How to Get Married on the Water

Expert tips for setting sail to tie the knot.

A couple getting married on a boat.

Photo by Leah Marie Photography

If you and your partner love being on the water, then hosting your wedding on a boat may be your dream scenario. This is a unique option for those who love sailing or cruising, or simply want the ultimate venue to fit a nautical theme. Not to mention, the photos of open water views with cityscapes or tropical islands in the distance are sure to be stunning. But if you’re thinking of setting sail on open waters for a wedding ceremony, reception, or both, some additional, specific planning is required.

Planning for a wedding on the water not only means working within the restraints of the specific vessel you want, but it also means taking Mother Nature and changing weather conditions into consideration. Here, we consult expert planners to learn tips, tricks, and the most important things to consider before you set sail and tie the knot.

Consider Time, Location, and Weather

Whether you’re choosing to charter a boat, planning a yacht party, or hosting a wedding reception on a cruise ship, time, location, and weather are important factors to consider. “Weather can have a huge impact on a waterfront or boating event and can change the guest experience and comforts quickly,” says Nick and Aleah Valley, owners of Valley & Company Events.

In your planning, be sure to check on where you’ll be leaving from and what the weather may look like that day. “Many coastal areas have zones where gale force winds can appear quickly and unexpectedly. Having a backup plan for wind and chilly temperatures is imperative,” adds the Valleys. “If it's too windy, some boats or yachts can't sail, which could mean your event is docked or canceled completely until conditions improve.”

Meet the Expert

Nick and Aleah Valley are the founders of Valley & Company Events, an event and wedding planning company based in Seattle, Washington.

Boat Options for Getting Married on the Water

Getting married on a boat can come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Depending on your guest list and wedding vision, one option may be better than the others. Pricing will vary greatly, depending on the size of the boat, the style, and the region where you’re booking. Yacht and charter boat weddings may only require a fee for use of the vessel, while a cruise ship wedding requires paying for the cruise, along with fees specific to your wedding.

Tips for Yacht Weddings

A wedding reception on a yacht provides the ultimate view for a great celebration! You can choose to either host your ceremony elsewhere and then board the boat, or plan for both your ceremony and reception on the water.

To find the ideal yacht for your wedding, think about guest list size first. “Keep in mind that many states have maritime regulations prohibiting the rental of yachts for events or guest counts past a certain number,” says Nick and Aleah Valley. “Contacting the local maritime office is a good place to start for suggestions on how to charter a yacht. They may have recommendations for finding a yacht unless you have your own or have a connection to one.”

Once you know that your guest list count is in line with area regulations for a yacht, it’s crucial to consider space to guest ratio as well. Are there enough restrooms to accommodate your group? Is there enough elbow room to allow for a great guest experience?

You’ll also want to check if the yacht has appropriate kitchen facilities for your culinary team to create the perfect menu for your reception, along with space for other necessary rentals.

Tips for Charter Boat Weddings

If you’re hoping to charter a boat for your wedding, keeping size in mind is crucial here, too. Be sure to choose a boat that can accommodate your guest list and your specific needs. It's also important to double-check that the boat you plan to charter will fit the aesthetic and type of reception you're hoping for.

If you’re chartering a boat, insurance will also be required. “Talk to your insurance carrier about your personal policy and what the needs are to cover the event, the boat owner, and your guests,” says Nick and Aleah Valley.

It’s also important to consider the timing when chartering a boat. “Most charter boats have a very specific timeframe for when they can depart a port or marina, whether it's based on tides, locks, or marina rules, so this can dictate your event timeline,” says Nick and Aleah Valley. They suggest building a buffer into your day-of timeline so guests arrive and board the boat at least 45 minutes before your scheduled departure time. This will give guests time to get settled on the boat, and you can welcome them with happy hour drinks and snacks to kick off the celebration.

Tips for Cruise Weddings

Planning a ceremony or a wedding reception on a cruise ship means you’re on a much bigger boat. Typically, that also means there may be other guests onboard that aren’t part of your wedding. If privacy is important to you, be sure to ask the cruise ship’s planning team what your ceremony or reception space will look like, and what your options are for keeping it private.

Depending on the cruise, you may not be able to get married on open water at all. Legally, you may be required to choose to either celebrate your nuptials before the ship departs, or you can choose to say “I do” at the port of one of the cruise’s destinations. Working with the right planner will ensure you’re following the proper legal guidance for a cruise wedding or cruise wedding reception.

“Keep in mind the guest experience and the logistics of what can take place on a cruise,” suggests Nick and Aleah Valley. It’s important to check if you can have events at your leisure, or if you will have to stick to the cruise ship’s strict timeline and events.

How to Keep Guests Comfortable on the Water

While a boat wedding may be dreamy for you and your partner, especially if you’re used to being on the water, it may be tricky for some of your guests.

Seasickness can happen quickly, especially when guests are drinking,” says Nick and Aleah Valley. “Have a solid plan, and if you have an opportunity, pass out seasickness patches to your guests the day before your event so they can be prepared for being on the boat.”

Consider putting together welcome bags that might include bug spray, water bottles, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Another helpful option? Put out a big basket of hats and fans, along with a well-stocked station of snacks and water. It’s important that guests stay hydrated to avoid heat exhaustion.  

Questions to Ask Before Booking a Boat for Your Wedding

  • Will there be enough space for our guest list?
  • Is there air conditioning on board?
  • Is there a maintenance crew that can assist with potential mechanical issues?
  • What is the galley kitchen’s capacity for creating a meal?
  • Is there a refrigerated place to store our cake? Will it fit?
  • Can we incorporate our own décor?
  • How many life preservers are on board?
  • Is there a specific timeline we need to follow?
  • What insurance is required for use?

After ironing these questions out, you'll be ready to sail off into the sunset as a married couple!

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