Set sail for married life with a wedding on the water.

By Helen Sondag
March 24, 2020

Whether you're considering a sailboat or a cruise ship, there are so many reasons to consider saying "I do" aboard a seafaring vessel. Boat weddings, so common in classic romantic films like The African Queen, have the benefit of beautiful panoramic views. But they can also be quite a bit more complicated than your standard, stationary wedding venue. Here's what you should know before planning your wedding on a boat.

Related: Wedding Venues to Consider Based on Your Style

Determine the type of boat.

Will it be a cruise ship, sailboat, public ferry, or tour boat à la Jim and Pam in The Office? The floating venue you choose will depend on its capacity (how big is your guest list), the time of year (some boast climate-controlled interiors), and, of course, budget. "Unless you reserve a pricey mega yacht, you'll most likely need to scale down your guest list. Boats have restrictions on how many passengers are permitted onboard," says Jenna Miller, creative director of Here Comes the Guide. "You'll want to ask the boat charter for a vessel that's large enough to safely accommodate your guest count."

The good news is that boat venues often offer all-inclusive packages, complete with a coordinator, caterer, rentals, and more—meaning you might even save money by going this route. And if you tie the knot aboard a cruise, you'll get a built-in honeymoon.

Look into legal requirements.

Nautical nuptials may seem spontaneous, but they actually require plenty of planning. Before setting sail, you'll need to acquire a marriage license for the destination in which you'll be married. Laws vary by country, so look into that of wherever the cruise ship is registered.

...as well as venue restrictions.

Rules don't just go out the porthole when you're on the water. Flowing event spaces can have similar regulations as on-land ones, from noise ordinances to décor limitations. Consider these constraints, and if purchasing a wedding package, find out if you must choose from a list of preferred vendors. "The 'strict regulations' also apply to departure time," Miller notes. "Fashionably late guests may literally miss the boat and be stuck at the pier as your wedding sails away. Build some cushion into the start time you list on your wedding invitation to ensure everyone's present for an on-time departure."

Think about accessibility.

If there are people with mobility issues on your guest list, consider how easily they'll be able to board and move around. "Some vessels have limited wheelchair accessibility, so if you want a wedding ceremony on the top deck you'll need to consider any elderly or guests with disabilities," Miller says. "Many boats also have quite narrow corridors, winding staircases, and doors with high thresholds."

Related: Nautical Wedding Ideas for Your Coastal-Inspired Celebration

Bring your own officiant.

Forget what you've seen in the movies. It's a myth that all captains can perform marriage ceremonies—though many cruise lines do get their captains certified.

Be safe.

As always, you'll want to ensure the safety and comfort of your guests. Think through everything that could go wrong, from seasickness to slips. Perhaps provide pashminas for people who might get chilly in the open air, and have some Dramamine and ginger tea on hand in case of motion sickness. Thankfully, you can relax knowing that the marine crew is likely well-trained to be extra diligent about helping attendees with unsteady "sea legs" and watching out for anyone over-imbibing.

Have an exit strategy.

Revelers won't exactly be able to slip out to deal with unexpected personal or professional issues that arise. "The good news is, many boat charters partner with water taxis to take people back to the dock if necessary, and there are even water ambulances in case of emergency," Miller says.

Have your boat and sail it, too.

If the logistics of a full ceremony and reception aboard are just too much, or if you'd rather have solid footing for some of the day, you have options. We've seen couples get married at the shore before doing cocktail hour on the water—whether en route to the reception venue or just a joy ride. Sailing also makes a lovely wedding weekend activity.

Or, suggests Miller, "Consider hosting your engagement party, bridal shower, or rehearsal dinner on a boat. You'll get the nautical experience of a boat event without the full commitment of hosting your wedding on board."

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