How It Works
The Swan Boat is powered by a single driver who pedals the boat while sitting atop a paddle wheel and steering with two ropes connected to a rudder. Each boat holds about 20 passengers and weighs about 6,000 pounds. The trip around the pond is one-quarter mile and a driver can navigate over 7 miles in a day.
The design of the boat dates back to the 1870s, soon after the first bicycle arrived in the United States and during a time when steam engine boats drove paddle wheels to propel ships along rivers and waterways. Materials to build a Swan Boat included oak to frame the pontoons and construct bench seats for passengers, along with iron to secure benches and floor boards, ornamental brass, and copper to sheath pontoons and to originally create the swans.
Each Swan Boat is unique and as popularity of the ride grew over the decades, new boats were constructed. The current fleet includes boats built between 1910 and 1992. The historic parts of each boat are carefully maintained throughout the seasons. Repairs are made as needed, and when necessary a full reconstruction will occur if age or other factors warrant replacement. Each season oak bench slats are sanded and varnished and the entire fleet is prepped and painted. The signature ornamental brass is polished daily before opening.
Preparing for the Season
Every spring the fleet of six Swan Boats is assembled in the Boston Public Garden. Each boat—consisting of roughly twenty custom-made, non-interchangeable parts—is built by hand. These boat parts, including pontoons, paddle boxes, benches, and swans—some weighing close to 1,000 pounds—travel via truck to the park where a dedicated crew meticulously builds each vessel until the entire fleet sits afloat the Public Garden lagoon.
Swan Boats in winter storage
Moving one of twelve 900-pound pontoons
Markings identify each boat part
1964 moving truck transports parts
Boat benches stacked in Public Garden
Boat building begins
Custom dolly with antique wagon wheels
Boat rudder is secured
Boat parts await on the lawn
Securing cross bar
Lifting one of six 400 lb paddle boxes
Swan mounted on boat
Completed boat glides across lagoon