Support local news in Alameda. Give Now!

Lighted Yacht Parade Ushers in Holiday Season

Alameda Post - a sailboat participates in the Lighted Yacht Parade
Photo Ken Der.

Cold temperatures and steady rainfall did not deter revelers gathered Saturday evening on both sides of the Oakland-Alameda Estuary for the 46th Annual Lighted Yacht Parade. The spectacle, hosted jointly by the Oakland Yacht Club and Encinal Yacht Club, featured 30 skippers commandeering vessels adorned with lavish displays of lights, music, and holiday cheer. In a loop from the Grand and Fortman marinas, the parade route traveled past Wind River, Marina Village, and Mariner Square on the Alameda side before turning around to pass Jack London Square in Oakland.

Alameda Post - a compilation of boats with lights at the Lighted Yacht Parade
Photos Cindy Warner.

Although the steady rain put a damper on outdoor gatherings and discouraged a few skippers from participating, the Encinal Yacht Club was a pulsing hub of activity. Club member Anna Christensen celebrated the “reinvigorated, packed house” of more than 200 people greeting each other heartily over dinner while eagerly waiting for the parade to begin. At 5:30 p.m., the crowd migrated to the second floor terrace to get a better view of the decorated boats circling the Estuary.

But perhaps the best view of the procession was on the Judges Boat, offering a front row seat for Encinal Yacht Club President Grace Hess, Oakland Yacht Club Commodore Owen Bottler, and Captain Tony Paskins of the Oakland Fire Department. This year, the theme was “Christmas Music,” so the judges kept open ears for holiday tunes and keen eyes for the best light display. Parade co-chair Cindy Wondolleck (along with fellow co-chair, Oakland Yacht Club Staff Commodore Julie Cheng) ensured parade operations went smoothly in the rain while spotter Bill Emberley, binoculars in hand, identified the participants for the judges.

Alameda Post - A map of the Oakland estuary dictating where the Lighted Yacht Parade would travel
The looping parade route around the Oakland-Alameda Estuary.

The vessels came in all shapes, sizes, and modes of power, ranging from a San Francisco Bay Ferry, the MV Taurus, to numerous decked-out sailboats, a rowing shell, and even a lone kayaker braving the torrential rainfall using his own two hands. Although the judges decided not to evaluate costumes due to the precipitation, many onboard the boats continued undeterred. One group executed choreographed dance routines with umbrellas in hand, while another belted out lyrics to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Amid “Jingle Bells,” tunes from “The Nutcracker,” and celebratory honks from passing vessels, residents and visitors of the Estuary from near and far were treated to an early Christmas treat.

Alameda Post - a brightly lit kayak paddles by
Even the smallest of vessels participated in the festive occasion. Photo Tamar Piehler.

Sue Fialer, who lives at Cardinal Point on Mariner Square Drive, said she and fellow residents were grateful for the “boats that participated in the lighted boat parade regardless of the rainy weather” and wanted to let the parade organizers know how meaningful the event was to the community. More than just a display of elegant vessels, the Yacht Parade is sponsored by local businesses and raises toys, food, and cash each year for local food banks and charities. This year, the event is expected to raise anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 for the Alameda County Food Bank as well as up to $2,000 for Oakland Firefighters Random Acts.

Alameda Post - donation bins
Food donation bins at the Encinal Yacht Club. Photo Ken Der.

The Overall Winner of the 2022 Lighted Yacht Parade was Steve Jackson’s “5 O’Clock Somewhere.” Taking the top spot in the Sail, Power, and “Other” categories were Terry Gaige’s “Otter,” Greg and Kathy Jones’ “Midnight Madness,” and Kim Woo’s “Six Sixteen, KP Dragons.” See the full list of winners on the Lighted Yacht Parade website.

Updated December 7, 2022 9:00 p.m. with participant identifications.

Watching the Lighted Yacht Parade from the SF Ferry

Finding the best spot to watch the Lighted Yacht Parade is an annual pursuit for a lot of Alamedans, Oaklanders, and out-of-towners, and being in the parade as a passenger on a lit-up SF Bay Ferry was on the top of many folks’ list this year.

Alameda Post - a ferry with Christmas lights. It's ready to take passengers to see the Lighted Yacht Parade from the water
The SF Bay Ferry Taurus, decked out for the Lighted Yacht Parade, boarded passengers at the Main Street Ferry Terminal in Alameda. Photo Liz Barrett.

The first passengers started lining up at about 4 p.m. at Alameda’s Main Street Ferry Terminal, hoping to be among the first 200 lucky ones to get on board. One family came all the way from Vacaville for the event. Boarding time was set for 5 p.m., but there was a bit of a wait as two special ferries bound for the Warriors game at Chase Center picked up passengers.

Finally, the MV Taurus arrived and around 70 passengers boarded for the parade. The fare for each passenger was a new, unwrapped toy for firefighters’ charities. The friendly crew, many of whom were wearing glittery holiday accessories, handed out holiday candies and announced that the bar would be serving hot chocolate. The toy donation box was soon overflowing, and another box was needed to hold the many gifts that would brighten the holiday season for children in Alameda and Oakland

Alameda Post - a baseball card for the Taurus FerryIt was quite a party on board. The long tables between rows of seats, where silent commuters normally drink coffee and stare at their phones, were filled with kids and families playing with ferry-related toys and games the crew had provided. At the ticket booth, a crew member—decked out in a glittery holiday costume—announced that she had snacks for all the kids, as well as baseball-style cards of the Taurus. As she walked around handing out goodies, she said that every boat in the SF Ferry fleet has its own card, and anyone can ask for one—free for the taking—from each boat’s ticket booth.

Alameda Post - a houseboat decked in decor
Photo Ken Der.

The friendly family atmosphere and congenial conversation among passengers who had never met before was great—and led to the windows being a bit fogged up inside, so the views of passing boats were best from the outdoor decks. The cold and rain didn’t stop the fun of waving to other boats that passed and to people watching from shore.

And then there was the swag. As the parade wound down, and the Taurus returned to Main Street, ferry employees gave passengers holiday cards, stickers, and gift bags filled with candies. Every face had a smile on it. And that’s exactly what a holiday event should look like.

Ken Der is a contributing writer for the Alameda Post. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at Liz Barrett is the Copy Editor of the Alameda Post and writes about our community. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at

KQED Curated Content
Thanks for reading the

Nonprofit news isn’t free.

Will you take a moment to support Alameda’s only local news source?
Thanks for reading the

Nonprofit news isn’t free.

Will you take a moment to support Alameda’s only local news source?