How to Plan a Wedding on the Water

Surround yourself with something blue.

couple

Photo by Adriana Rivera Photography

If you’re looking for barefoot luxury and want to skip toes in the sand, look beyond the shores for a non-traditional place where you can surround yourself with something blue. Outdoor events and intimate gatherings are here to stay, and couples in search of a new spin on an open-air venue may find their perfect match in a wedding on the water. 

Unions at sea can come in all styles, sizes, and budgets, and there are specific elements to consider for this type of event based on the nature of the venue. Ahead, our experts dive in and share everything you need to know about planning a wedding on the water.  

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Should You Get Married on a Boat? 

Aside from those with love for all things nautical, who should get hitched on a boat, yacht, or ship? "The ideal bride and groom are those looking for a unique, one-of-a-kind experience that is not found on land," says Janine St. Denis, event manager of Northrop & Johnson yacht brokerage. "Those who want a non-cookie-cutter wedding—one that differs from every other wedding they have ever attended, one that will stand out in the minds of their guests for a lifetime—those are the ideal [couples] for an on-water wedding."

Despite the obvious appeal of a gorgeous backdrop and an open-air location, these vessels may not be the perfect venue for everyone—a floating affair is best suited for couples willing to go with the flow. "Weddings on the water will work well for couples looking for an idyllic setting," says Sara Bauleke, wedding planner and designer with Bella Notte. "As long as they're willing to keep in mind that the location requires a certain level of flexibility." Because weather is more unpredictable on the water, Bauleke says couples need to be willing to plan for multiple scenarios and then be open to making weather-based decisions on the wedding day. 

Pros and Cons of Getting Married on a Boat

Liz Chan, wedding planner and designer at Lizzy Liz Events, shares the pros and cons of nautical nuptials to help you decide if you’re the type of couple who is ready to drop anchor on this decision. 

Pros

Chan loves a wedding on the water because of its all-in-one appeal. "[It’s a] cruise and a dinner. It’s a great way to feel like a destination wedding without having to have your guests travel so far," says Chan. "Enjoying the sunset, the city lights, and being part of nature all in one. What more can you ask for?"

Plus, with so many different backdrops to choose from, she notes the photos are sure to turn out amazing, and these venues usually require minimal décor. "It doesn’t make sense to have tall extravagant centerpieces on a moving yacht," she says.  "A fun LED dance floor and great entertainment would be more than enough!"

Cons

As much as you have to be flexible with these events, you also have to be committed. "Once you leave the dock, there’s no going back," warns Chan. "For guests who arrive late, they miss the ride, and those who are on the boat, cannot leave if they are not feeling well."

You’ll want to consider that some guests may get seasick so plan to have plenty of motion sickness medicine on hand.

Chan also notes that catering can sometimes be tricky depending on the type of vessel you’re working with. Smaller yachts will usually only be able to accommodate a drop-off menu. Keep in mind, too, that you’ll also be limited to the number of guests you can have onboard while on the water. St. Denis says a tandem charter is an excellent option for couples to host more overnight guests for the onboard wedding. Yacht charter brokers can leverage two, three, or more yachts that will raft up together, bringing guests together for different events throughout the cruise.

Average Cost of Getting Married on a Boat

According to Keith Willard of Keith Willard Events, the cost for a boat, yacht, or any other vessel will follow many of the same rules that apply on land. "The larger the ship, the higher the cost," says Willard. "It’s also important to consider that some of these places may not have tables, chairs, and linens readily available and that these would need to be rented, thus adding to the cost of the wedding. The cost of fuel and crew gratuities will also come into play. He advises asking those questions upfront and revisiting the fuel budget about two weeks before your wedding in case of a recent upswing in the cost per gallon.

Because of the wide variety of options and sizes of vessels available, the budget question is difficult to answer without consulting with the specific team or charter broker handling your event. Rates may range from $5,000 for a one-day micro wedding on a 55-foot yacht to $490,000 for a week-long charter on a 205-foot motor yacht, plus expenses.

When and Where to Get Married on a Boat

"A wedding aboard a luxury yacht allows for an exceptional level of flexibility as there is always a beautiful destination with yachts no matter the time of year," says St. Denis. "The world is your oyster. Even if you want to go off-season, there are likely options for you." St. Denis shares that the top destinations for a summer wedding at sea include the East and West Mediterranean or the U.S. East Coast (from Maryland to New York to New England). For a winter wedding, look to the Caribbean, South Florida, Australia, and Southeast Asia, to name a few. You’ll continue to find several options in the springtime throughout the Mediterranean, she notes. 

Types of Vessels

Like any venue, finding the perfect match to kick off your marriage depends on your budget and how many guests you plan to have onboard. While a wedding on the water offers an incredible amount of variety, there are three main categories of vessels you may want to consider. 

Waterfront Resorts

"Waterfront resorts, such as The Inn at Perry Cabin on Maryland's Eastern Shore, often allow for the best of all worlds," says Bauleke. "The wedding may be tented on the lawn, but you can use the resort's boats for a sail with an intimate group at the beginning of the weekend and then host a brunch inside." This is a great option for couples with a smaller guest list or guests with mobility issues who need to stay on land for a portion of the festivities. Waterfront resorts will typically have events and catering teams, making the entire experience a breeze. Plus, guests will have the option to stay right on the property.

