Set Sail with West Michigan’s Specialty Ships

Whether you are an avid sailor or it’s your first time testing out your sea legs, West Michigan has a nautical adventure waiting for you! From Lake Michigan cruises and tall ship sails, sea kayaking excursions to fishing charters, you’ll find fun for all on the waters. 

Ships you’ll find in Southern West Michigan 

The Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven is home to historical ships, World War II boats, and special cruises to enjoy the open waters of Lake Michigan. Friends Good Will is a replica 1810 topsail sloop that speaks to the history of commerce in the early 1800s, as well as her pivotal role in the War of 1812. Stand at her bow, feel the wind on your face, hear the crack of her billowing sails and her 6-pound pivot gun. Do more than imagine how sailors felt as they set sail for uncharted courses–experience it for yourself. Lindy Lou is an electric-powered replica river launch. This cruise provides passengers with a chance to recapture those days from the late 1890s through the 1930s when launches plied the Black River, delivering guests to resorts, taking picnickers to up-river parks and pavilions, and generally helping to fill the lazy hours of summer with relaxing diversions. Experience the adventure aboard USCG Motor Lifeboat 36460. This boat, built in 1941, starred in the Disney film The Finest Hours. This extraordinary vessel represents one of the most widely used and relied upon rescue boats in Coast Guard history. Step aboard and ride the waves as you salute the United States Coast Guard.

From 1945 commercial fishing boats to ex-United States Navy Utility Boats, sunset sails to wine cruises, South Haven is ready to take you on a unique tour of Lake Michigan. South Haven also has many fishing charter options for those who would like to go on an exciting fishing excursion.

Home to 100+ freshwater lakes, including two chains of lakes, Coldwater Country in south central Michigan is the place to get out on the water. Bring your boat, rent a pontoon or kayak, and get out on the water to enjoy the area that is a haven for relaxation on the water.

Sit back and relax on a 1.5 hour cruise on Star of Saugatuck Boat Cruises. Listen to the water running off the paddle-wheels of an authentic sternwheel paddle boat as you gently glide down the Kalamazoo River and enter majestic Lake Michigan near Saugatuck. 

Step back in time to the early days of river cruising on the Michigan Princess Riverboat, a classic replica of a 19th century steam boat. Passengers love escaping to a simpler way of life for a few hours while they take in breathtaking views of the Grand River in Lansing. While onboard, enjoy live entertainment, a refreshing cocktail, fine dining, and more.

Fun on the Water in Central West Michigan 

Enjoy a two-hour cruise aboard Holland Princess Dinner Cruise, an old-fashioned Victorian-style paddlewheel boat complete with the “Captain’s Feast,” relaxing music, and a cash bar. Operates mid-June through late September- check their schedule for specific dates, pricing and reservations.

If you enjoy the lake, Holland is the place to be! Head out onto Lake Macatawa or Lake Michigan for sailing, touring, or water sports of all kinds. The beautiful blue water of Lake Michigan is known as one of the best freshwater fisheries in the world. Holland has several fishing charters for you to climb aboard and cast a line. 

As one of Michigan’s more unique on-water experiences, Action Wake Park in Hudsonville offers the ultimate wake surf experience. Climb aboard their watersports boat and learn how to surf! 

Tour a restored WWII Submarine, a Prohibition-Era Coast Guard Cutter, and the Naval Museum at USS Silversides Submarine Museum in Muskegon. This is a wonderful opportunity to experience what it was really like to sail a sub trolling the waters of the South Pacific 60-plus years ago. Named for a small fish of the same name, the Silversides once slid beneath the surface of some of the most dangerous waters in the world. You can walk the deck topside as well as the major internal compartments below deck. 

History jumps out at you from every deck and every corner at the USS LST 393 Veteran’s Museum in Muskegon. Walk aboard one of America’s last two LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) of the 1,051 built during World War II, marvel at state-of-the-art technology circa 1942, and more as you tour the ship weekends between May and October. 

Take a tour aboard the SS Milwaukee Clipper, featuring art deco interiors, a soda fountain, ballroom, and movie theater. Built in 1904, eight years before the Titanic, the Clipper traversed Lake Michigan from 1941 until 1970 carrying untold thousands of passengers and automobiles between Muskegon and Milwaukee.

