For most of us, boating is a recreational activity.
Sure, there’s an exception for professional fisherman, cargo tanker crews and members of the Navy.
But even they might love recreational boating with family and friends in their free time.
Recreational boating is a far cry from boating for work and national security.
In other words, it’s supposed to be fun.
But merely motoring around on a boat all day might not be some people’s idea of fun. Kids—and adults, too—tend to get bored if there’s no activity to do aside from sit on the boat and look at the water.
Even for those who love all things nautical, and are perfectly content to sit peacefully at the helm, there’s no reason not to make each aquatic outing even more enjoyable for guests aboard.
With a few great boat party game ideas, you can make your next trip out on the bay—or downriver, or across the lake—one of your most enjoyable excursions yet.
First: How to Stay Safe When Playing Boat Party Games
Being on a boat isn’t an inherently dangerous activity at all, provided you and everyone else aboard knows the basics of safety, uses good common sense and watches out for each other.
But certain activities that might be very low risk on land can be more dangerous on a boat, including party games of all sorts.
Since this includes many of the boat party game ideas we’ll be talking about here, be sure to follow summer boating tips and all the usual boating safety rules, including keeping an emergency kit on board (click here for a full boating emergency kit guide).
Flotation Devices at the Ready
So, you and the gang are enjoying a water skiing competition or a lively game of Twister (much harder on a boat, by the way, and potentially much more hilarious).
Any of these boat party games might lead to someone falling unexpectedly into the water.
When you’re playing any games near water, you better have flotation devices at the ready, if not already strapped onto each person.
Safety in Numbers
Your boat, whether it’s an 18-foot pontoon boat or a 72-foot yacht, is rated to safely accommodate a certain amount of people.
That is to say, there’s a maximum number of people to keep in mind.
Don’t go over that limit. It’s all fun and games until the boat tilts over—or capsizes!—and people fall overboard.
Moderation Is Key
Let’s not be naive and pretend people never drink alcohol on boats. In fact, many people drink more booze aboard a boat than back on land. Even if the games are family friendly, and you’ve got the kids around, there’s nothing saying you can’t bring along a few beers.
If you’re staying moderate in your imbibing, and you’re making sure that at least one person remains sober to steer the boat and help out in case of an emergency, a bit of drinking is fine.
Even so, everything in moderation. Even a drinking game can be enjoyed in moderation: Just take smaller sips, dilute the cocktails or choose a very low-ABV beer. You’ll be able to enjoy your boat games longer, avoid awkward situations and stave off seasickness.
9 Family Friendly Boat Party Game Ideas
The Great Boat Races
So, you’re on a motor boat and the boat is out on the water.
All you need for a great time is a tube or a pair of waterskis.
Or a wakeboard. Or a kneeboard. Or anything else that floats and can be towed by a boat.
(Not much fun trying this stuff at the dock, FYI. I tried. A tube tied to a dock just isn’t the same.)
While towing two wakeboarders, water skiers or tubers at the same time can be dangerous unless those holding the line are quite skilled, you can use time trial style races to have lots of fun.
If you’re going with a tube, I’d recommend the Airhead AHBL-12 Blast tube (check price on Amazon) because four handles are better than two for hanging on.
1. Fastest on the Water
Pick two points, such as buoys, other boats or points on shore, and see which paired captain and water skier (or tuber, or wakeboarder, etc.) can span the distance fastest—without anyone falling over, of course!
2. Hang Ten or Twenty or More
This one can bring out the devil in the person at the wheel of the boat.
Tow your water skier or tuber across a veritable obstacle course of wake waves in an attempt to make ’em fall and see which tuber or boarder stays up the longest.
If there’s one thing that’s agreed on pretty much universally, it’s that trying to throw one thing into another thing is fun.
From carnival game stalls to professional basketball courts, we humans spend a lot of time trying to hit targets (nets, cans, dartboards) with objects we throw.
As it turns out, this can be even more fun in the water. And those diving tosses certainly hurt less when you land in water, too!
3. Bombs Away
Trail a tube with a cutout center behind your boat and see who can toss the most balls into it accurately.
Now, the Airhead AHBL-12 Blast tube I recommended earlier won’t quite work for this, since there’s no hole cut out in the middle. Instead, go for a simpler, standard floating tube like the classic Tube in a Box (check price on Amazon).
You can use soccer balls, volleyballs or whatever you’d like, just so long as it floats. And also, don’t forget to collect all the balls when you’re done!
Another option is to get yourself an inflatable cornhole game (check price on Amazon) that’s made to be played on the water.
4. Catch a Wave
What’s more fun than trying to toss a ball into a tube?
Trying to toss a ball to a human who’s being zipped along over the water on a tube. Or on waterskis, if the sportsman or sportswoman is coordinated enough to ski using one hand and make a one-handed catch with the other.
Most of us had better stick with the tube.
For the game above, Bombs Away, and for this game of catch, try the classic Champion Sports Rhino Skin Playground Ball (check price on Amazon). These classic elementary school balls are bright and easy to see, they float and they’re soft enough not to hurt on impact. They were designed for kids, after all.
Board and Card Games on Board
Here’s a news flash: Fun games are fun. That means that the very same board games you love playing on land can also be quite enjoyable to play when you and your friends or family are out on your boat.
It can also be rather frustrating when all the pieces go sliding off the chessboard right before your successful King’s Gambit or when you’re round of Texas Hold ‘Em ends up with a soggy mess of ruined cards thanks to some unexpected waves.
So, get creative and take advantage of some truly clever travel games that are on the market.
You can find a plethora of chessboards and checkerboards that use magnetic pieces and which are perfect for playing with on rolling waves.
Often, these games are one and the same, with both chess and checkers pieces included.
6. Travel Scrabble
This is a classic word game, and my personal favorite game on land or sea.
It’s available in a compact package that uses all plastic components (no worries about waves) and with pieces that click into place (no worries about that word with the X and J slipping off the board).
To see while this looks like, check out this travel Scrabble board option with tile locks (check price on Amazon).
7. Plastic Playing Cards
Did you know that there are waterproof playing cards (check price on Amazon)? Well, there are. In fact, there are lots of different options out there.
The most fun option is probably the Swimline Game Station set (check price on Amazon) which is an inflatable game set that comes with a game table, chairs with cupholders and waterproof playing cards.
Get a deck, and you’ll always be ready for poker, rummy, or Go Fish, errant sea spray or a spilled rum and coke notwithstanding.
Song and Dance
Music makes the party, right? Well, why not let music make the boat trip more fun, too?
8. Maritime Karaoke
Karaoke is always fun, whether you’re out at a bar, in a friend’s basement, or out on the high seas. (And in the latter arrangement, no one can leave the room when your song comes on, either.)
You can get an affordable, portable karaoke machine (check price on Amazon) that will make your next boating trip a musical odyssey, or you can download a karaoke app to your phone or tablet.
9. Theme Music
Your boat trip will be all the more fun if you and your fellow sailors pick theme music to underscore the adventure.
And we’re not talking about some seaman’s ditty, we’re talking about a mix of disco hits, 50s music, 60s rock or 90s grunge.
Plan ahead and make a great playlist and your time out on the water will be that much more memorable and fun.
How to Start Playing Your Boat Party Games
So, you’re already out on the water and you forgot to plan a great boat party game idea ahead of time? No problem!
There’s always the possibility to start a game of 20 Questions or Charades!
And yes, these probably will be more fun if you’ve brought some beers along.