It's getting easier and easier to make a summertime playlist of 21st century country favorites that doubles as a list of boat songs. It's a trope at this point, but it's been done right several times in recent memory by clear fans of Alan Jackson (he couldn't water ski in the "Chattahoochee" video without a boat, after all) and his "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere" collaborator, Jimmy Buffett.
A boating playlist not limited by genre or time frame could include everything from Styx's "Come Sail Away" and the Hues Corporation's "Rock the Boat" to Lyle Lovett's "If I Had a Boat," Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up the Sun," Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat (Day-O)" and the Beach Boys' version of "Sloop John B." But for the sake of brevity and to keep the focus on country music, we selected these six boating songs that'll be stuck in your head the next time you party at a lake house or order a frozen concoction from Margaritaville.
"Knee Deep," "Zac Brown Band (with Jimmy Buffett)
The Zac Brown Band never stays in a particular musical lane, gifting us on occasion with such nautical-themed songs as this Buffett collaboration. ZBB tracks with similar vibes range from fan favorite "Toes" to the more recent allegory "Same Boat."
"Boats," Kenny Chesney
Quite a few Kenny Chesney songs from the past 20 years qualify for this list, with "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems" being the obvious choice. Yet we decided to go with this sentimental slow-burner about "vessels of freedom," co-written by Chesney, Scotty Emerick and George Strait's go-to songwriter, Dean Dillon.
"Buy Me a Boat," Chris Janson
Wanna-be boat owners can relate to Chris Janson's daydream about inheriting enough from a relative to trade in working 9-to-5 for a carefree life. It's a diamond from a time (2015, to be specific) some write off as offering nothing more than "bro-country" coal.
"Pontoon," Little Big Town
The vocal group that steals the show on most awards shows and televised specials celebrates country folks' typical weekends on the lake, not nautical getaway fantasies, with this No. 1 hit from 2012. Like many of the better country hits from the past 15 years or so, it connects with a broad audience because it deals with the simple pleasures of life.
"Redneck Yacht Club," Craig Morgan
Craig Morgan followed Travis Tritt's lead and shared his club membership situation in song back in 2005. One of catchiest country hits from the early aughts brought us one of the few music videos that compares favorably to the visual accompaniment for Jackson's bottomless source of memes, "Chattahoochee."
"I Was on a Boat That Day," Old Dominion
The freshest cut on our list deserves consideration as one of 2021's songs of the summer, along with Willie Jones' "Down By the Riverside" and its boat-themed music video. It's a healthy mix of fun in the sun vibes and biting, post-breakup sarcasm, reminiscent of Brad Paisley's "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)."