Everything is better out on the water.
The sun is brighter, the air more crisp. Cell reception is so unreliable that—”Oh, hey, boss? Can you hear me? I’m losing you!”—you’re off the hook on real-world demands.
That’s likely why a 2013 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that people feel more calm and revitalized after visits to the coast than to a park or the countryside.
“The water seems to spur a sense of freedom and autonomy that people don’t enjoy anywhere else,” says study author Mathew White, Ph.D., a social and environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter, England.
“Water gives you a break,” says Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D., an environmental researcher and the author of Blue Mind.
And that can free you from your normal, everyday concerns. Hell, even Einstein was a seaman. He did some of his best thinking on a 15-foot sailboat.
Need more convincing that you should plan your next vacation around whatever body of water is calling to you? When researchers from the European Centre for Environmental and Human Health analyzed data from 48 million people, they found that those closest to the ocean were better off than their landlocked peers.
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One possible reason may be that these environments can promote physical activity as well as provide opportunities for stress reduction, the study authors say. (There’s a reason the 11-hour-long “Calming Seas” recording on YouTube has more than 5.9 million views.)
With America’s 95,000 miles of shoreline and 40 million acres of lakes, odds are you live within a few minutes of navigable water. And some 88 million people pulled away from a dock last year, reports the trade organization Discover Boating.
So read on: We tapped the experts to find the best, most accessible on-the-water outings, ranked from chill (kicking back with a brewski) to thrill (potentially peeing that brewski down your leg).
Spend The Day On A Sailboat
Chill Factor: 5 out of 5
Book a skipper, or complete a course and take the helm yourself. Stu Gilfillen of U.S. Sailing suggests the latter.
“You’ll connect to the water in a more meaningful way,” he says.
Many sailing schools have affordable day sessions, and sailing centers offer basic memberships that come with boat access and discounted instruction.
Spot to Sail San Diego. The sailing culture is huge, and the winds are steady and gentle, says Gilfillen.
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Check Into A Houseboat Hotel
Chill Factor: 3 out of 5
Don’t let the size intimidate you: Learning to operate a houseboat is relatively easy. The folks at the rental shop will show you how.
Some sleep more than a dozen people, making them great for bachelor parties or family reunions.
Split the rent and it’ll probably end up costing less than a hotel, says Ellen Hopkins of Discover Boating, a boating advocacy nonprofit.
Cruise Heaven Lake Powell has over 2,000 miles of scenic shoreline, mostly in Utah.
Charter a Personal Party Yacht
Chill Factor: 1 out of 5
They’re not for the budget traveler: A week-long yacht cruise can set you back $15,000—but the photos you post will make people think you’re living in a Puff Daddy video.
Look into outfits such as Sun-sail, The Moorings, and Yachts and Friends to set you up with chefs, stewards, and captains.
Top Yacht Spot The British Virgin Islands. “They’re so close you can island-hop with little more than an hour between stops,” says Oliver Kinchin, a captain with The Moorings.
Cruise The Swamp on an Airboat
Thrill Factor: 1 out of 5
Powered by automobile or aircraft engines hooked to huge propellers, airboats can skim across swamps at 50-plus miles an hour, says Kevin Murphy of Hamant Airboats in Melbourne, Florida.
Book a private group—airboats designed for five can go faster than those that carry 20—and watch for gators, wild hogs, and more.
Swamp Supreme The Florida Everglades are great. For smoother, less muddy airboating, try Nebraska’s Platte River, suggests Murphy.
Supercharge Your Water Sports
Thrill Factor: 3 out of 5
Renting a powerboat will give you a personal launch pad for snorkeling and all the muscle you need for wakeboarding, tubing, or sprints in excess of 90 mph, says Jonathan Meyers, a U.S. Power-boating training manager.
A rental shop can teach you to drive it, but if you’re nervous, start at a training center.
Speed States The New England states and Florida make up the powerboating hubs, says Meyers.
Fight A Marlin Far, Far Offshore
Thrill Factor: 5 out of 5
On most deep-sea fishing charters, you’ll push off before 7 a.m. and be back in time to eat your catch for dinner.
But you can scale up: Companies like Marlin University offer longer trips that journey 50-plus miles out to sea, where you can find bigger fish like sailfish and blue marlin.
Most offshore charters run $1,000 to $2,500 a day.
The Marlin Mecca Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is that trip of a lifetime. Closer to home, hit the Pacific coast of Central America.