The film opens with U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Jordan responding to a number of pleas for help from sailors off the coast of Southern California. This is the type of event that the Coast Guard has to put up with on a regular basis, and it is one of the reasons why Jordan requested to transfer to a new station. He is handing over the reins to Ensign Tom Garland, a polite but remarkably clumsy fellow who will now report to Commander Taylor, a man who fought in World War II with Garland's father and holds him in high regard.
Through a series of events, we see Garland's ineptitude as the station's new skipper. He repeatedly flounders in tending to the various minor issues plaguing the crowded waters' impatient travelers. It also doesn't take long for him to set his eyes on Kate Fairchild, a "girl next door" type who runs a local boat rental and sailing school spot on the coast.
Meanwhile, three jewel thieves are making their way to Mexico while listening to reports of their pursuit. There's ringleader Harry Simmons who poses as a "commodore" and dispatches orders to his two associates, Charlie and Max. This trio has managed to steal a jewel collection, and they intend to smuggle them inside an assortment of casually-hollowed food. They decide to rent a boat from Kate to make their way south of the border, although none of the three know how to sail.
The Boatniks follows Tom's nautical misadventures and romance, while at the same time following the attempts of the jewel thieves to escape to Mexico. With Kate's suggestion that the crooks' suspicious behavior might indicate criminality, she and Tom begin to suspect that they are indeed the three men reported about in a newspaper article. Tom is right about the suspects, but Commander Taylor doesn't initially believe it. Ultimately, Garland is able to convince Taylor, retrieve the stolen jewels, and ensure that the jewel thieves are arrested.
- Robert Morse as Ensign Garland
- Stefanie Powers as Kate Fairchild
- Phil Silvers as Harry Simmons
- Norman Fell as Max
- Mickey Shaughnessy as Charlie
- Wally Cox as Jason
- Don Ameche as Commander Taylor
- Joey Forman as Lt. Jordan
- Vito Scotti as Pepe Galindo
- Tom Lowell as Wagner
- Bob Hastings as Chief Walsh
- Sammy Jackson as Garlotti
- Joe E. Ross as Nutty Sailor
- Judy Jordan as Tina
- Al Lewis as Bert
- Directed by Norman Tokar
- Produced by Ron Miller
- Written by Marty Roth, Arthur Julian
- Music by Bruce Belland, Robert F. Brunner, Franklyn Marks
- Cinematography William Snyder
- Editing by Cotton Warburton
- Release date: July 1, 1970
- Running time 100 minutes
- Box office $18,607,492
The film was released on July 1, 1970 and re-released theatrically on June 10, 1977. It was released twice on VHS in November 1983 and March 18, 1997 and DVD on August 2, 2005.