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I wouldn't take a 15' boat through the Hell Gate, or in the East River at all, on any regular basis. The problem is not just the currents, it is the traffic in a confined waterway, and the waves themselves. You can get 2-4' tall square standing waves reflecting up from the bottom in the East River, and that's a rough ride for a 15' boat of any kind.

If you know what you are doing, and you are very much aware of the conditions, it certainly could be done safely. But if you have to ask, no, stick to the Sound or the harbor and skip the East River entirely for now.

And even in the harbor--remember that traffic will have a hard time seeing you. If you can't get out of their way, there may be nothing they can do to avoid running you down. There's much more room in the Sound, and bays where you can have plenty of fun without the current or traffic.
 

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Getting in and out of the Bayside Marina, accessing the map there and figuring out how to hike out to where you can park the car, can be a real RFPITA but you may find the water better than at the airport.

Also bear in mind that if you sail in the harbor and cross that faint blue line into NJ waters, you DO need a formal operator's certificate to operate any type of motor(ized) boat in NJ waters.
 

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Haven't been down there in a while, and I have no idea if you can get a mooring except through the various clubs. But where else can you get to a mooring by public transportation and have such a wide range of restaurants to visit before heading home. (G)

There's also the Gateway Marina, across the road from Floyd Bennett Field, lots of fairly shallow and protected water, and that's also a short bus ride form the subway or an easy car trip, although it is more in the middle of nowhere for any other purpose.
 
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