Check out the Christmas Ships Parade as it continues this holiday season

Information provided from the Christmas Ships Parade website.

The annual Christmas Ships Parade, “A Portland Tradition since 1954,” is going on now and will continue nightly until Dec. 18. Fleets will be out on both the Columbia and Willamette rivers.

This year marks the 62nd year for the annual lighted parade of ships. According to the Christmas Ships Parade website, the Christmas Ships Parade started in 1954 with one lone sailboat from the Portland Yacht Club. Bows of green with some ribbon were tied along the rails and it paraded on the two rivers.

The next year, the parade started to grow. Today, the Christmas Ship Fleet averages about 55 to 60 boats between the Columbia and Willamette River fleets.

The holiday event regularly packs restaurants along the two rivers, with many reservations being made a year in advance. Every night during those 15 nights, regardless of the weather, Portland-Vancouver residents line the banks of both rivers by the thousands to watch the parade.

Each individual boat owner designs and builds their lighted Christmas display and pays their own operating costs, which includes fuel. Many of the displays can be seen each year, but new boats join the flotilla each year, bringing a variety of new Christmas-oriented lighted exhibits. There are seven new boats in this year’s parade.

For many of the boat owners, this is a family Christmas tradition, offering the Portland-Vancouver area fun Christmas time parades. Many of the operators also have small private parties for friends and family aboard their vessels during the parade. All costs are borne by the owners.

Anyone wishing to get in the holiday spirit can do so by visiting the banks of the Columbia and Willamette rivers to see the annual Christmas Ships Parade, going on now until Dec. 18. Photo by Mike Schultz
Anyone wishing to get in the holiday spirit can do so by visiting the banks of the Columbia and Willamette rivers to see the annual Christmas Ships Parade, going on now until Dec. 18. Photo by Mike Schultz

Weather is the only element that will cancel the performances. That determination is made by the leaders for the evening about a half-hour before the ships are scheduled to begin performing.

Some restaurants and hotels along both rivers, and private citizens, donate to the insurance fund for the lead boats each year. Minimal administrative costs for the year are paid from the fund. Christmas Ships, Inc. is a nonprofit corporation.

There are six nights of the 15 where there is a combined fleet. The other nine nights, each fleet parades its respective river. Here are the schedules for this year’s parade:

Combined Fleet

  • Sat., Dec. 10, 6 p.m., St. Helens: The combined fleet assembles at the St. Helens City Docks and heads downriver to Columbia City, and weather/river conditions permitting crosses to the Washington side and the RV Park, then returns to St. Helens City Docks. The fleet is out about two hours. Ships remain overnight at St. Helens City Docks and leave Sunday for the trip up Multnomah Channel.
  • Sun., Dec. 11, 4:30 p.m., Scappoose/Multnomah Channel: The combined fleet meets in the afternoon at Coon Island and leaves for Scappoose arriving approximately 5:00PM then continue up the Multnomah Channel to the Willamette River.  This is a long night and arrival at the Willamette River is usually between 8-9 p.m. It is not possible to give a closer time frame due to weather conditions, debris in the river and other conditions beyond their control.

The Parade will be visible in the Linnton area at parade’s end. The Willamette Fleet will be seen returning to RiverPlace Marina.

  • Sat., Dec. 17, 4:30 p.m., Lake Oswego: The combined fleet will leave RiverPlace Marina headed to Lake Oswego, arriving about 6 p.m., subject to weather and river conditions. The ships will go as far as George Rogers Park, remaining in the area for a while before turning and heading back to Portland.

The parade will be seen from the Milwaukie Boat Ramp on the way to Lake Oswego and again on the return to RiverPlace Marina.

The fleet will be out for approximately three and a half hours tonight.

  • Sun., Dec. 18, 5 p.m., St. Johns Bridge: The combined fleet assemble in front of RiverPlace Marina (1750 SW Harbor Way, Portland). The fleet will make their way upriver, past the Old Spaghetti Factory, to the John’s Landing area. The fleet will then turn and travel downriver to the St. Johns Bridge / Cathedral Park Area, arriving approximately at 6:45 p.m. The ships will remain in the St. John’s area for about 30 minutes (weather and river conditions permitting).

The ships will then depart for their home ports, with some heading for the Columbia River or Multnomah Channel and others headed upriver to Portland.

  • This year, there will also be two combined Meet & Greet events on Sat., Dec. 17, 8 p.m. and Sun., Dec. 18, 2 p.m. On Dec. 17, the combined fleet will return to the public dock near RiverPlace Marina immediately following their parade up to Lake Oswego.  The Christmas Ships skippers and their boats will be available for a “meet & greet.”  Come say hello and see some of the boats up close. Thinking of joining the annual event? Skippers will be happy to talk to you about the great parade. The meet & greet will run to approximately 10 p.m.

On Dec. 18, the combined fleet will be at the public dock near RiverPlace Marina until 5 p.m. when they begin their final parade night down toward the St. John’s Bridge. The Christmas Ships’ skippers and their boats will be available for a “meet & greet” from 2 p.m. until shortly before 5 p.m. Come say hello and see some of the boats up close.  Thinking of joining the annual event? The skippers will be happy to talk to you about the great parade.

