A Boater’s Guide to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is a joint project of the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office, the Chesapeake Conservancy, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. As the first guide to America’s first national water trail, this publication introduces paddlers and boaters to the best places to access the trail. Author John Page Williams expertly weaves practical information for today’s boaters with the historical context of the Chesapeake’s waters explored by Captain John Smith four centuries ago.
The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail was designated as part of the National Trails System in 2006. The National Park Service completed a comprehensive management plan in 2011 for the development of the trail. While this Boater’s Guide describes many places where boaters can access and explore the trail now, many more access areas and facilities will be added as trail development continues. For this reason, the Boater’s Guide is an online publication, designed to be updated as new information becomes available.
The National Park Service acknowledges with appreciation the contributions of the Chesapeake Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as partners in creating this first Boater’s Guide to the Smith trail. We appreciate also the reviewers who gave feedback to improve the Guide. While we have endeavored to provide accurate current information at the time of publication, trailhead details, in particular, are subject to change. We encourage users of this Guide to verify contact information as they prepare for their travels along the trail. We also invite users of the Guide to notify the author of changes and new information to be considered for future editions. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]
A Boater’s Guide to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is available for free download from the trail’s website
John Page Williams combines his knowledge of Captain John Smith’s voyages on the Chesapeake Bay with a life-long passion for all things Chesapeake in this practical guide to exploring the waters designated in 2006 as the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Williams began fishing and boating the Chesapeake and its rivers as a young boy growing up on the lower Potomac River. As a field educator he has run field trips by canoe, outboard skiff, and workboat on every river system in the Chesapeake. As senior naturalist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and editor-at-large for Chesapeake Bay Magazine, Williams is a well-known and respected advocate for the Bay. He writes frequently on boating, fishing, and cruising as well as environmental issues. Among the numerous articles and books he has authored, don’t miss reading Chesapeake: Exploring the Water Trail of Captain John Smith, published by National Geographic in 2006. Its evocative overview of Smith’s travels provides a colorful companion book to this Boater’s Guide as you chart your own adventures along the trail.
Bay Office (CHBA) leads National Park Service efforts to connect people to the natural and cultural heritage of the Chesapeake region. CHBA administers the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. CHBA is a federal partner in the multistate and federal Chesapeake Bay Program and has a leadership role in the federal coordinated Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, in response to Executive Order 13508, issued in 2009.
The Chesapeake Conservancy is dedicated to ensuring conservation, stewardship and access for the Chesapeake Bay, its lands and rivers. The Conservancy was created out of a merger between the Friends of the John Smith Chesapeake Trail and Friends of Chesapeake Gateways.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) was one of the founding supporters for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. CBF is the largest privately funded, nonprofit organization dedicated solely to protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay. The Foundation offers a wide range of educational, advocacy, and stewardship programs.
The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water is an innovative leader promoting safe, clean and responsible boating. The Foundation, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization provides educational outreach directly to boaters and supports partner organizations nationwide. With millions of boaters on the water, their aim is to reduce accidents and fatalities, increase stewardship of our waterways and keep boating a safe and enjoyable pastime.
Learn more about our boating safety courses on our website.
Though many of the waterways within the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail are suitable for new boaters, there is also plenty of broad open water that demands respect. Sections of the rivers can funnel wind and develop nasty, choppy seas. Remember that accidents can happen on any type of water.
Whether you are paddling a kayak or piloting a trawler, it is important to build your boating skills, keep your vessel in good operating condition, and review U.S. Coast Guard safety guidelines before every trip.
If you are new to boating and want to explore some of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail by water, consider taking day trips with a canoe/kayak outfitter or a tour boat captain first.
Before you pilot your own boat, take a boating safety/operation course. In fact, your state may require it. Many boating safety courses are offered across the country for all types of recreational boaters, and for boaters of all ages. The U.S. Coast Guard can provide a list for your area
You will find additional information on boater education through these agencies:
Learn your boat’s capabilities and weaknesses. Spend time in your boat, beginning in calm waters. Learn how to handle her in a range of sea conditions. Build redundancy into her operating and safety systems, such as an extra paddle or a handheld VHF radio.
Always wear a properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket that is appropriate for your vessel.
Dress for the day and be prepared to get wet. If the weather is cool, dress warmly in layers and bring an extra set of dry clothes sealed in a plastic bag for emergency use. If it’s hot, find ways to avoid heat exhaustion, such as taking breaks in shade and drinking plenty of water.
Use sun block. Skin cancer is a real danger but is easily preventable with sunblock, appropriate clothing, and some caution.
Wear a hat on bright, warm days as well as cool ones. Remember that wool and pile vests, sweaters, and jackets retain their insulating qualities even when wet. In cold weather, wear pile or neoprene gloves, especially those that cover and insulate the blood vessels on the undersides of your wrists. Take along a windbreaker or rain gear, including pants or bibs with suspenders to keep your lower body dry.
Always wear boots or shoes to avoid foot injuries. If you are going to wade and want to wear sandals, make sure you choose models that offer protection for your toes and the tops of your feet as well as the soles.
Carry at least one signaling device on every trip—a flashlight or strobe, flares, horn/whistle, cell phone, VHF radio, bright flag, or mirror.
Bring insect repellent. Biting insects can be vicious during the warmer months.
Other essentials: a first-aid kit (Know what’s in there; understand how to use it; and keep it stocked and current.), plenty of drinking water, and sunscreen and lip balm.
Take a first-aid course. Know what to do, and how and when to do it.
Respect private property when boating. Land only on public areas or spots where you have permission to be.
If under power, remember that you are responsible for your wake. A high wake can capsize small boats and damage fragile shorelines.
Don’t litter or pollute the water. Use the Leave No Trace principles.
Be careful with campfires. Use camp stoves when possible.