NYC Harbor Cruise: Hidden Harbor Tours

Uncover NYC Industry & History Via its Working Harbor

Photo credit: Mitch Waxman

It's easy for us New Yorkers to forget that we're actually islanders, and even easier to lose sight of the size and scope of the working port that our city's harbor once was . . . and very much still is. In fact, New York Harbor today only trails Long Beach and Los Angeles in California amongst the nation's largest ports in terms of size, and holds the title of the busiest working port on the East Coast.

For some insight into this behind-the-scenes side of NYC, Hidden Harbor Tours recently launched operations aboard NY Waterway to showcase a fascinating back-door peek into the goings-on of New York Harbor (including both the New York and New Jersey waterfronts) that's far removed from the typical tourist boat circuits that normally ply these waters. Participants get to ogle nooks and crannies where the other tourist boats don't venture, offering up-close encounters with tugboats, shipping barges, and other assorted maritime vessels, plus plenty of hidden-from-view shoreline sights that you wouldn't be able to see any other way.

Designed by nonprofit organization Working Harbor Committee, the narrated 2-hour tours embark from Pier 11 in lower Manhattan. The vessel then sails onward, past Governor's Island, to the still-working docks of Red Hook, via the Eerie Basin in Brooklyn. It's then off across the harbor to the working waterfront of Staten Island, where Kill Van Kull marks a busy industrial waterway between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey, lined by tugboat yards and dry dock ship repair facilities, and linked by the Bayonne Bridge.

The biggest of the operations in New York Harbor is found at the port terminal of Port Newark-Elizabeth, New Jersey, where giant container ships unload goods from around the globe. En route back to Manhattan, you'll get an up-close view of the Statue of Liberty, for some good touristic measure.

Commentary onboard is offered by a rotating roster of noted maritime speakers and historians. Guest speakers are on hand to answer guests' questions, and you'll walk away from the tour with a firmer grasp on the Port of New York and New Jersey's historic importance and modern-day economic vitality. You'll learn about the shipping industry and how your goods actually arrive to you from foreign ports, and be offered some perspective into the some 400 years of maritime history in New York Harbor.

The Working Harbor Committee offers a series of tours aimed at increasing public awareness of New York Harbor's history and ongoing importance. In addition to their Working Harbor Tours, the company runs other maritime industry-focused boat tours in NYC like one of Newtown Creek (which separates Brooklyn and Queens); Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal; the Staten Island waterfront; and an annual tugboat race and competition held along the Hudson River in September.  The outfit also oversees maritime-themed educational programs, with an emphasis on industry job opportunities, for underserved youth in NYC.

Family-owned NY Waterways operates the largest ferry and excursion fleet  in NY Harbor.

Upcoming 2015 Hidden Harbor Tours of Port Newark include sailing dates on July 9 and August 13; cruises board at 5:30pm, and sail from 6pm to 8pm. Tickets cost $30/person and $25/seniors. A portion of the ticket proceeds go toward supporting Working Harbor Committee's mission. Visit to book; sailings embark on a NY Waterways Vessel from Pier 11 in lower Manhattan (on South Street, between Wall Street and Gouverneur Lane).

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