If you ask local boaters to name the best place for boating on Long Island, you'll get about 95,574 opinions. That's how many registered powerboats there are in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to New York State's most recent recreational boating report -- and that's not even counting nonpowered watercraft.
When neighborhood shopping on an island where so many homes are only minutes away from diverse and alluring waterways, there really are no bad choices. Still, certain bodies of water tend to be the perennial favorites for particular water activities -- so it stands to reason that communities with convenient access to them are the ones local boaters like to call home port.
In this installment of Newsday's Best Places to Live series, we share a sampling of great places for seafaring Long Islanders in every price range -- from the boaters who have it all, right down to those who'd happily give all they have for a boat.
The Long Island Sound
GREAT PLACE FOR: Pleasure boaters
The Long Island Sound offers the best of both worlds: At an average depth of about 63 feet, the Sound is deep enough for sailing and cruising. Yet because it's sheltered by Connecticut to the north and Long Island to the south, it's enclosed enough to offer some protection from rougher ocean conditions. This makes it a popular spot for luxury vessels, says yacht service professional Austin Frye, 25, of Wantagh. He would know -- his mobile yacht management business, L&I Detailing, takes him to various local ports from Manhattan to Montauk.
About 110 miles from east to west, the Sound is long enough for extended adventures, yet at only 21 miles across from north to south at its widest point, it's narrow enough to cruise across for a leisurely lunch and be home in time for dinner.
Ken Montgomery, 51, says his family enjoys taking their 20-foot bow rider from their home on Hempstead Harbor to City Island to dine on the water while watching the sun set. Before heading home, he says they like to "go for a loop under the Throgs Neck Bridge, which is gorgeous at night. . . . It's almost magical."
HOT SPOT: Port Washington, which has access to the Sound via Manhasset Bay, offers a seaside social scene that includes yacht clubs, restaurants and a cultural arts center. In the past 12 months, 254 homes sold in Port Washington, ranging in price from $183,000 to $2.499 million, according to a search of the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. Homes on the market here range from $138,000 for a three-bedroom houseboat to $3 million for a three-bedroom condo in the Knickerbocker Bay Club with a 2,700-square-foot terrace overlooking Manhasset Bay.
IF MONEY IS NO OBJECT: A 6.64-acre waterfront estate for sale in Sands Point offers a deep-water dock on the Sound and unobstructed views of the New York City skyline. It's listed for $14.5 million with William Bodouva of Laffey Fine Homes (516-883-7780).
IF YOU'RE A BOATER ON A BUDGET: The Town of Riverhead's Creek Road public boat launch in Wading River has a single-lane ramp that offers access to the Long Island Sound via Wading River Creek. For nearby low-cost living, there's a two-bedroom mobile home with a covered driveway in a 55-and-over community in Wading River. It's listed for $24,700 with Frances Cavallo of Aliano Real Estate (631-744-5000).
The Great South Bay
GREAT PLACE FOR: Recreational boaters
The 151-square-mile Great South Bay spans about a 26-mile stretch of Long Island's South Shore. Protected from the ocean by Fire Island and varying from four to 20 feet in depth, the bay offers versatility and moderate-to-challenging conditions that are attractive to casual and recreational boaters who enjoy water sports and dock-and-dine outings.
"On the South Shore . . . that's where you'll see a lot of water-skiing and personal watercraft-type stuff," says Roslyn Harbor boat owner Ken Montgomery, 51.
"But when the wind and weather begin to pick up, the Great South Bay can become very rough, especially as you begin to head farther east," says Wantagh boat owner Austin Frye. Kayaker Steven Brenner of Shoreham agrees conditions there can be challenging, especially for nonpowered watercraft. "The Great South Bay, almost any day you go there, will have 15 mile per hour winds. The water is just a lot rougher." Ocean access from the bay can be tricky due to varying depths in the Fire Island Inlet, Frye says.
