Take Five: Meet Joe Stapleton, judging chair, NB Christmas Boat Parade


The floats really float, and the lights seem like they would be bright enough to see from space. It’s the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, celebrating its 111th year, and it’s opening December 18 for a five-night run, beginning each evening about 6:30 p.m. and winding around Newport Harbor on a route that begins and ends at the tip of Lido Isle. The annual event draws thousands of spectators watching from land and water, and the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce organizes everything from safety and logistics to judging the entries. I caught up with the parade’s chairman of judging, Joe Stapleton, to find out more.

Take Five Joe Stapleton

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Photos by Bleu Cotton Photography

Joe Stapleton, Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade’s judging chair

Q: You are the chair of judging for the boat parade. What are the things that make the biggest impressions, both favorably and unfavorably?

A: It always surprises me how far our participants are willing to go to exceed their efforts from the prior year. Our judges are looking for boats that are the most innovative, and you can always tell who did the required planning to make their boat the most spectacular. Our Boat Parade is one of the best and most well-known Christmas events in the United States, and that comes with a responsibility that we do not take lightly. Our boat owners spend considerable time, effort and money to make the parade a spectacle that is enjoyed by all those viewing. Our judges have the opportunity to reward the best efforts of those participants.

Q: Could you describe in a nutshell how judging the parade works — how many judges are there, is it over many nights, do you confer with one another?

A: The basic system for judging the boat parade has been in place for several years and well before I took over the job of Chief Judge this year. My predecessor, Seymour Beek, was responsible for judging the parade for the last 25 years, so certainly there are big shoes to fill. There are four judging categories, two judging locations, two judging nights and eight judges per location. The four categories are: Best Use of Lights, Best Animation/Special Effects, Best Music and Best Humor & Originality.

Take Five Ring of Lights judges

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Joe Stapleton (L) and the Ring of Lights judges…hope you can recognize all of them 

Q: What was the craziest or most incredible boat you ever saw?

A: It is always fun to watch “El Navegante” with their fire breathing dragon and “The Last Hurrah” with its Disney-style animation battle it out for the top spot each year. We also enjoy recognizing the little guys who come up with some creative ways to decorate small boats.

Q: What is your favorite part of the boat parade?

A: No question my favorite part of the Christmas Boat Parade each year is watching our community come together to pull off such an incredible display of holiday cheer.

Take Five decorated boat and house

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A docked boat and waterfront home, decorated in spectacular lights

Q: Where do you usually set up during the parade, and do you have any tips for our readers who want a good view?

A: For the last 10 years I have been out on the water volunteering each night to make sure the parade is well-organized and everyone comes home safe. However, this will be the first time I get to watch the parade from land as the boats go by. I would recommend everyone go to www.christmasboatparade.com and follow the link for viewing to find the best places to watch. Marina Park has quickly become a crowd favorite as one of our newest jewels of the harbor, but there’s nothing better than supporting our local Chamber businesses during this time of year and enjoying some food and drinks in the warmth of our world-class restaurants, hotels and yacht clubs on the water.


Amy Senk is a longtime resident of Corona del Mar and a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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