The Saugatuck Chain Ferry, Diane, is the only remaining hand cranked chain ferry of its kind remaining in the United States. Diane is guided across the Kalamazoo River by a chain that is connected to both sides. It is hand cranked by trained operators and departs each dock every 10-15 minutes based on demand. The chains have a considerable amount of slack built into them, in order to sink below the surface as the ferry moves away, allowing other vessels to pass without becoming grounded or trapped.
The Saugatuck Chain Ferry has been in use since 1857 (according to the Saugatuck Douglas Historical Society), although the present ferry was built in the 1960’s and is owned by the City of Saugatuck. It was originally used to carry horses across the river. It is currently most commonly used for folks to visit the other side of the river with ease from Downtown Saugatuck. People choose to hike the dune-wooded trails, climb Mount Baldhead, visit the History Museum, or walk to Oval Beach. For some, it is just a fun experience and ride it over to the other side and then return on the next trip.
Currently Diane is staffed & managed by the Star of Saugatuck, LLC, who took over operation in 2019. All current chain ferry staff are trained and certified in CPR. The operators must also be in good physical condition in order to hand crank the Ferry across the river up to six times an hour. The Ferry will shut down for high winds, fog, lighting & heavy rain. The crew also takes a 30 minute lunch break, the white board on each dock will post when they will return.
There’s a great article with excellent photos in the Detroit Free Press by Neal Rubin about the Saugatuck Chain Ferry. It’s called: The sun is setting on the best summer job in Michigan — but there’s always next year.
Read the full article here…