Water Tours and Cruises
Visitors have always been drawn to the coast of North Carolina for the miles and miles of blue water, and what better way to explore the coast than by boat. After all, some of the most phenomenal coastal attractions can only be appreciated from the deck of a cruise, charter or tour boat, like an up close and personal examination of curious dolphins or a breezy morning of exceptional Gulf Stream fishing.
From the first visitors to the coast who relied on privately run ferry boats to navigate them to and from barrier islands to the pioneering locals of the tourism industry who set up fledgling charter boat services in the 1960s, North Carolina has treasured its boating culture. For avid sailors and first time visitors alike, a tour of the waters that these communities call home allows folks to experience this maritime culture for themselves.
Regardless of which area of the North Carolina coastline you visit, chances are there is a multitude of different tours and cruises available to suit your interests. Because of the proximity to the Gulf Stream, almost all coastal areas feature a bevy of charter boats who take daily trips. For other recreation on the water, there are pirate cruises, dolphin tours and eco-tours. For a romantic adventure, visitors can try a dinner cruise that features gorgeous waterfront views - no matter where on the ship they dine. Because there are miles of water and tons of attractions, there are plenty of options for you to enjoy your special cruise on the water.
The type of boat that embarks on these adventures varies widely and depends on the purpose of the tour or cruise. Saltwater fishing boats vary widely in length and are used for charter fishing. These boats are specialized for various species of fish. Flats boat, for example, are used in protected, shallow waters and have shallow draft. Sportfishing boats, which are common along the North Carolina coastline, range from 25' to 80' or more, and can be powered by large outboard engines or inboard diesels. Fishing boats in colder climates may have more space dedicated to cuddy cabins and wheelhouses, while boats in warmer climates like North Carolina are likely to be entirely open.
The term "cruising boats" applies to both power and sailboats, and refers to trips ranging from short two hour tours to local weekend passages to lengthy voyages. Cruising sailboats range from 20' to 70' or more, and have easily managed sailplans to allow relatively small crews to sail them long distances. Some cruising sailboats will have two masts to further reduce the size of individual sails, and to make it possible for a couple of sailors to handle the larger boats.
Navigating the water is an intricate process, and once on board, newcomers might hear a few terms or notice a few components of which they might not be familiar. Common to most boats are several key components which make up the main structure of the vessel. The hull is the main structural component which provides buoyancy for the boat. The roughly horizontal, but cambered structures spanning the hull of the boat are referred to as the deck. In a ship there are often several decks, but the tour boats that travel along the coast are unlikely to have more than one. Above the deck are the superstructures, and the underside of a deck is the deck head.
An enclosed space on a boat is referred to as a cabin. Several individual structures make up a cabin: the similar but usually lighter structure which spans a raised cabin is a coach-roof. The "floor" of a cabin is properly known as the sole, and the vertical surfaces dividing the internal space are bulkheads. The keel is a lengthwise structural member to which the frames are fixed (sometimes referred to as a backbone.)
The front (or forward end) of a boat is called the bow. Boats of earlier times often featured a figurehead protruding from the front of the bows. The rear (or aft end) of the boat is called the stern. As a passenger is facing forward, the right side of the boat is starboard and the left side is port. While knowing these terms won't affect the enjoyment of the ride, many new visitors find it helpful and entertaining to interpret the commands relayed from the crew members as they set off into the water.
Once you are familiar with the boating terms and have conquered any sea sickness, it is time to decide which type of tour or cruise to try first. No matter where you initially land, there are plenty of tours available from the Outer Banks to the Brunswick Beaches. In fact, the only problem visitors might encounter while researching a boat tour or cruise is deciding on which tour to select.
The following sampling of tours available will help ease the way, and give an idea of the different adventures available in the varying regions of the North Carolina coast. Also, please remember that just because a tour is listed under one region, doesn't mean that it can't be found anywhere else along the Carolina Coast. Adventures like dolphin tours, charter fishing and eco-tours are popular throughout the coastline, and nearly every beach offers maritime vendors for these tours.