Private Yacht Charters

The number one rule for considering a private yacht? Work with a broker. Similar to the world of real estate, yacht charter brokers work closely with clients to find precisely what they are looking for in their budget range and desired location. After an initial consultation, the broker will offer a selection of yachts to choose from and explain the positive and negative aspects of each. "If a client would like to invite many guests to the wedding celebration, the broker would suggest that they choose a larger vessel for the special day/night, which will stay in a beautiful port," explains Tove Johnson, charter broker for Fraser. "If they would like to spend their honeymoon on a yacht, they’d suggest taking a smaller yacht, and once the party ends, the couple can cruise wherever they wish."

Cruise Lines

One major perk of getting married on a cruise ship is having your venue and your honeymoon all in one place. Not only that, with access to a spa, a hair salon, a barber, a manicurist, and more, these ships have everything that you need on deck to ensure you look incredible throughout the event. Another plus, according to Maddalena Gente, events planner at MSC Cruises, is that you have a range of options for the location of your celebration. "If it is winter and the weather is unpredictable, you can host your nuptials indoors with a glamorous backdrop such as the atrium and the signature Swarovksi stairs," Gente says. "Meanwhile, if it is sunny and bright, an open deck can make a great setting." In terms of destinations, the Caribbean is always a popular choice, she says, but yet another benefit of a cruise ship wedding is that you will wake up in a new place every day! 

Venues to Consider

Whether you’re looking for an intimate sunset sail with your nearest and dearest or planning a full-scale deck party with all of your friends, ahead, you’ll find inspiration for weddings on the water.

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Five Star at Inn at Perry Cabin

Hinckley Five Star Yacht cruising the Miles River from Inn at Perry Cabin

Situated on the banks of the Eastern Shore, Inn at Perry Cabin is a charming waterfront resort ideal for intimate ceremonies. A short drive from Washington D.C., the inn offers a surprising number of picturesque spaces for ceremonies, receptions, and minimoons, including Five Star, a 55-foot Hinckley yacht. The vessel's classic lines embody the essence of old-school American yachting, and the crew offers impeccable service that lives up to the name. 

Couples getting married aboard Five Star meet at the dock where their processional toward the water begins. After boarding, your crew will sail along the Miles River before the captain anchors for a ceremony where you can tie the knot, literally—a nautical ceremony tradition for Inn at Perry Cabin symbolizing the beginning of life together. Guests can enjoy a sunset cocktail hour on the water before returning to shore for dinner under the stars at one of the property’s many al fresco settings. The starting price for six people, including dinner and venue fee, is $5,000.

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Lady Lynsey II at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas

Luxury sailing catamaran Lady Lynsey II in St. Thomas

When The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas reopened in late 2019, following its $100 million renovations, the resort welcomed the return of its exclusive luxury sailing catamaran. The 65-foot vessel was reborn as the brand-new Lady Lynsey II, and was christened alongside the grand re-opening of the iconic resort. 

Guests can book various ocean-bound excursions, including a romantic Nautical Nuptials package, which offers an all-inclusive ceremony during a 1.5-hour cruise. Embracing the white-glove service for which The Ritz-Carlton brand is renowned, the events team has thought of everything; in addition to food, beverage, and entertainment, you’ll have a specialized team at your service, from a complimentary court concierge to assist with your marriage license to a dedicated shoe valet who will assist guests as they board and disembark the boat. The starting rate for 30 guests is $10,000.

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 Force Blue 

Deck of the Force Blue with dinner table setting

Most yachts can only carry up to 12 passengers while cruising but may accommodate up to 100 guests when moored in a beautiful port of your choosing, explains Johnson. These vessels are ideal for a perfectly intimate minimony on the water followed by a larger after-party at the shore.

One such example managed by Fraser is the Force Blue, a 207-foot beauty boasting massive deck space made for entertaining. This impressive vessel features six well-appointed suites, remarkable spa facilities (you can find a full-service hairdressing salon, beautician, and masseuse on board), a cinema room, and a disco for the afterparty. Starting rates vary depending on the season and length of the charter. They are not inclusive of other expenses such as food and beverages, flower arrangements, catering staff (if needed), or entertainment.

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Lady of the Lake

Wedding party waving from the deck of Lady of the Lake

The Lady of the Lake is one of eight on-the-water venues offered by Lake Geneva Cruise Line.  As the flagship of the fleet, The Lady captures the majesty of America’s Steamboat Era and offers two spacious decks that provide a unique setting for weddings up to 225 guests. 

The Lady’s charm lends itself to endless possibilities with her main deck enclosed and climate-controlled and a second deck that can be open or enclosed with sliding windows for cool evenings or uncooperative weather. The Lake Geneva Cruise Line team offers unique catering options ranging from extravagant plated dinners to informal, artisanal grazing tables. Prices starting at $2,600, and the vessel is available from early spring to late fall for wedding festivities.  

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MSC Cruises

Bride and groom on the deck of an MSC Cruise ship

A luxury cruise line is the ultimate one-stop wedding shop for a truly all-inclusive experience that will entice you and all of your guests. The ​​MSC Meragvilia is back on the seas, offering gourmet dining, world-class entertainment, all-day ocean views, and all of the post-wedding R&R you require all in one place. Couples should also keep an eye out for the MSC Seashore debuting this fall in Miami. The new ship will cruise to MSC Cruises’ exclusive private island in The Bahamas—the perfect destination for an extended afterparty or a lowkey minimoon. 

"One way to make your wedding on the water even more special is by booking a suite in the MSC Yacht Club," adds Gente. "With all of the facilities of a private club and a 24-hour butler who can help with any last-minute pre-wedding needs, this is the perfect way to celebrate the start of a marriage—with VIP treatment 24/7." Pricing for MSC Cruises’ Classic wedding package starts at $1,059. 

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