The Best Nautical Museums on the East Coast

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Growing up near the water, I have spent many a day both IN and ON the water in a boat. Over the years, my family has enjoyed learning about the sailing and the boating industries. This week, we’re sharing (IMO) the best nautical museums on the East Coast:

1. Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine: The state of Maine holds the record for building the most ships in the country and Bath, located a half hour north of Portland and just over a half hour south of Augusta, has built more ships than any other area in Maine since the 1740s.  The museum showcases the history of the ship building, boating, fishing, and lobstering industries. The complex is spread over 20 acres on the banks of the Kennebec River in Bath. Guests can climb aboard the Mary E Schooner, the last of the 850 Bath–built fleet of Schooners still afloat. The Mary E was built for fishing in 1906 and sailed for over 50 years. Today, guests can explore the schooner and even set sail for a trip down the river.
Kids will enjoy watching a blacksmith demonstrate techniques in the Blacksmith Shop, learning about the lobstering industry in the Lobstering and the Maine Coast exhibit, and playing on the wooden pirate play ship.
Read our full post and travel tips here.

2. USS Massachusetts at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts is the world’s largest naval ship.  Opened in 1965 Battleship Cove is home to battleships, submarines, PT boats, and a maritime museum, all accessible to visitors. There are memorials to honors sailors who served in conflicts including World War II, the Korean War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Visitors are welcome to explore the USS Massachusetts, USS Kennedy, USS Lionfish, and Hiddensee, docked under the Braga Bridge in the waterfront area of Mount Hope Bay, and can also peek inside two PT boats. The nearby Maritime Museum was founded in 1968 to showcase nautical memorabilia such as the Fall River Line and RMW Titanic.
Kids will enjoy walking through the ships and exploring the nearby Maritime Museum, with special children’s section with nautical themed books, arts and crafts, and artifacts
Read our full blog post and travel tips here.

3. The Salem Maritime National Historic Site in Salem, Massachusetts: America’s first National Historic Site, the entire site includes 12 structures, 9 acres of waterfront land, and the The Friendship of Salem, a replica of an East Indian ship built in Salem in the late 18th century, was recently updated to meet accessibility requirements. Guests are able to explore both decks and learn about maritime trading.
Kids will enjoy completing the Junior Ranger program booklet by completing activities at various sites and and earning a badge.
Read our full post and travel tips here.

4. New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts: There’s no better place to learn about the history of the whaling industry than the New Bedford Whaling Museum, known at one time as the whaling capital of the world. At the height of the whaling industry in the mid 1850s, New Bedford employed over 10,000 sailors on over 300 ships. A highlight of the museum is the Lagoda, the largest ship model in the world, and it’s still only about half the size of the real Lagoda, a whaling ship built in Scituate, Massachusetts in the 1880s.
Kids will enjoy steering the wheel, pulling the ropes, and going below deck to check out the captain’s quarter aboard the Lagoda, and the Casa dos Botes Discovery Center, which has several hands on activities for children.
Read our full post and travel tips here.

5. Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts: In the heart of the city, guests can participate in a reenactment of the night of December 16, 1773 when 5,000 “Sons and Daughters of Liberty” (or a maximum of 55 tourists) met at the South Meeting House to organize protests against the tea tax. Part of the tour includes exploring either the Beaver or Eleanor (they’re identical ships which rotate between tour groups) to hear more from another host aboard the ship and go below deck and explore the living quarters of the ship.
Kids will enjoy the chance to throw replica cargo of tea overboard into the harbor and participating in the “protest.”
Read our full post and travel tips here.

6. Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth, Massachusetts: The museum showcases the ruins of the Whydah ship and the only full pirate treasure ever discovered. The Whydah, a slave ship eventually overtaken by pirates, was built in 1715 in London and sailed to West Africa before heading to America. Captured by Sam Bellamy and fellow pirates, a Nor’Easter  sank the ship off the shores of Cape Cod during the early morning hours of April 27, 1717. Only 2 of the 146 men (130 pirates and 16 prisoners) on the ship survived.  In 1984, Barry Clifford discovered the wreckage off the coast of Wellsfleet, Massachusetts. Archaeologists and divers search through the wreckage between June and October each year for more treasures and bring artifacts back to the lab for cleaning, preservation, and display at the museum.
Kids will enjoy hoisting the Jolly Roger,  climbing aboard a replica portion of the Whydah and walking through replica sleeping quarters, practicing various knot tieing skills and checking out the Sea Lab and Learning Center.
Read our full post and travel tips here.

7. Charlestown Navy Yard and USS Constitution in Boston, Massachusetts: The Navy Yard was established in 1800 and over 200 warships were built and maintained there until the yard’s closing in 1974. Today, the 130 acre complex includes parks, museums, visitor centers, and two ships on display. The USS Constitution, one of the original six ships of the US Navy is a massive, 500 crew ship which won three battles during the War of 1812. Nicknamed “Old Ironsides” (find out why in the museum),  the ship was in use from 1797 until 1853, and still sets sail eight times a year for special events. The USS Cassin Young launched in 1943 and was an important part of WWII battles. Visitors can explore the top deck on their own, and guided tours are offered down below deck.
Kids will enjoy pretending to steer the ship and checking out the sleeping arrangements for various ranks of sailors, going below deck and seeing the officers’ quarters.
Read our full post and travel tips here.

