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Getting out on the water when you don't own a boat

You've arrived. You've gone to the beach. You've pondered the majesty of the ocean. And now, you just want to get out there.

Alex Szawlewicz, 12, of Moorestown, baits his hook with a squid strip and a minnow as he prepares to drop his line over the side of the North Star fishing boat in the bay area of Ocean City. (Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer)
Alex Szawlewicz, 12, of Moorestown, baits his hook with a squid strip and a minnow as he prepares to drop his line over the side of the North Star fishing boat in the bay area of Ocean City. (Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer)Read more

You've arrived. You've gone to the beach. You've pondered the majesty of the ocean.

And now, you just want to get out there.

But you don't have a boat.

How can you find yourself upon the high seas or the back bays? Where can you go to embark on a relaxing evening cruise or a big day of fishing? Or just have a little paddle around to look at the flora and fauna of the Jersey Shore?

Surprisingly, there are a lot of options up and down the coast that don't require a huge investment in time or money. For some, you don't even need to have the knowledge or a license to operate a boat - or even a fishing line.

With about 88 million adults in the U.S. participating in recreational boating annually - and about 12 million registered boats - it remains one of the most popular leisure activities in the nation, according to the BoatUS Foundation, an organization in Alexandria, Va., that promotes safe boating. In New Jersey, recreational boating is about a $1-billion-a-year industry.

Like other waterfront locales across the country, the Jersey Shore offers a variety of opportunities for landlubbers to get on the water, ranging from luxurious pleasure craft with a captain and crew that you can book according to your schedule to so-called party boats that are more about serious fishing than anything else. Those are operated at set times and are open to the paying public, so you may find yourself on the storied three-hour tour with a boatload of strangers.

Other options for communing with the waves include simple small-engine skiffs and family-friendly pontoon boats, which can be rented out of most marinas and don't require a lot of boating experience, to inboard and outboard cruisers that require some training and a safe boating certificate issued by the state. And then there are kayaks, paddleboards, and power skis.

Whatever way you choose, the appeal is the same, according to Gary Robinson, 26, of Vineland, who for nine years has been working summers as a deckhand on fishing boats out of Ocean City.

"It's simple really," Robinson said. "People just want to get out there on the water and have an adventure . . . try something new. It's different than sitting on the beach and looking at the water. They just want to get out in it. And getting on a boat lets them do that."

Seafaring luxury. Captain Stewart "Stu" Rosen cut his boating teeth working his way up from deckhand to one of the owners of the famed Black Whale fleet that used to transport passengers from Long Beach Island to the Atlantic City casinos for gambling junkets in the late 1970s and 1980s, when as many as 1,700 people a day would make the voyage.

These days, as the owner-operator of Metamorphosis Boat Charters, which runs out of the Farley State Marina at the Golden Nugget and Gardner's Basin in Atlantic City, the service is a bit more personal aboard the 40-foot Intrepid luxury cruiser that seats up to six passengers.

Rosen, 54, a physician by trade who works in the medical-research field, began offering the excursions two years ago aboard the Metamorphosis, mostly on weekends, as a way to offset the cost of the boat and build up a charter clientele for when he retires and operates the charter full time.

The comfy boat offers luxurious cushioned seating on forward and back decks and an air-conditioned/heated cabin with a full bathroom and shower. The triple Evinrude E-Tech 300 HP engines allow the boat to provide a high-speed thrill ride or a leisurely cruise.

On sightseeing cruises at $350 for a three-hour trip, Rosen takes passengers along the Atlantic City shoreline or along the Intracoastal Waterway. Longer trips, like a day trip to Long Beach Island, can be booked for an additional $125 an hour, and he'll go out to sea as far as a few dozen miles for deep-sea fishing. About a third of his business centers on ash-scattering memorials. An Olympic swimmer once used the boat and Rosen's services to practice an around-the-island swim at night.

"It's interesting because we'll get people who want to take a few friends out for cruise to a restaurant, and then we'll have people who book for a memorial at sea for a loved one," Rosen said. "It's very rewarding because you feel like you're making a difference in people's lives. People love to be on the water for a lot of different reasons."

Fishing is the thing.

"Grab Your Rod - Go Deep" is the motto of the North Star, a party boat operated out of the Ocean City Fishing Center on Bay Avenue in Ocean City, on which the captain and the crew spend most of the voyage helping passengers catch fluke, sea bass, and other species as the boat trawls the ocean or the back bay.

From Memorial Day through the end of September, North Star's captain, Tim Barrus, 32, offers half-day fishing trips aboard the 70-foot licensed fishing vessel that comfortably accommodates 65 people for two- and four-hour excursions daily. In the late fall, the boat begins full-day fishing trips.

During the summer, the morning run - from 8 a.m. to noon, at $55 for adults and $35 for children - takes passengers several miles offshore.

The afternoon trip - from 1 to 4 p.m., $35 for adults and $22 for kids - runs on the "calm bay." The mates will even bait your hooks, take the fish off when you catch something, and fillet and bag your catch to take home. All you have to do is hold the rod - and reel in the catch. Included in the price is everything you need to fish: rod, bait, instructions, and a fishing license.

That was music to the ears of Justin Szawlewicz, 45, of Moorestown, who took his son Alex, 12, on a recent afternoon excursion.

"I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to fishing," said Szawlewicz. "So it's a good thing they do. But even if we don't catch anything, I think this is a really fun way to spend the day with my son. It's something different than just going to the beach every day while we're here."

A kayak, a paddle, and thou.

One of the more unique - and perhaps romantic - ways to get out on the water is on a 21/2-hour full-moon kayak tour offered by Aqua Trails, a Cape May company operated for more than 20 years by Jeff and Tracey Martin. The Martins say their full-moon and sunset tours are among their most popular kayak adventures because of the beauty of the sun setting upon the water and the ascent of the moon during exceptionally high tides. They also offer daily tidal-marsh kayak tours mid-June through Labor Day. Check for specific dates and times. Cost is $45 for singles and $75 for doubles and includes the use of kayaks, paddles, and life vests.