Spreading Holiday Cheer in a Floating Parade

Florida’s Historic Coast was founded through nautical interests and that is rarely on display more than when the Regatta of Lights floats through the bay front of St. Augustine during the holidays.

Several dozen boats now take part in the event with vessels decorated from bow to stern in holiday lights, highlighting the annual tradition. The Regatta of Lights takes place Saturday December 8 along the bayfront in St. Augustine beginning at 6 p.m. The parade of boats usually lasts about an hour to an hour and a half. The vessels show off their displays to the crowds on shore as they circulate in a counter-clockwise motion during the event.

The boats decorated in holiday lights and displays pass by huge crowds lining the waterfront between the historic Castillo de San Marcos and the famed Bridge of Lions.

The Regatta of Lights has had various incarnations and different organizational bodies have run the event over the years. But mainly for the past 15 years or so, the St. Augustine Yacht Club organizes this unique parade which is always slated for the second Saturday of December.
But participation in the Regatta of Lights goes well beyond St. Augustine as organizers report many sail their boats from their home ports from as far away as Daytona Beach to Jacksonville to take part in the event that is witnessed by the thousands.

Adding to the sparkle of the event is that the Regatta of Lights takes place during the St. Augustine Nights of Lights holiday tradition. There are already thousands of people coming to the heart of the Nation’s Oldest City during the holidays to witness the now 25-year-old tradition of Nights of Lights. Hundreds of thousands of white lights are strung up in the historic district of St. Augustine between the last weekend before Thanksgiving to the end of January. This year Nights of Lights continues through February 3, 2019.

The Regatta of Lights are an added boost to the holiday fan fare and an actual moving picture of the lights that run from the land-loving areas of St. Augustine to the waters that course through Florida’s Historic Coast.

The event is not just limited to the vessels and their crews on the water. Historic reenactors and staff at the Castillo de San Marcos also participate by firing cannon shots (with blanks of course) saluting  the passing watercraft. The fort also hosts an open house during the Regatta of Lights.

Organizers are proud to point out the Regatta of Lights is no passing thought for the participants. The Christmas and holiday displays on the boats often rival the land-locked holiday displays. The yacht club officials announce awards for the best decorations in different categories and the viewing public can also participate in an interactive voting process. Organizers ask anyone viewing from the shores of St. Augustine to text the number 77453 and then type in the word “BOAT” and the number of the actual boat that you favor. Each vessel has a number that’s clearly displayed on the deck.

If you’re going to the Regatta of Lights, remember to arrive early. The bay front is lined thick with a crowd every year with onlookers and the roads can be heavily trafficked.

It’s probably best to arrive in the late afternoon in order to find a parking spot close to the waterfront and then take in some shopping or a bite to eat one of the many restaurants in downtown St. Augustine. But once the Regatta of Lights begins, it’s all hands on deck and the crowds surge toward Matanzas Bay.