Fourth of July Fireworks Shows on the Water
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The Ultimate Guide to Fireworks on the Water

From the best fireworks shows to our top safety tips, here’s how to make the most of July 4th at the lake – with or without a boat!

Written by Karen Marley

Photo: Mio Ito / Unsplash
The Fourth of July is America’s big birthday bash. Filled with parades and picnics, the day is best known for its grand finale: fireworks of spectacular proportions. One of the most dazzling places to watch the pyrotechnic glitter in the sky is on the water or next to it. (Quick trivia! U.S. “Star-Spangled Banner” writer, Francis Scott Lee, penned, “And the rocket’s red glare, bombs bursting in air” from the deck of a ship).
Starry bursts and sparkling trails seem to take on a new magic when reflected in the water. When conditions are right, the effect can feel like you’re floating in mid-air, surrounded by shimmering shards of light above and below your vantage point. Even if you don’t have a boat, you can still be treated to a memorable evening of waterside fireworks.
Here’s what you need to know to have your best July 4th yet, whether you’re on the water or on the shore. Taking time to make a few preparations can make your outing both safer and more fun.

Safety First

Boat Safety

The United States Coast Guard has a number of safety requirements for recreational boaters. Since firework shows happen at night, your boat must display a single, all-round white light, known as an “anchor light” that can be seen from all directions. Be sure to check the guide to ensure your navigation lights are up to standard for your type of craft as well.
Additionally, U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices, one for each passenger, need to be readily available. Have a fire extinguisher on board, too. 
Check out this list for safety equipment you should have on your boat at all times.

Fire Safety

Before buying or firing off any fireworks, always make sure to check local fire restrictions. Learn more here.

Pet Safety

Finally, consider making arrangements to have your dog stay at home. While we enjoy the unpredictability and loud noises of a fireworks show, these can cause your dog extreme distress and may even result in them running away. More pets go missing July 4th weekend than any other time of year.

Photo: Ray Hennessy / Unsplah

The Best Food to Bring on the Boat

What better day than July 4th to serve up traditional American fare? Think hot dogs, baked beans, and potato salad. Beans are good hot or cold, but the same cannot be said for hot dogs. Luckily, we've got an idea...

Party tip!

To serve “hot” hot dogs, put your cooked dogs into a wide-brimmed thermos. Fill the thermos with boiling water and cap it. Come serving time, the wieners will be warm and tasty.
Pretzels, corn chips, veggie platters and other appetizers that are easy to transport make tasty snacks. Potato chips tend to blow around and quickly get stale in the moist air that persists around bodies of water. Caramel corn makes a sweet snacking treat for everyone after dinner.

What Else to Bring on the Boat

Earplugs - Are there any children or adults who are sensitive to loud noises? Consider having earplugs on hand to help them feel more comfortable and be part of the fun.

Layers - Meteorologically speaking, the Fourth of July is not mid-summer, but an early summer holiday. Nights can still get chilly on the water and shore. Be sure everyone in your crew has a jacket or sweater.


Picking the Best Spot for Viewing

Before the Show

Most firework shows begin after 9 p.m., but don’t wait that long before setting up your camp or dropping anchor. Scouting out the area beforehand allows you to choose an ideal viewing spot.
If you’re shoreside, look for a good vantage point on a knoll and away from trees that may block the view. Boats require a little more effort. Start by looking for protected water. Coves and enclosed bays offer natural shelter from wind, which can be uncomfortable and disturb the water making the boat bob and sway. Additionally, calm waters produce the best reflections. Think about claiming your spot and dropping the anchor a couple hours before the start of the show.

After the Show

After all the oohs and aahs that come with watching July 4th fireworks on the water (not to mention the long, active day), you may be tempted to get away as quickly as possible after the show wraps up. Resist that urge. For your own safety, stay put until the mob disperses. You’ll have an easier time navigating calmer waters with a tired but happy crew.

Photo: Vlad Tchompalov / Unsplash 


The Best Places to Watch Fireworks on the Water

No boat? No worries! There are many destinations that host excellent lakeside or shoreside fireworks extravaganzas. Not much beats wrapping up a day at the beach by hanging out under a glittering sky. Consider renting a lakeside cottage or cabin and turning the event into an unforgettable vacation.

Here are some popular destinations to view fireworks on the water:

Lake Placid, New York:

Spend the day swimming and hiking, watching a hometown parade full of Olympic hopefuls, then settle in to watch the annual fireworks spectacle set to music over Mirror Lake.

Old Orchard Beach, Maine:

Filled with lobsters and New England’s old-timey, beachy charm, this seaside town treats visitors to fireworks every Thursday night during the summer season with an extra big bash on July 4th. 

Madison, Wisconsin:

For small-town, Midwest flair with a creative, artistic touch check out Shake the Lake, a free celebration along Lake Monona, featuring Wisconsin’s largest fireworks display. 

Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho:

Go west to Lake Coeur d’Alene and enjoy a two-day festival capped off with the town’s traditional fireworks show. If you want to watch the action from the water, boat rentals or cruises are available!

Lake Hamilton, Arkansas:

Shot from barges in the middle of Arkansas’ most popular recreational lake, this show is spectacular from the water or the shore.

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