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Boating in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Text & Photography by Tom Richardson
Boast large and small ply the Piscataqua River as it flows past Portsmouth.

A varied coastline, loads of restaurants, and great fishing are just a few reasons for recreational boaters to consider a trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Situated at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, Portsmouth’s history as a maritime hub dates back to the 1700s. Today, large ships continue to ply the mouth of the Piscataqua, which remains a busy place. That, combined with incredibly swift currents (up to five knots), requires vigilance on the part of mariners.

Strong current can make for tricky launching and hauling at Pierce Island.

Standing guard over the river mouth is 48-foot Portsmouth Light, built in 1877. Adjacent to the light is Fort Constitution, which was one of even forts that once protected Portsmouth Harbor, and a Coast Guard Station. Nearby Wood Island is home to the Wood Island Lifesaving Station, which predates the Coast Guard. And while boating around the harbor, keep an eye out for the wooden gundalow Piscataqua—an example of the low-slung sailboats that once served as the floating pickup trucks of the river.

Transient boaters can tie up overnight at Prescott Park Marina, close to downtown.

Boaters arriving by water have several choices when it comes to marinas. The city maintains a no-frills municipal dock at Prescott Park, steps from downtown, that offers transient dockage with water and electric hookup at $40 per night. Commercial marinas in the Portsmouth area include Marina at Harbour Place, Wentworth Marina & Resort, and Great Bay Marine.

Fort Constitution greets mariners at the mouth of the Piscataqua.

If you choose to anchor, there are protected spots with good holding ground inside the river, particularly upstream of the bridges. Just be sure to take consider the tides and shifting currents before dropping the hook for the night.

A graphite and watercolor illustration of Portsmouth Harbor from the late 1700s shows several gundalows ferrying goods on the river.
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