Swan Boats (Boston, Massachusetts)

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Boston Swan Boat
The Swan Boat dock; note pedals on nearest boat
Swan Boats, 2013
Closeup of Swan Boats in 1980

The Swan Boats are a fleet of pontoon pleasure boats which operate in a pond in the Public Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Swan Boats have been in operation since 1877, and have since become a cultural icon for the city. They operate beginning the second weekend of April and ending the third weekend in September.[1] Robert Paget first created the Swan Boats in the Public Garden in 1877, after seeing the opera Lohengrin with his wife Julia Paget. Inspired by the knight's gallant rescue of the damsel by riding a swan across the lake, Paget decided to capitalize on the recent popularity of the bicycle and combine the two, designing a two-pontooned boat with two wooden benches and a brass seat on top of a paddlebox concealed by a swan. The driver would sit inside the swan and pedal passengers around the pond.

Current design[edit]

To this day, the design for the Swan Boat has changed very little. The boats have been periodically replaced throughout the years, and the current fleet operates with six boats. Each boat has kept the original design, with two pontoons, a brass seat atop a paddlebox concealed by a fiberglass swan, and wooden benches for passengers. However, more rows of benches have been added over the years. Five of the boats have six rows, each row holding about three to four adults, and the oldest boat has five rows, which seat two to three adults each. The boats range in age from roughly twenty to over ninety years old. The oldest boat in operation was built in 1918,[2] and the newest was built in 1995.

Current operation[edit]

The Swan Boats operate in the same pond in the Public Garden in which they have operated for over 140 years. A Swan Boat ride is a peaceful experience, usually lasting about 12–15 minutes. Each boat is powered solely by a driver, often a high school or college student, who pedals the boat like a bicycle. The boats are steered by pulling one of two ropes connected to a series of pulleys and a rudder. The Swan Boats remain a Boston tradition and symbol of the city.

The Swan Boats are famed for their appearance in the stories of Make Way For Ducklings and The Trumpet of the Swan, and are often noted in tourist guides and other books about the city.[3] In 1954 service was interrupted during the summer for the first time, when city officials drained the lake after 30 ducks died due to an infection.[4]


  1. ^ "Swan Boats.com- Schedules and Fares". Retrieved 16 May 2012.
  2. ^ http://www.swanboats.com/history
  3. ^ "The Swan Boats Story". The Swan Boats of Boston. Archived from the original on 2008-04-28. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
  4. ^ "Boston Swanboats Ply Their Way Again After Lapse". New York Times. New York. 16 August 1954. Retrieved 21 April 2010.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°21′14″N 71°04′11″W / 42.354016°N 71.069643°W / 42.354016; -71.069643