Whether it’s a sunset cruise or daytime excursion, you will be sure to enjoy your time out on the water with Aquastar Cruises, a ship with a rich history in Muskegon of touring both Muskegon Lake and the Gold Coast of Lake Michigan.

One of West Michigan’s most unique on-water experiences are the Full Moon Floats at Guy’s Ultimate Kayak Service in Muskegon. At midnight during each full moon from May through October, grab a kayak and hit the Muskegon River under the stars.

The SS Badger is the largest car ferry to ever sail Lake Michigan and has provided a safe, fun, and reliable shortcut for more than sixty years. The Badger takes passengers, autos, RVs, tour buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and commercial trucks across Lake Michigan between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin from mid-May through mid-October. Enjoy fun amenities such as Badger Bingo, lounging, restaurants, shopping, multiple kids’ activities, and more. With so much to see and do aboard the ship, the Badger will be a highlight of your vacation.

Want to learn more about maritime history while visiting the Ludington area? Stop by the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum, which brings history to life with digital storytelling, authentic images and artifacts, and engaging interactive exhibits.

Northern West Michigan & Upper Peninsula Water Adventures 

Built in 1930 and launched in 1931, the steamship SS City of Milwaukee is the last traditional railroad car ferry on the Great Lakes. The ship is now stationed in Manistee, where it stands permanently moored as a National Historic Landmark museum.

Step into the age of sail aboard Traverse Tall Ship’s majestic replica 1800s coasting schooner, Manitou or sailing yacht Scout for a thrilling adventure on the spectacular waters of Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City. 

For families planning their summer vacations, Inland Seas Education Association in Suttons Bay is the place to go. They offer a variety of public science sails aboard their 77′ schooner. Participants of all ages help raise the sails and steer the ship. Then they collect water and lake bottom samples to analyze and compare to the 30-year data of the lake. The education center in Suttons Bay is also open year-round and with free admission. There are two large freshwater fish tanks, a turtle tank, a touch tank, and exhibits about Great Lakes invasive species. New exhibits are being created this winter to include information on the Great Lakes food web.

The Beaver Island Boat Company departs from Charlevoix for a relaxing two-hour cruise from spectacular forests, magnificent dunes, and pristine water to Beaver Island, also known as America’s Emerald Isle, located 32 miles into Lake Michigan.

Get a special look at the Straits of Mackinac, the Mackinac Bridge, and more with sunset cruises, bridge tours, and custom events aboard Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry, with departures from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, as well as multiple daily crossings to Mackinac Island all summer long. 

Located at Whitefish Point, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum has become a popular tourist destination. Museum patrons learn about the perils of maritime transport on the Great Lakes at the Whitefish Point Light Station, a Historic Site on the National Register of Historic Places. See the Whitefish Point Light Tower, in continuous operation for 155 years, which is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior.

If you are looking for unique vacation ideas, choose Pictured Rocks Cruises scenic boat tours for an up-close view of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. These 2 ½-3 hour cruises take off from Munising and travel into and alongside the most visually stunning 40 miles of shoreline on the Great Lakes.

On a clear day, Keweenaw Adventure Company’s Agate Harbor Sea Kayaking Day Trip will expose paddlers to the remnants of the City of St. Joseph, which lays undisturbed in just 20′-30’ of water. The 254′ barge was lost on the shallow reef during a northwest gale in September of 1942. Established in 1994, the Keweenaw Adventure Company are experts in offering a variety of guided day trips and state-of-the art rentals, as well as multi-day Lake Superior kayak tours on Isle Royale National Park.    

Nestled in the heart of Lake Superior at the top of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Keweenaw offers a wide array of recreational boating and fishing experiences. Isle Royale National Park visitors can book passage in Copper Harbor aboard the Isle Royale Queen IV during the summer season and experience one of Michigan’s most scenic natural attractions. The Keweenaw includes more than 50 inland lakes perfect for fishing and boating. Portage Lake features nearly 10,000 acres of freshwater fishing, gorgeous views, and calm waters perfect for boating and paddling recreation. Contact one of the many experienced local guides to book your next charter fishing experience.


More fun on the water in West Michigan: 

Find more West Michigan boating fun in the 2020 Carefree Travel Guide.