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For a Day of Water Fun, Enter or Organize a Poker Run

A Poker Run is definitely not a race. A Poker Run is a day of fun on the water. It's all the excitement of a game of chance put together with the camaraderie and pleasure of boating. For those who have not yet seen or participated in one, a Poker Run is a card game where the players are boaters. They depart from a starting point to four to six stops in a predetermined course on the water. The course can be around a lake or on a river or bay. The players pick up one playing card, typically sealed in an envelope, at each stop on the course. When they reach the last stop or return to the start, the boat with the best poker hand wins.

Poker Runs originated about 15 years ago as high speed rallies to show off and share a love of powerboats. The boats involved were typically, although not necessarily, performance powerboats. Now all types of boats from dinghies to canoes are featured in Poker Runs. Poker Runs have evolved from races to tightly controlled family-friendly outings. Speed actually plays no role in winning because the best hand wins. As any visitor to a casino should know, winning at gambling is a game of chance. There are now Poker Runs for the speed loving Cigarette boat owners as well as Poker Runs for small cruisers, pontoon boats and even personal watercraft. Theoretically any type of boat could be used in a Poker Run, as long as all of the boats have the same general capabilities. One marina in Ohio holds a Dinghy Poker Run every year. It allows any dinghy, canoe, rowboat, kayak, or powered boat under 14 feet long to enter. Some Poker Runs have multiple courses to accommodate multiple boat types. Many are held as fundraisers for local charities. You don't need to be a pro to participate in these events. Most of the Poker Runs are highly organized and give you very detailed instructions and course maps. Some are short courses and others can be up to 200 miles long. The picture above was taken at last year's New York Poker Run, and provided for this article by the APRA.

Boaters are always looking for new ways to entertain themselves and their friends on the water, so Poker Run events are gaining popularity quickly. Clubs and marinas all over the U.S. are hosting these events. There are over 100 major events around the country each year, and many smaller ones. It's a day of boating at its finest, a chance to renew old acquaintances and make new friends. Advocates of properly run events state emphatically that a Poker Run is not a race. It is a recreational, family event. The attraction of the event is the combination of playing poker with boating, plus the fact that everyone has an equal chance to win prizes.

Each participating boat navigates the carefully charted course, stopping at the designated checkpoints or card stops along the route. At each stop players pick up a sealed envelope containing a single playing card. At the final checkpoint, the envelopes are opened and the crew holding the best poker hand is declared the winner. At one event a $250,000 powerboat was the prize for anyone drawing five of a kind. Prizes can also be given for things like Worst Hand, Best Dressed Crew, Best Course Time, Best Looking Boat, and Best Looking Crew.

Signing up to participate in a Poker Run means being part of a well organized, activity-oriented, fun-filled and safe event. Naturally, it helps to have great weather and a beautiful body of water, but the card stops and special hosts that cater to Poker Runners throughout the run are very important to the spirit of the event. At each of the stops, these hosts provide entertainment and refreshments for the participants. Keeping the atmosphere fun and relaxed, while keeping the participants in the spirit of the competition is all part of hosting a card stop.

These events are now attracting corporate sponsors, such as Pontoon and Deckboat Magazine. Some Poker Runs are featuring major prizes as part of the big draw. Prizes can include boats, cash, cameras, designer watches, and a variety of boating gear.

The American Poker Run Association (APRA) was founded four years ago in part to set safety standards for these events and counter the drag racing image. As stated on their website (, their goal is: “To promote the continuing growth of safe and responsible performance boating, by linking manufacturers and dealers of high performance boats and accessories, Poker Run organizers and performance boat owners”. It sanctions about 25 of the major Poker Runs and usually runs about 12 of those.

At APRA sponsored events a professional safety coordinator is hired, a driver's meeting is mandatory, speed limits and proximity to other boats are strictly enforced, and a series of color-coded flags are flown, similar to auto racing flags.

The big events the APRA puts on are definitely not for the wild and crazy crowd. The ARPA has a new 32-page Poker Run manual with strict rules for their events. The rules include zero tolerance for alcohol consumption or alcohol even present on a boat, as well as speeding and not using safety equipment. Every person on board must wear a life jacket, and kill lanyards must be used by drivers. Event organizers must obtain the proper permits from local authorities, hire off-duty marine police and also have liability insurance coverage available for APRA members.

If all this sounds like your idea of a great day on the water, look for a Poker Run near you, and experience the fun and excitement of taking part in a Poker Run. For those of you who are really hooked, there is even a magazine for Poker Runs, “APRA's Poker Runs America.” For more information, visit or

Below are some typical Poker Run Rules:

  • Driver attendance at the pre-event Driver's Meeting is mandatory

  • Everyone on board must wear a life jacket (PFD) at all times during the run

  • No passing of the Pace Boat(s) during the prescribed times

  • No alcohol is to be consumed in or around the boats by anyone involved in the Poker Run until the boat is finally tied up for the night

  • Visible display of valid identification sticker on both sides of the boat

  • Use a V.H.F. or cell-phone or other communication to contact a central number to indicate that a participant boat has dropped out of the run for whatever reason

  • Ignition safety tethers should be worn at all times for your own safety and that of others

  • All boats must go to all scheduled card stops within the scheduled time period for each stop and collect their own cards

  • Maintain a safety zone of 200 feet clear on all sides of your boat when running

  • When coming down off plane, look behind you first and have someone (or all) on your boat wave their arms together overhead to signal your intent to stop


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