How Boat Camping Works: A Full Guide


Boat camping on a lake offers a unique and exciting way to connect with nature while enjoying the serenity of the water. Whether you’re an experienced boater or a novice camper, this comprehensive guide will help you plan and execute the perfect boat camping trip. From choosing the right boat to essential gear and safety precautions, we’ve got you covered.

Planning Your Boat Camping Trip

Choose the Right Lake

The first step in planning your boat camping adventure is selecting the right lake. Consider factors like distance from your location, the size of the lake, and the activities it offers. Research the lake’s regulations, fishing opportunities, and campsite availability.

Some popular lake destinations for boat camping in North Idaho are; Lake Coeur d’Alene, Hayden Lake, and Lake Pend Oreille.

Obtain Permits and Reservations

Many lakes require permits or reservations for boat camping. Make sure to check the specific requirements for your chosen destination and secure any necessary permits well in advance. Campsite availability can be limited, especially during peak seasons, so early planning is essential. Most Idaho lakes do not require a permit, but mooring to public docks is limited to 48-hours.

Choose the Right Boat

Selecting the right boat for your camping trip is crucial. Consider the following options:

Kayak or Canoe:

  • Ideal for solo or small group camping.
  • Lightweight and easy to paddle.
  • Suitable for calm lakes and slow-moving rivers.
  • Limited storage space, so pack efficiently.


  • Ideal for larger groups or those seeking more comfort.
  • Faster and can cover more significant distances.
  • Offers ample storage for gear and supplies.
  • Requires knowledge of boating safety and regulations.


  • Perfect for those with sailing experience.
  • Allows for a serene, wind-powered experience.
  • Typically more comfortable with sleeping quarters.
  • Requires navigation skills and understanding of wind patterns.

Pack Essential Gear

Packing the right gear is essential for a successful boat camping trip. Here’s a checklist to help you plan:

Camping Gear:

  • Tent or shelter; for camping on land
  • Sleeping bags and sleeping pads
  • Camp stove and cookware
  • Utensils and plates
  • Headlamps or flashlights
  • First-aid kit
  • Insect repellent


  • Weather-appropriate clothing
  • Quick-drying clothes
  • Rain gear
  • Extra layers for warmth
  • Hat and sunglasses

Safety Gear:

  • Life jackets for everyone on board
  • Throwable flotation device
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Navigation tools (maps, compass, GPS)
  • Communication devices (cell phone, radio)

Food and Water:

  • Non-perishable food items
  • Cooking utensils and fuel
  • Plenty of clean water or a water purification system

Personal Items:

  • Identification and important documents
  • Prescription medications
  • Cash or payment options (credit cards, debit cards)
  • Personal hygiene items

Plan Your Meals

Plan your meals in advance to ensure you have enough food for the duration of your trip. Consider the following tips:

  • Choose foods that are easy to prepare and require minimal cooking equipment.
  • Opt for dehydrated or freeze-dried meals to save space.
  • Pack high-energy snacks like nuts, granola bars, and dried fruits.
  • Keep perishable items in a well-insulated cooler with ice packs.

Setting Up Camp on the Water

Choose Your Campsite

Selecting the right campsite on the lake is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Consider these factors when choosing your spot:

  • Proximity to the water: Camp near the shore to make boating and swimming easily accessible.
  • Shade and wind protection: Look for natural windbreaks or bring a portable shelter.
  • Privacy: Ensure you have some distance from neighboring campers for a more secluded experience.
  • Regulations: Follow the specific camping regulations of the lake you’re on.

Set Up Your Camp

Once you’ve chosen your campsite, it’s time to set up your camp. Follow these steps:

  • Pitch your tent or set up your shelter in a level area away from potential hazards like dead trees or rocky terrain.
  • Organize your gear for easy access.
  • Secure your food in a bear-resistant container or hang it in a bear bag to prevent wildlife encounters.
  • Create a designated area for cooking and food preparation.
  • Establish a safe fire pit if campfires are allowed, and use it responsibly.