HOT SPOT: In Bay Shore, family friendly options include the nautical-themed Shipwreck Cove, a spray park at the Bay Shore Marina. The nightlife scene includes live music on the waterfront at a number of dock-and-dine establishments. The Long Island Paddlers Club meets at Bay Shore-Brightwaters Public Library once a month. In the past 12 months, 349 homes sold in Bay Shore, ranging from $18,000 to $1.5 million. Homes on the market range from $14,000 for a two-bedroom mobile home to $5.99 million for a bay-front six-bedroom Colonial with a 250-foot private beach and a 400-foot bulkhead.
IF MONEY IS NO OBJECT: A 5.66-acre estate in East Islip on Champlin Creek with direct access to the Great South Bay is listed for $4.5 million with Bonnie Williamson and Patricia Bretone of Daniel Gale Agency (631-427-6600).
IF YOU'RE A BOATER ON A BUDGET: A three-bedroom Cape in Islip listed for $239,000 has a driveway and a detached two-car garage. It's a six-minute drive to the Town of Islip's public boat ramp at Champlin Creek Dock in East Islip. It's listed with Lisa Kennedy and Tracy Sobel of Eric G Ramsay Jr Associates (631-665-1500).
GREAT PLACE FOR: Paddlers
"The Peconic Bay is the best place to paddle, hands down," says Steven Brenner, president of local kayaking and canoeing club Long Island Paddlers Inc. Brenner, an enthusiast who owns seven kayaks, says options abound for Peconic Bay-area paddlers to enjoy scenery, wildlife and calm waters. For instance, "Hubbard County Park is a huge park with four creeks in it. It's just beautiful, with the marsh grass and everything. You've got Indian Island County Park, Morton Wildlife Refuge, Robins Island."
Depths can range from 30 feet in the waters west of Robins Island, also known as the Great Peconic Bay, to 80 feet on the eastern section known as Little Peconic Bay.
The slow-moving water of the Peconic River is ideal for paddlers. It flows from Indian Island County Park through Flanders Bay, the Peconic Bays and Orient Harbor into Long Beach Bay at Orient Beach State Park -- another popular paddling area, where kayak rentals are available. "Orient Beach State Park is about my favorite place to paddle," says Brenner, 61, a retired teacher.
HOT SPOT: Paddlers love Greenport, which has a harborfront kayak derby every September during the annual Maritime Festival and offers easy access to the Peconic River and Orient Beach State Park. The charming coastal village has ice cream parlors, a carousel and other family friendly fun, as well as a waterfront nightlife scene that includes bars, restaurants and live music. In the past 12 months, 69 homes sold in Greenport, ranging from $105,000 to $1.498 million. Homes on the market here range from $129,000 for a one-bedroom co-op to $3.95 million for a four-bedroom Postmodern with 170 feet of water frontage on Long Island Sound.
IF MONEY IS NO OBJECT: In Cutchogue, a 15.24-acre, two-lot estate with 39 feet of bulkhead and 78 feet of natural water frontage is listed for $14.6 million with Carol Szynaka and Mariah Mills of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty (631-734-5439).
IF YOU'RE A BOATER ON A BUDGET: The Town of Riverhead has a canoe and kayak launch at Weeping Willow Park in Riverhead. Nearby, there's a two-bedroom condo in Riverhead, with a garage to store your kayak, listed for $259,000 with Joan Waggoner of Bagshaw Real Estate LLC (631-727-3713).
GREAT PLACE FOR: Adventurers
For true seafaring folk, it's all about the ocean. From bustling South Shore marinas packed with practical fishing boats to the posh East End ports populated by luxury vessels, areas with Atlantic access attract adventurers.
"Down on the South Shore, you have access to open ocean, and that's where the canyons are," Frye says, referring to deep trenches in the ocean floor that create changing conditions on the water. Frye, who owns a 21-foot fishing boat, says there are big fish out there. "You have tuna, shark, mahi-mahi. In late summer and early fall, you get swordfish 60 to 100 miles offshore."