The public dock entrance is right in front of “Three Degrees” restaurant (1510 SW Harbor Way).

Individual boat owners spend their own time and money decorating their vessels for the annual Christmas Ships Parade each year. Photo by Mike Schultz
Individual boat owners spend their own time and money decorating their vessels for the annual Christmas Ships Parade each year. Photo by Mike Schultz

Columbia Fleet Schedule

  • I-5 Bridge area/Hayden Bay, Thu., Dec. 8; Tue., Dec. 13; and Thu., Dec. 15, 7 p.m.: Columbia Fleet assembles in front of James M. Gleason Boat Ramp, 43rd/Northeast Marine Drive and turns at the east end of the parking lot to head downriver to the I-5 Bridge Area including Grandma’s Cove, arriving at approximately 7:30 p.m. at Beaches, and Hayden Bay at approximately 8:45 p.m. The fleet begins on the Washington side and can be seen from both sides of the river.

The parade will go into Hayden Bay after leaving the restaurant area on the Oregon side and then disband. The fleet is out for about two hours.

  • James M. Gleason Boat Ramp, Washington Shoreline, Wed., Dec. 14, 7 p.m.: Columbia Fleet assembles in front of James M. Gleason Boat Ramp, 43rd/Northwest Marine Drive. Tonight the fleet will remain the first hour in the area of the boat ramp, and across the river to the Washington Shoreline. About 8 p.m., the fleet will head downriver to the I-5 Bridge and restaurants and can be seen from both sides of the river. Tonight, the parade will not be on the Oregon side below the bridge.
  • North Portland Harbor, Wed., Dec. 7 and Fri., Dec. 16, 7 p.m.: Columbia River Fleet assembles headed upriver in front of Salty’s Restaurant, 38th/Northeast Marine Drive and turns at Northeast 42nd Street to head downriver to North Portland Harbor. North Portland Harbor is located on the Oregon side of Hayden Island. There is no viewing from your car along the harbor. The fleet is out for about two hours.
  • I-205 Bridge area, Steamboat Landing, Fri., Dec. 9, 7 p.m.: Columbia Fleet assembles in front of James M. Gleason Boat Ramp, 43rd/Northeast Marine Drive and continues upriver to the I-205 Bridge area and Steamboat Landing. The fleet will continue upriver to the area of Southeast 164th (Vancouver). The fleet stays on the Washington side and is out for about two hours.
  • There are seven new ships in this year's annual Christmas Ships Parade. Photo by Mike Schultz
    There are seven new ships in this year’s annual Christmas Ships Parade. Photo by Mike Schultz

Willamette Fleet Schedule

  • Milwaukie, Wed., Dec. 7; and Wed., Dec. 14, 7 p.m.: The Willamette Fleet assembles in front of RiverPlace Marina, (1750 SW Harbor Way, Portland) and travels upriver to the area of the Milwaukie Boat Ramp. At the boat ramp, the fleet turns and returns to RiverPlace Marina.

Note: Due to weather conditions, debris in the river and commercial river traffic with the right of way, it is not possible to give times when we will pass viewing areas. The fleet should arrive at the Milwaukie Boat Ramp about 8 p.m.  and then will work its way back to RiverPlace Marina. The fleet will be out for approximately two hours.

  • John’s Landing to Fremont Bridge area, Thu., Dec. 8; Tue., Dec. 13; and Thu., Dec. 15, 7 p.m.: The Willamette Fleet assembles in front of Riverplace Marina, (1750 SW Harbor Way, Portland). The fleet will make their way upriver, past the Old Spaghetti Factory, to the John’s Landing area. The fleet will then turn and travel downriver to area of the Fremont Bridge. The fleet will go under the bridge past the waterfront condos and then turn to return to Riverplace Marina. The fleet will be out for about two hours.
  • Milwaukie/Oregon Yacht Club, Fri., Dec. 9 and Fri., Dec. 16, 7 p.m.: The Willamette Fleet assembles in front of RiverPlace Marina, (1750 SW Harbor Way, Portland) and travels upriver to the area of the Milwaukie Boat Ramp. At the boat ramp, the fleet turns and heads back downriver. On the way back to RiverPlace Marine, the fleet will go in below Oaks Park toward Holgate Channel and in front of the floating homes at Oregon Yacht Club.

Due to weather conditions, debris in the river and commercial river traffic with the right of way, it is not possible to give times when they will pass viewing areas. The fleet should arrive at the Milwaukie Boat Ramp about 8 p.m. and then will work its way back to RiverPlace Marina. The fleet will be out for approximately two hours.

Today, the Christmas Ship Fleet averages about 55 to 60 boats between the Columbia and Willamette River fleets. Photo by Mike Schultz
Today, the Christmas Ship Fleet averages about 55 to 60 boats between the Columbia and Willamette River fleets. Photo by Mike Schultz

To find lists of different restaurants and businesses where viewing the parade is possible, visit http://www.christmasships.org/.

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About The Author

Joanna Nicole Yorke is a 2010 graduate of the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in political science. Yorke is a Clark County native, growing up on her family's 12-acre farm in La Center where her family still resides today. She was previously a reporter at The Reflector Newspaper, covering the city of Battle Ground, the Battle Ground School District and a variety of other areas and topics.

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