Portland, OR. Christmas Ship sailors are getting ready to set sail for their 63rd year as residents make plans to watch the colorful flotillas during the parade’s 2017 holiday season. Click here for a full schedule of the Columbia and Willamette fleets, as well as a link for donations at www.christmasships.org.

The Christmas Ship Parade will launch Friday, December 1st, in North Portland Harbor. The parade will run for 15 nights through Thursday December 21st.  (There will be no parades on Dec 3rd, 4th, 5th, 11th, 12th, and 18th.) Christmas Ships, Inc. is a non-profit corporation. 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.

The boats, 14 to 65 feet long, are brightly decorated for the holiday season.  The ships draw thousands of residents each night to the banks of the rivers for their performances.  Up to 60 holiday boats are expected to make up the two fleets this year.

Restaurants and hotels along the Columbia and Willamette rivers are already taking reservations with nights already booked for some evenings.

There’s always room for more boats in the parade of Christmas ships:

The privately owned vessels come from Portland, Vancouver, McMinnville, Salem and Hood River areas.  Some of the ships owners have been part of Christmas tradition for more than 30 years with many being part of the Christmas Ship fleet for over 20 years.  Each skipper is responsible for their own expenses, including fuel and insurance for their vessels over the two weeks. This can run into the hundreds of dollars, which in itself is a testament to the dedication and enthusiasm the Christmas Ship skippers bring to the organization, and the community. The organization accepts donations to help cover the cost of maintaining, managing and promoting the organization, but none of these donations go to the skippers, their crews, or their boats. Christmas Ships, Inc. is an all-volunteer organization, with no paid staff or officers, just a large group of friendly individual volunteers/skippers who give back to the community.

From The Christmas Ships:

The Christmas Ship Parade started in 1954 with one lone sailboat from Portland Yacht Club.  Bows of green with some ribbon where tied along the rails and it paraded on the 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.  Things have changed from the first lone ship.  Now the displays are brightly lit and can be seen from bank to bank on each river.

The Portland tradition packs restaurants along the two rivers.  Many reservations are made a year in advance.  Many hotel rooms are booked by mid-summer.  Corporation Christmas parties are scheduled around the Christmas Ship Parade schedule.  By the thousands every night regardless of the weather Portland-Vancouver residents line the banks of both rivers to watch the parade.  To show their appreciation for the all volunteer effort and the performance they give, many homes and cars along the way flash their porch and headlights as the fleet passes.

Each boat owner designs and builds their lighted Christmas display and pays their operating costs which includes fuel.  Many of the displays can be seen each year, but new boats join the flotilla each year and bring with them new Christmas oriented lighted exhibits. As skippers retire, they also hand down their well known displays so the tradition continues.  Even though not all boats make it out every night of the two weeks the ships parade on the rivers of Portland, most do.  For many of the boat owners, this is a family Christmas tradition, offering the Portland area thrilling Christmas time parades.  Many of the operators also have small private parties for friends and families aboard their vessels during the parade.  All costs are borne by the owners.

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