The Vol Navy is one of Tennessee’s most famous traditions. Football fans bring their boats down the Tennessee River, dock them near Neyland Stadium, and “sailgate” all morning before walking over to the stadium to watch the Vols play. Hundreds of people come from all over the state to be a part of the tradition, but the Vol Navy began solely as a means of transportation.
In 1962 radio broadcaster George Mooney—known as the Voice of the Vols from 1952 to 1967—and a friend became the first to travel to Neyland Stadium by boat. To avoid Knoxville’s notorious game-day traffic, the two took Mooney’s runabout motorboat down the Tennessee River, tied it to a tree near the stadium, and traversed the rocks and grass to get to the stadium. Mooney didn’t realize that his trip to avoid traffic would turn into a college football tradition like none other.
As word got out, more people began docking their boats near campus and walking to games. Just 10 years after Mooney’s first trip, nearly 600 feet of new dock space was built to accommodate the growing number of boats. Another 75 feet of dock space was built in 1982, along with a pedestrian tunnel under Neyland Drive that connected the river to World’s Fair Park during the fair.
UT is one of only three schools in the country whose fans can sailgate before the big game. Baylor and the University of Washington both have stadiums near rivers, allowing fans to travel to games by boat—but neither school has a flotilla to rival the Vol Navy.
Vol Navy boats are docked across from the stadium off of Neyland Drive. The walk from the docks to the stadium is about 15 minutes, much closer than most car parking.
The Vol Navy has been steadfast in its loyalty to Tennessee football. Even through the team’s no-so-great years, the boats still showed up. Things got tricky during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when boats could not be docked for more than 24 hours and fraternizing between boats was not allowed, but a faithful few still showed up. Today, the Vol Navy is as strong as ever, with an estimated 350 boats coming out to support the Vols on the biggest game days.