NJ’s Historic Riverboats Are a Beautiful Way to See the State

Historic riverboats in New Jersey travel along the Manasquan, Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers, and more, offering a unique experience.

The Navesink Queen offers livemusic and sightseeing cruises, plus private charters for up to 100 people.
The Navesink Queen offers livemusic and sightseeing cruises, plus private charters for up to 100 people. Photo: R.C. Staab

Sitting in the captain’s cabin of the River Queen riverboat, high above the Manasquan River, Captain Tony Bogan calmly steers his craft through the treacherous channel. Occasionally, he picks up his mic to inform his passengers about the verities of the Point Pleasant Canal or how Nienstedt Island came to be associated with Jersey Shore visitor and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson of Treasure Island fame.

Like generations before them, Bogan and many of his family members have spent their lives catering to fishermen, partygoers, and those seeking a leisurely afternoon or evening on the river or the ocean. When the Army Corps of Engineers reopened the Manasquan Inlet by dredging sand and building jetties in 1931, Bogan’s great-grandfather moved the family boat business to Brielle and Point Pleasant Beach, anticipating interest in recreational fishing. Then, in 1987, Bogan’s father expanded the business by designing a riverboat modeled after 19th-century paddle wheelers equipped for day-trippers rather than overnight excursions.

Today, Bogan operates the River Queen. From April through New Year’s Eve, he offers 90-minute sightseeing cruises, plus holiday and monthly murder-mystery cruises, as well as private charters for weddings and other celebrations.

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Fifteen miles south, an authentic reproduction paddle wheeler, the River Lady, has found its sweet spot in lunch and dinner cruises most days from May through the end of September on the Toms River. On the main level, passengers sit down for full-course meals in air-conditioned comfort, while on the second deck, sightseers can book passage without a meal.

The cruise from the town of Toms River to the mouth of Barnegat Bay is particularly scenic, with a view of yacht clubs and small beaches on the south side and a captivating view of the Victorian mansions of Island Heights opposite.

The newest “lady” to grace the waters of the Jersey Shore is the Navesink Queen paddle wheeler, which was “built to look pretty,” according to Captain Dan Schade of Classic Boat Rides in Atlantic Highlands. After the paddle wheeler served for many years as a tourist boat in the Chesapeake Bay near Norfolk, Captain Dan brought the vessel up north. Although his focus is mostly on private charters, starting at $2,520, the Navesink Queen does motor out most weekends for two or three live-music and sightseeing cruises.

For an outing of up to 25 people, there’s one more historic option—booking a private cruise on the handsome, 50-foot Naval War College yacht that formerly plied the waters in Newport, Rhode Island. About 10 years ago, when the Navy decommissioned it, the yacht was rescued from the scrap heap by Joe Ruffini of Red Bank.

Now, visitors can cruise the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers aboard a historic boat that once carried Navy dignitaries, foreign heads of states, and even  Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. While the owner can arrange for meals, passengers are welcome to bring food and drinks. The interior has been lovingly restored and is perfect for celebrating a special occasion.

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