Newport Boat Parade Staying Afloat, Despite Economy

Byline: Taylor Hill

Newport Boat Parade Staying Afloat, Despite Economy

NEWPORT BEACH — After the last fireworks had lit up the night sky above Newport Harbor’s 2011 Christmas Boat Parade, vessel owners returned their decorated creations to their slips or to the launch ramp, having enjoyed another festive holiday run.

The five-night parade, now in its 103rd year, has become a staple of the harbor, attracting thousands of visitors to the waterfront to witness the lighted boat spectacle.

With some boat parade participants spending as much as $60,000 on decorations in previous years, a decline in participation — or at least in some of the most extravagant light configurations — was to be expected after the downturn in the economy over the past few years, organizers said.

“If you go back to 2006 or 2007, back in the ‘go-go’ days, we had about 10 percent more registered boats in the parade,” said parade chairman Don Lawrenz, who has been involved in parade control for the past five years.

“We had 76 registered boats this year, and back then, we were closer to 90,” Lawrenz said. “But everything else is down 10 to 15 percent, too.”

Awards for “best theme” or “most original” are only handed out to boats that are registered participants in the parade, which costs $25. The registration cost has remained the same for the past five years, and Lawrenz doesn’t believe the nominal fee keeps boaters from entering the parade.

Even with the downtick in registered participating boats, Lawrenz said the weekend nights this year were some of the largest he had seen during his tenure. A number of unregistered boats, kayaks and even a paddleboarder followed behind the registered boats in the parade.

“There were upward of 120 boats Saturday night; and Sunday night, we had around 95 to 100 boats that all stuck around for the fireworks show afterward.”

The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade is sponsored by Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce. It requires around 60 volunteers and six parade marshals to oversee the event and ensure safety on the water.

“Many years ago, the parade had a few more entries — but more and more boaters are coming out for all five nights,” said Jeff Parker, vice president at the chamber. “It is a lot of work to participate in the parade, and our boaters did a great job once again this year.”

Smaller craft and paddleboarders have been a concern in years past, but no negative incidents occurred this year. Lawrenz did note an increased number of electric runabout boats cruising around the harbor, watching the parade from the water.

“The recent increase in Duffy rental operations has led to a lot more rental boats running around out there, and those can be a challenge, at times,” Lawrenz said.

This year’s awards dinner is scheduled for Jan. 27 at the Balboa Bay Club and Resort, where winners from both the boat parade and the Ring of Lights home-decorating competitions will receive honors.

For more information, call (949) 729-4400 or visit


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