Safety First

Boat camping on a lake comes with its unique set of safety considerations:

  • Always wear a life jacket while on or near the water.
  • Check weather forecasts and be prepared for changing conditions.
  • Avoid boating in inclement weather, high winds, or rough waters.
  • Familiarize yourself with the lake’s navigational markers and hazards.
  • Communicate your itinerary and expected return time with someone on land.

Enjoying Activities on the Lake

Boating and Watersports

Boating and watersports are central to the boat camping experience. Here are some activities to enjoy on the water:

  • Fishing: Many lakes offer excellent fishing opportunities. Research the types of fish in the lake and bring the appropriate gear.
  • Swimming: Take a refreshing dip in the lake to cool off on hot days.
  • Canoeing and Kayaking: Explore secluded coves and shoreline by paddling.
  • Water Skiing and Wakeboarding: If you have the equipment and skills, enjoy these exhilarating activities.
  • Sailing: Harness the power of the wind and sail across the lake.

Wildlife Viewing

Lakeside camping often provides opportunities to observe wildlife in their natural habitat. Be respectful and considerate of the animals you encounter. Some common lake-dwelling wildlife includes:

  • Waterfowl such as ducks, geese, and swans.
  • Fish jumping near the surface.
  • Frogs and other amphibians.
  • Birds of prey soaring above.


Don’t forget to take some time to relax and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the lake. Here are a few ways to unwind:

  • Read a book or listen to music while lounging by the water.
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation to connect with nature.
  • Take in the sunset or sunrise from the comfort of your campsite.
  • Stargaze and identify constellations on clear nights.

Safety and Environmental Considerations

Safety Precautions

Safety should be your top priority when boat camping on a lake. Follow these essential safety precautions:

  • Wear a life jacket at all times when on the water.
  • Know how to operate your boat safely and follow all boating regulations.
  • Keep a close eye on weather conditions and be prepared for sudden changes.
  • Avoid alcohol and other substances that impair judgment while boating.
  • Be cautious around wildlife and never feed them.

Environmental Stewardship

Responsible camping and boating on a lake also mean being a good steward of the environment. Here are some eco-friendly practices to keep in mind:

  • Leave No Trace: As mentioned earlier, always follow the Leave No Trace principles. This includes packing out all trash, disposing of waste properly, and minimizing your impact on the environment.
  • Avoid Polluting: Do not release any pollutants, such as oil, fuel, or chemicals, into the lake. Use proper containers for waste disposal and recycling when available.
  • Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance and never approach or disturb animals. Feeding wildlife can disrupt their natural behavior and diet, so it’s best to avoid it.
  • Use Biodegradable Soap: If you need to wash dishes or yourself while camping, use biodegradable soap to minimize harm to aquatic ecosystems.
  • Minimize Noise: Keep noise levels down, especially during quiet hours. Loud music and excessive noise can disturb wildlife and other campers.
  • Campfire Safety: If campfires are allowed, use established fire rings and follow fire safety guidelines. Never leave a fire unattended, and completely extinguish it before leaving.

Cleaning Up Before Leaving

Before departing from your boat camping trip, ensure you’ve left no trace and that you’ve cleaned up thoroughly. Here’s a checklist for your departure:

  • Pack out all trash: Double-check your campsite and boat for any overlooked trash or debris. Leave the area cleaner than you found it.
  • Extinguish fires: If you had a campfire, extinguish it completely with water, and scatter the ashes.
  • Dispose of human waste: If no facilities were available, properly bury or pack out human waste.
  • Check for any gear or personal items: Make sure you haven’t left anything behind, both on your boat and at your campsite.
  • Remove any marks: If you used a fire ring or created any temporary structures, dismantle and disperse them to restore the area’s natural appearance.

Boat camping on a lake offers an incredible opportunity to connect with nature while enjoying a variety of recreational activities. To make the most of your boat camping adventure, plan ahead, choose the right equipment, and follow the Leave No Trace principles to protect the environment for future generations.

By being a responsible and environmentally-conscious camper, you can create unforgettable memories while preserving the natural beauty of the lakeside wilderness. So, get out on the water, enjoy the serenity of the lake, and leave no trace but footprints in the sand!