My Summer as a Boat Tour Captain

Jim Hocepl

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Over the summer, I captained tour boats for Original Soo Locks Boat Tours up north in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Interlake Maritime Services recently purchased the company from the Welch family, which had owned it since its founding by Capt. Milo Welch in 1934. The company’s three tour boats—Bide-A-Wee, Holiday and Hiawatha—joined the Interlake Steamship Co.’s fleet, which includes the SS Badger ferry, six river class (639- to 826-foot) freighters, four 1,000-footers and several other vessels.

Capt. Jim Holcepl

Boats and locks

The 65-foot-long, 25-foot-wide tour boats draw 6 feet. Built in 1955, 1957 and 1959, the well-maintained, single-screw tour boats are powered by 240-horsepower 6-110 GM diesel engines. Each operates similarly with slight differences. The vessels carry up to 272 passengers from all over the world.

Michigan’s oldest city, Sault Ste. Marie contains lots of history, and our tour narrators cover as much of it as possible during a two-hour cruise through the Canadian recreational lock (228 feet long and 54 feet wide) and one of two operating U.S. locks—the MacArthur (800 feet long and 80 feet wide) or the Poe (1,200 feet long and 110 feet wide). Locking through involves either being lifted to Lake Superior’s level or lowered 21 feet to Lake Huron. In U.S. locks, we were joined by commercial boats of all sizes, from freighters and tugs pushing barges to Great Lakes cruise ships. I went through the locks over 300 times this summer—quite the experience!

How I got here

I joined North Coast Ohio Sail & Power Squadron/7 the year before my wife and I purchased our first boat, a Thompson 240 hardtop fisherman. The education we gained before buying our boat allowed us to feel more confident while boating, whether the seas were flat or Lake Erie was, well, being Lake Erie.

After retiring from a career in book publishing, I continued my boating education and pursued a U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s Master 100-ton license. To prepare myself, I completed all United States Power Squadrons courses. The three most important courses to my preparation were Boat Handling, Marine Navigation and Advanced Marine Navigation. These courses, along with the coursework offered by U.S. Maritime Academy and taught by fellow club member Joe Poplstein, made preparing for the USCG tests and chart work much easier. I also highly recommend our elective courses in Marine Electronics, Engine Maintenance and Weather.

My family and I have made great friends within our squadron and district. We have gone on fantastic cruises and had wonderful times at various events over the years, from being on the Lake Erie Islands to rafting in Sandusky Bay for the night.

These events and the excellent educational courses made me want to give back to this organization by volunteering my time and talents. I have had the privilege and joy of serving on North Coast Ohio’s bridge (several times as commander) and as commander of District 7. A certified USPS instructor, I enjoy teaching America’s Boating Course and Boat Handling. I’m also a certified vessel safety examiner and became a Life Member in 2022.

Regardless of your boating goals, I encourage you to get involved. Take our classes, attend our events and become an active participant in your club.

A version of this article originally appeared in North Coast Ohio Sail & Power Squadron’s Currents newsletter.

Jim Hocepl

Jim Holcepl is a retired book publishing sales manager. He has an MBA, plays banjo and guitar, and holds a 100-ton USCG certificate with towing endorsement. As past commander of North Coast Ohio Sail & Power Squadron and past District 7 commander, he enjoys teaching America’s Boating Course and Boat Handling and doing vessel safety checks. He and his wife, Julie, have enjoyed boating on Lake Erie for many years.

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The Ensign magazine is an official channel of United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, a volunteer organization whose members teach boating skills and best practices to help improve the safety of our nation’s waterways. Learn more.

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