The Nautical Mile in Freeport, with its dock-and-dine restaurants along Woodcleft Canal, is among Long Island's busiest boating hangouts.
But you also can find a bustling boating scene in Port Washington, Patchogue, Fire Island and even a few lesser-known spots along the waterfront.
Louis Miceli, 34, and Krista Malchuski, 32, both of Patchogue, were recently hanging out at the Oar restaurant on the Patchogue River. They were enjoying the camaraderie on the waterfront restaurant's deck, while their 31-foot fishing boat sat in the marina. Fellow boaters become "instant friends," Miceli says. "It's the best part about boating."
Here's a sampling of Long Island boating hangouts - some marinas recommend calling ahead to confirm availability of free slips.
Port Washington Town Dock / Manhasset Bay
Where to tie up
Louie's Oyster Bar and Grille manager Mike McGlynn says his docks can accommodate up to 30 boats. You can tie up for free, have your meal, then explore the neighborhood (516-883- 4242).
Also try: LaMotta's Waterside Restaurant at Manhasset Bay Marina, which has a gas dock and more than 20 transient slips (516-944-7900, lamottas.net). On a space-available basis, transients can tie up for free at the 300-plus slip Brewer Capri Marina (516-883-7800) and dine at the Waterview Restaurant or Bad Bob's BBQ.
Also in the neighborhood Port Washington Boulevard's shops and The Landmark on Main Street theater.
Charlie's Clam Bar at the end of Inspiration Wharf opened this year. It's no frills - just a lunch wagon and outdoor tables with an almost-360-degree view of the bay. On a recent night, crab cake was priced at $7.95; lobster roll, $12.95. Although Charlie's has no slips, boaters can tie up at a transient mooring in the bay and take a water taxi to the wharf.
Patchogue River, Patchogue
Where to tie up
Restaurants on the Patchogue River. Among them: The Oar Steak & Seafood Grill on West Avenue, which has 10 transient slips for diners. The Oar has covered outdoor seating areas, a gas dock and a reggae band under its gazebo on Sunday. "It's a Key West kind of feel," says owner Dick Blakeslee (631-207-1953). Also try: Harbor Crab Co. Restaurant & Marina on Division Street (631-687-2722).
Also in the neighborhood: You can walk or take a cab to shops and entertainment on Patchogue's Main Street.
Where to tie up
Flynn's in Ocean Bay Park. "We have a 60- boat marina, and anyone who wants to come in and have lunch or dinner, we don't charge a docking fee," Tim Flynn says. However, to get the free slip, boaters must buy a $50 voucher for use in the restaurant (631-665-2751).
Also in the neighborhood: It's a 15-minute walk to Ocean Beach and its shops.
Hidden treasure: Sailors Haven on the Fire Island National Seashore is a "secluded tropical paradise . . . the closest, nicest place I've found," says Rob Hanley, 23, of Bellmore. There's a 45-slip public marina where you can tie up for the day - or overnight ($2 a foot, plus $5.50-$10 for electricity). There's a snack bar; it's a 15-minute walk to the life-guarded beach. Also try: the 180-slip Watch Hill Marina, part of the national seashore, has a restaurant and snack bar. (631-597-3109, watchhillfi.com).
Jones Beach Coast Guard Station
Submitted by Rob Hanley, 23, of Bellmore
Hanley, who owns a 27-foot Sea Ray cabin cruiser, says: "As a part of the new generation of Long Island boaters, I truly enjoy going to Short Beach, next to the Jones Beach Coast Guard Station . For day trips, it is great because you have the choice of docking or mooring your boat off the beach. The people are great, and it's easy to get to from most of southern Nassau."