8. Seven Seas Whale Watch tour in Gloucester, Massachusetts: Three to four hour tours (offered twice a day April through October) explore the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary region and promise the site of whales. Staff will narrate throughout parts of the tour and share the history and geography of the area as well as explain the backgrounds of various species.
Kids will enjoy seeing the whales up close and learning about the other types of sea life.
Read our full post and travel tips here. (#6 on the list)

9. Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut: The largest maritime museum in the United States, Mystic Seaport was founded in 1929. Spread out over 19 acres with over 60 different exhibits, buildings, and boats, the Seaport recreates 19th century life in a seafaring village.  Most popular are the three ships: The LA Dunton, the Joseph Conrad, and the Charles W. Morgan. The Conrad, built in Denmark as a training ship, was a merchant marine ship that now hosts “Ship to Shore” camp programs each summer. The Dunton is a fishing ship from the 1920s. The Morgan is the oldest wooden whaling ship in the world still afloat and was in use from 1841-1921. It’s been docked in Mystic since 1941.
Kids will enjoy exploring all three ships and checking out  where they carved parts of the whale and store the blubber, Children’s Museum (best suited for children under age 8) and Home Port (geared towards children ages 8-12).
Read our full post and travel tips here.

10. Submarine Force Museum and HS Nautilus in Groton, Connecticut: Known as the ”Submarine Capital of the World,” Groton is home to the USS NAUTILUS, the world’s first nuclear-powered ship and the first vessel to go to the North Pole, and a museum that showcases the history of the Nautilus and several other submarines. There are both indoor and outdoor exhibits, as well as the opportunity to explore the HS (Historic Ship) Nautilus, which was in service from 1854 until 1980 and home to 105 crew members and 13 officers.
Kids will enjoy the control rooms where they can pretend to steer the submarines and periscopes and the replica of Bushnell’s Turtle, the first submarine built, inside the museum and exploring the Nautilus.
Read our full post and travel tips here.

11. Interipd Sea, Air, & Space, Museum in New York City: The aircraft carrier Intrepid, operational between 1943-1974, served in World War II, the Cold War, Vietnam War, and as a NSAS recovery vessel in the 1960s before being decommissioned and opening as a museum in 1982. At any given date, there were between 2500-3500 male sailors (women never served aboard the Intrepid) and, in total, over 50,000 men served on board the Intrepid during its service. The Intrepid is now stationed at Pier 86 in the “Hell’s Kitchen” section on the West Side of Manhattan and guests can explore several areas of the ship, as well as the adjacent USS Growler. The Crowler is a Cold War era submarine and the only nuclear submarine open to visitors in America.
Kids will enjoy crawling through the hatches of the Growler, climbing the stairs and getting a close up look of the Enterprise in the Space Shuttle Pavilion, and testing out some of the daily life activities for a sailor in the Exploreum.
Read our full post and travel tips here.

12. Jamestown Settlement in Jamestown, Virginia: Named in honor of King James of England,  Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum that includes an indoor museum, replica Powhatan Indian village, three reproduction ships, and a fort, all with interpreters offering stories and experiences from 1607, when 104 colonists created the first permanent English settlement in North America. The waterfront area is home to reproductions of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, the three ships of the Virginia Company which brought the first permanent English colonists to Jamestown in 1607. The ships were built in 1991 and occasionally set sail for events and educational programs.  Costumed interpreters provide engaging details about the original voyage and life aboard the ships.
Kids will enjoy exploring upper and lower decks of the ships, completing “chores” in the fort, and playing corncob darts in the village.
Read our full post and travel tips here.

13. Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:  A massive maritime museum located right on the Delaware Waterfront, it boasts an impressive collection of antique and modern boats to explore. In nice weather, spend time walking along the waterfront- there are plenty of spaces to picnic and soak in the sun. The USS Olympia became a museum in 1950s and visitors can explore most areas of the ship, including the gally (kitchen) surgery, dispensary, laundry room, “sick bay” and barbershop. Visitors can also explore the WWII submarine Becuna.
Kids will enjoy dressing up and acting out a scene in the River Highway Theater, climbing aboard the replica schooner “Diligence”, and conducting experiments and creating water channels in the Fisharium exhibit.
Read our full post and travel tips here. (#17)

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  1. What an amazing summary of sites to learn and enjoy fascinating information about the history of boats, sailing, and the. Impact on our country. A really great job!

  2. What an amazing summary of sites to learn and enjoy fascinating information about the history of boats, sailing, and the. Impact on our country. A really great job!

  3. What an amazing summary of sites to learn and enjoy fascinating information about the history of boats, sailing, and the. Impact on our country. A really great job!

  4. This article highlights two fantastic nautical museums on the East Coast: the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine, and the USS Massachusetts at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts. These museums offer a deep dive into maritime history and provide interactive experiences for visitors, making them great destinations for both adults and kids interested in boats and naval history.

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