Paddling a canoe or kayak has been a long-standing activity on the Charles. While once an activity concentrated on the Upper Charles, there is now a lot on the Lower Charles. Canoe, kayak, and paddleboarders with their own equipment can launch from several locations, though the three launch locations with easy accessiblity and parking are Magazine Beach, Herter Park, and the MDC boat ramp between Day Field and Community Rowing. Paddelers who wade in to launch are encouraged to wear water shoes.

For paddlers without their own equipment, Paddle Boston rents canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards from two locations on the Lower Charles Basin, near Kendall Square and in Christian Herter Park (Allston/Brighton), in addition to two other locations along the Upper Charles River in Newton, Somerville, and Waltham. Community Boating also offer kayaks and stand-up-paddle boards to its members and through rental to non-members. Paddle Boston was recently highlighted by the Boston Globe as an excellent fitness activity for couples.

If you're interested in some competitive paddling, check out the dragon boats, a part of the river community since 1979. Based on the colorful dragon boats of Hong Kong, they compete on a 500-meter course. Several clubs offer introductory paddles and memberships for those interested injoining them on the water. The Boston Dragon Boat Festival occurs annually in late May or early June with as many as 50 teams. In addition to the on-the-water racing, there is a cultural festival that showcases art, crafts, performances, and food from various Asian cultures.

All paddlers should be aware of the traffic patterns of the other boaters. In short, power boaters use the center channel of the river and specific bridge arches and ask that paddlers not stop under bridges. Rowers use the river like a road, slower traffic staying to the right and faster boats passing toward the center. However, they travel backwards and paddlers should call out to alert rowers of their presence. Rowers also use specific arches and paddlers are encouraged to use right hand arches at all bridges. The lower basin, between the BU Bridge and the Longfellow Bridge is a particularly busy stretch with all boating traffic and both rowing and sailing race courses. Paddlers are encouraged to review the traffic pattern map as well as the explanation of the sailing patterns to be expected.

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