The best thing about the Cape Fear River is boats! When we lean over the rail on downtown Wilmington, NC’s Riverwalk, boats bring us an ever-changing view. Boats large and small have been part of the Cape Fear River scene since people first lived here.
If you wonder about the background of the boats you see in downtown Wilmington—or if you’d like to tie up your own boat downtown—you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a little background on the boats you see when you visit the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington.
The Battleship is the Biggest Ship in Downtown Wilmington, NC
At 728 feet, it’s hard to miss the Battleship North Carolina, docked across the Cape Fear River from downtown. When the battleship was commissioned in 1941, it was considered the world’s greatest sea weapon. The ship participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific during World War II. It was decommissioned after the war and sat in decline in New Jersey until 1961, when the citizens of North Carolina mounted a statewide campaign to save the ship, and brought it back to Wilmington. The North Carolina is open for visitors year-round.
The first Diligence was built in 1791 in Washington, NC and moved to its homeport of Wilmington in 1792. Our current Coast Guard cutter, the 210-foot Diligence VI, was commissioned in 1964. It patrols the east coast of the U.S., the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico, rescuing mariners in distress, protecting our environment and fisheries, halting illegal immigration, and stopping illegal drugs and contraband from entering the country. Follow the Diligence Facebook page to learn about events and opportunities to go aboard the Diligence.
The Henrietta III Rests on Wilmington’s Riverwalk Between Cruises
The present day Henrietta III was named after the original Henrietta, the first steamboat to be built in North Carolina back in 1818. Owned by James Seawell and named for his daughter, the first Henrietta ran between Fayetteville and Wilmington.
Our present-day Henrietta III was built as a smaller dinner riverboat, and later enlarged to a 500-passenger capacity. It’s the largest riverboat in North Carolina boasting three levels of decks. There are two lower decks with dining facilities, and the upper deck has an enclosed atrium and an open sun deck. The Henrietta III offers a variety of dinner cruises and sightseeing tours, including charter cruises, along the Cape Fear River. Check out the Henrietta III’s Facebook page for news.
See Wilmington from the Water Aboard the J.N. Maffitt
From April to October, you can take an hour-long narrated sightseeing cruise aboard the J.N. Maffitt. Get your tickets the day of the cruise at the ticket booth at the foot of Dock Street, where the Henrietta III is docked. You can get snacks at drinks at The Barge there, too. J.N.Maffitt rides are $10, $5 for kids 2-12; the boat is also available for private charters.
Launch Your Own Boat Downtown
Dram Tree Boat Launch at the foot of Castle Street near the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge also includes a kayak launch and a park.
The City of Wilmington allows short term, transient and long term docking at the Hilton, Coastline, and Market Street Landing docks. If you just want to tie up and spend the day downtown, it’s $5 for up to 6 hours. (You’ll need reservations for festival docking.) You get free Wi-fi and public restrooms. Contact the City Docks at (910) 520-6875 for reservations and assistance.