The Tri-Cities' annual Christmas Lighted Boat Parade is packed with as much pageantry as many parades on land.
While the thought of sailing a boat on frigid water during the holiday season evokes shivers that sink all the way to the bone, it hasn't stopped thousands of Tri-Citians from bundling up in winter clothing and watching the spectacle each year from the shores of the Columbia River.
This year's two-night event is Dec. 9-10. About 30 boats will be decked out in festive lights and holiday animation. At about 6 p.m. each night, they will launch from Clover Island in Kennewick and leisurely head upriver toward Richland.
Though the event is sponsored by the Clover Island Yacht Club, any boater can join the festivities. Those interested should attend the skipper's meeting at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at the yacht club on Clover Island.
It will take the floating parade about 90 minutes to reach Howard Amon Park in Richland where they will turn around, then return to Clover Island.
"Participating boats range in size from small fishing boats to luxury cruisers of more than 50 feet in length," said event chairman Larry Kuga.
In the past, boat decorations included Santa popping out of a gift box, a snazzy little toy boat, a Columbia River dragon, and snowmen tossing gifts overboard. Others drape hundreds of lights over their boats, casting a beautiful reflection on the water.
"We love to see cars flash their lights on and off in appreciation, or kids waving flashlights from the bank," Kuga said. "We usually give them a honk back to let them know we see them."
Prime areas to view the parade are anywhere along Columbia Park as well as Columbia Point and Howard Amon Park in Richland, Kuga said.
In the past, boaters braved rain and snow to bring the glittery water show to life, but Kuga says winds are about the only weather hazard that would keep the boats at the marina.
"Only a couple of times has the wind been strong enough to cancel the event," he said. "No matter how cold it can get on the boat, it doesn't spoil the appreciation we have for the families who brave the same weather on the shore."
The Christmas Lighted Boat Parade's primary sponsor is the Clover Island Yacht Club, backed by participation from Gap West Broadcasting, the Clover Island Inn, Cedars Pier One and the Red Lion Hanford House. In addition, the Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Benton County Sheriff's Department provide assistance during this event, Kuga said.
For more information about the parade or possible participation, contact Kuga at 509-734-9599.