Rollin’ on the river

I look forward to this trip every year because it reminds me of the rich history of steamboating on our inland rivers. Early on, steamboats or “packet boats” carried products and goods to remote parts of our growing nation via the inland river system. The steamboats provided a vital service and business boomed.  

As rail and other transportation modes became available, the packet boat trade faded. This gave rise to a burgeoning new riverboat excursion business, where tramping — travelling from river city to river city — became a staple for early riverboats and the communities they visited.

When I pilot my vessel upriver, I think about this rich river history, and I enjoy the natural beauty of the Ohio as my predecessors did. I am also reminded of my early years on the rivers and reading Mark Twain. On my voyage, I even passed a homemade flatboat floating down the river, which reminded me of Twain’s novels. It is amazing how much has changed on our inland rivers and how much has remained the same.

In addition to the natural beauty and history, I get the strong sense that the inland river transportation system is going strong. As I pass barge tow after barge tow, I realize how important the inland rivers are to our nation’s economy. As I talk to my counterparts on towing vessels, they are always interested in the fact that we are tramping. There continues to be a great connection among the inland river operators.

Many people visit my pilothouse and ask what it is like to be the captain of a riverboat. I tell them that it is the greatest job in the world, and I’m proud to be a U.S. mariner on our inland rivers. 

I hope to continue to be one for many more years to come.

About the author

Capt. Alan Bernstein

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or abernstein@bbriverboats.com.

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