- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 28, 2004

Enjoying Washington from the water doesn’t have to be involved or expensive. In fact, it’s possible to enjoy a magnificent view of the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial from the water for the price of a couple of gourmet coffees or a “Thomas the Tank Engine” DVD.

Where and how is this done?

At the Tidal Basin Boat House, where visitors can rent two-seat paddle boats for $8 an hour and four-seat paddle boats for $16 an hour.

It’s a very popular family activity on the weekends, says Anthony Reeves, a manager at the Tidal Basin Boat House at the basin’s southeastern corner. All 80 boats frequently are rented out.

“Children love it. They’re out there laughing and splashing water on each other; they’re playing bumper boats,” Mr. Reeves says. “The parents just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Young children must be accompanied by a supervising person age 16 or older. Everyone — adults and children alike — has to wear a life vest. The water is between 10 feet and 12 feet deep and pretty murky.

For parents with young children, four-seat paddle boats are recommended because they have a miniseat between the two front seats where the child can sit.

Mr. Reeves says there is no lower age limit, but he doubts infants would enjoy wearing a life vest. He says the paddle boats are most appropriate for children age 2 and older.

Though children tend to get a little wilder on the water than their parents, Mr. Reeves has seen people of all ages participate in one of the most common paddle-boat offenses — docking at the Jefferson Memorial.

“People ask, ‘Can we dock at the Jefferson?’ It would be nice, but you can’t do that,” he says.

Dropping people off or switching seats during the ride also is prohibited because it’s not safe to stand up in the boat. Boaters easily could lose their balance and fall into the water, Mr. Reeves says.

The on-duty manager has access to a speedboat to curtail the switching-seats and dropping-off activities.

Most boaters just enjoy the ride and the beautiful setting, with the Washington Monument to the north, the Jefferson Memorial to the south and hundreds of Japanese cherry trees lining the Tidal Basin.

For children, the Amtrak tracks and nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport add to the audiovisual interest, as do the oft-circling helicopters.

However, the Tidal Basin is not there just for aesthetic reasons. It was built about 150 years ago to push excess water from the tidal Potomac River into the Washington Channel, says Bill Line, spokesman for the National Park Service.

So, aside from being of recreational and visual interest, “it provides flood and erosion control,” Mr. Line says.

The most popular season for walks around and boating in the Tidal Basin is spring, when the cherry trees are in full bloom.

“You can take the best pictures in Washington here in the spring,” Mr. Reeves says.

Still, summers are popular, too, as Washingtonians who have stayed in the city and guests who have picked a hot season to visit the capital seek to play, relax and sightsee on the water.

“I think it’s Washington at its best,” Mr. Line offers.

Mr. Reeves echoes the sentiment.

“It’s the best place in the city for families to come and have fun — with a view,” he says.


LOCATION: The Tidal Basin Boat House is at 1501 Maine Ave. SE, Washington.

Directions: The boathouse is just south of the Washington Monument. Take Independence Avenue east from the Lincoln Memorial. Make a right on Maine Avenue. The Tidal Basin Boat House and its parking lot will be on the right.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (the last rental is at 5 p.m.) daily from mid-March to mid-October.

Admission: $8 per hour for a two-seat paddle boat and $16 per hour for a four-seat paddle boat. It costs $2 for every additional 15 minutes for the two-seater and $4 for every additional 15 minutes for the four-seater.

Parking: Next to the dock is a large parking lot, but it tends to fill up quickly on weekends. Nearby Metro stops include L’Enfant Plaza on the Yellow and Green lines and Smithsonian on the Orange and Blue lines.

More information: 202/479-2426

Notes: Plenty of green space and benches surround the Tidal Basin, and many families enjoy picnics in the shade of the cherry trees. Next to the dock is a snack bar offering treats such as pink lemonade, ice cream bars and coffee. The least crowded time to enjoy the Tidal Basin by water is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. On weekends in spring and summer, there can be a wait to get a paddle boat.

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