Montauk is even better, Frye says. "I like to fish, and out there is the best fishing on the Island. A bad day out there is a phenomenal day out of Merrick." And it's not only about the fishing. "It's central to boating destinations. It's easy access to go to Block Island. You could keep going north to Martha's Vineyard or the Cape. One step further, you can go right up to Newport."
The water is rougher off Montauk -- 2- to 5-foot seas and winds at 15 to 20 knots are common, Frye says. Boaters can check on current water conditions with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Coast Survey. The area is frequented by recreational and commercial fishing boats, as well as large luxury vessels.
HOT SPOT: Try Freeport, home to the Nautical Mile: a boardwalk, park, mini-golf course and brick sidewalks lined with waterfront dining options, outdoor bars and clubs with live music. Freeport is busy for recreational and serious boating and overnight fishing excursions, with ocean access to the south through Jones Inlet. In the past 12 months, 271 homes sold in Freeport, ranging from $30,900 to $629,721. Homes on the market range from $39,999 for a studio co-op to $899,000 for a four-bedroom bayfront Colonial with a new bulkhead and four boat slips.
IF MONEY IS NO OBJECT: A six-bedroom bayfront Colonial in Atlantic Beach with an in-ground pool and Jacuzzi, a bulkhead and a dock offers ocean access via Reynolds Channel to the East Rockaway Inlet. It's listed for $5,999,999 with Boris Streshinskiy of Daniel Gale Associates (516-6777-0030).
IF YOU'RE A BOATER ON A BUDGET: The Town of Brookhaven's Maple Avenue public boat ramp in East Moriches features a wide concrete lane into Hart's Cove, which offers ocean access via Moriches Bay to Moriches Inlet. There's a nearby three-bedroom home with a private driveway in East Moriches for $225,000. It's listed with Frank Jannella of Shoreline Properties (631-878-0562).
ON THE MARKET
This seven-bedroom, 5½-bathroom Gothic Victorian on 1.5 acres on Hempstead Harbor features a five-car garage with a one-bedroom guesthouse above it and a waterside boathouse. It has 300 feet of waterfront, which includes a bulkhead. The homeowner is not required to buy flood insurance. It's listed with Fran Soltz of Coldwell Banker Residential (516-330-1371 or 516-621-4336).
This four-bedroom expanded ranch features three boat slips and a former boathouse that's been converted to a tiki bar. It's on Neguntatogue Creek with access to the Great South Bay. Homeowner Spencer Ketcham says he wasn't required to buy flood insurance, but he chose to purchase a $250,000 policy with a $1,000 annual premium. The home is listed with Richard Bocchieri and Annie Bos Greene of Netter Real Estate (631-661-5100).
This three-bedroom, two-bathroom creek-front ranch features 180 feet of bulkhead and direct access to Peconic Bay. The homeowner is not required to buy flood insurance. It's listed with Kristen Rishe of North Fork Real Estate (631-734-7100).
This three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch on a 0.62-acre lot on Great Pond Creek features a bulkhead and a dock. Sag Harbor Bay has access to Gardiners Bay. Boaters can travel south around Gardiners Island and out past Montauk to reach the ocean. The home is listed with Gloria Doyle and Jane Gill of Saunders & Associates (516-909-9591).
THE SANDY FACTOR
Sobering numbers every LI boater should know about the fallout of the October 2012 superstorm:
32,000: Boats in the New York area damaged or lost due to Sandy, according to estimates by the Boat Owners Association of the United States.
95,534: Long Island homes and businesses that were damaged or destroyed by the October 2012 storm, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency.
18%: How much your flood insurance premium could rise every year till you reach full-risk rates if you buy a home in a high-risk location and your home loan comes from a federally regulated or insured lender. Legislation has begun phasing out federal subsidies that had kept flood insurance rates artificially low.