading out on the water, file a float plan with a local marina or a relative or friend. Let them know what kind of boat you are on, where you are going, and how long you expect to be gone. Check your fuel, boat batteries and all the equipment on the boat before departure. Take extra food, water and emergency supplies just in case. Check the weather forecast and don’t go out if a storm is on the way. These are just the basics. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (state.me.us) offers an online boater’s guide that covers everything from right-of-way rules to how to cope with emergencies. Sail Maine (sailmaine.org) is another good source of information.

Tides are another consideration, particularly if you are sailing off of Maine’s north coast near the Bay of Fundy. The bay has the highest tides in the world, averaging 50 feet per cycle. It also has one of the largest tidal bores. A tidal bore is a wave that is large and strong enough to push water upstream, in this case into the bay, reversing the water flow. Consulting tidal charts (me.usharbors.com) will keep you from getting caught up in this extreme water phenomenon.

Another thing to keep in mind if sailing near the Bay of Fundy, or anywhere else off the north coast of Maine, is that you might well cross into Canadian waters without knowing it. Keep your boat registration or rental papers with you. Bring your passport, just in case the Canadian Coast Guard decides to say hello or you want to go ashore north of the border.

If you are bringing your own boat to Maine there are registration requirements. Vessels being used in Maine for less than 60 days do not need Maine registration as long as they are legally registered in another state or country. The boat will need a Lake and River Protection Sticker. Boats being operated in Maine for 60 days or longer must be registered with the state. Racing yachts that are registered with a racing association are exempt.

Whether your pleasure is waterskiing behind a sleek, wind-in-your-face motorboat, taking a leisurely cruise in a slow-but-steady pontoon boat, or catching the wind on a vintage windjammer, Maine has the perfect boating playground just waiting for you.

Maine Harbor Sunrise

Sunrise over a Maine coast harbor.

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