Saving the steamboat Delta Queen … again

In 1970 I worked on the Delta Queen for six months. It was my first commercial job on the rivers, and when I first fell in love with this incredible life on the water.

That was also the same year that the future operation of the Delta Queen was threatened by the passage by Congress of the 1966 Safety at Sea Act. This legislation applied international SOLAS regulations to vessels carrying 50 or more overnight passengers. It restricted vessels with wooden superstructures from carrying overnight passengers, which in effect, would shut down the operations of the wooden Delta Queen.

So, in 1970 the first effort to “Save the Delta Queen” was launched. On board the vessel, I was introduced to Betty Blake and William Muster, the people who got the public involved in urging Congress to exempt the Delta Queen from this law. Betty and Bill worked 18 hours a day on this mission for many months. Everyone told them that they would never be able to accomplish the goal, but that just made them work harder to get the job done. They were a great team and were ultimately successful in accomplishing their goal when Congress granted the first of nine exemptions that would allow the Delta Queen to operate.

In late November, Congress passed, and the president signed into law, the Coast Guard Authorization Act which contained language that allows the Delta Queen to once again resume operations.

The similarities of today’s exemption and that of the first one in 1970 are incredible. This most recent effort to “Save the Delta Queen” was championed by Leann Ingram and Cornel Martin, past president of the Passenger Vessel Association and a former employee of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. They were both told that they would never get the exemption. Sound familiar? Their successful effort is an amazing and historic accomplishment.   

The Delta Queen is a vessel worthy of being preserved. I hope it will serve as an example what overnight steamboat travel was like for many generations.

I have a great love for the Delta Queen for many reasons, but mainly for it being instrumental in giving me my start in the river industry.

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


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    I remember the Delta Queen in the 1955 Sacramento River flood, going cross country picking farmers off their roof tops.

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    Thank you very much for your in depth letter. I happen to meet your parents when i worked aboard the DQ / MQ in the mid 70’s. I moved to Cinci in 1981 and loved dining at the MIke Finks and your folks would always stop in midst of running a very busy restaurant and say lets all look at the beautiful DQ passing by. Great memories, hopefully with more to be made sooner than later.

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    My father made repeated travels on this boat and preferred it to the Mississippi Queen and American Queen because it was smaller. I had the good fortune to accompany him on a number of these trips and agree that the Delta Queen is the true queen of the river.

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    Robert Stanley on

    DELTA QUEEN – made in Scotland, assembled in California, intended to serve with twin, DELTA KING, on the Sacramento River delta. A great example of Mississippi River Americana ? Not.
    Not a good example of life on the river for passengers, since the Mississippi River boats which come to mind for those who are knowledgeable about these things, were side-wheelers, not sternwheelers (which eventually took over the Mississippi due to their better abilities as push boats for cargo barges. Not exactly anyone’s vision of luxury river cruising !).
    Failed the test for fire safety (although that could be rectified, but no one is offering to do so). Also failed the test for damage stability and flotation in case of a single penetration of the hull anywhere in the length of the hull (which no one is addressing).
    If you like taking risks, ride this Scottish tub.

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