Mackinac Island Ferry storms

posted in: Michigan Weather Forecast, Slim | 6

With the recent tragic Duck Boat accident in Branson, Missouri I wondered how do the boats that run to Mackinac Island handle storms.


Looks like just this year on June 17th a severe storm disrupted the Island’s Lilac Festival. The storm uprooted trees, delayed ferry service to the Island, knocked out power to 5,700 Cloverland Electrical Cooperative customers in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, and tipped over a camper and boat trailer on the Mackinac Bridge, forcing a two-hour closure. The National Weather Service said the storm developed in South Dakota in the early morning hours and moved rapidly through southern Minnesota and central and northern Wisconsin before crossing into northern Michigan and the Eastern Upper Peninsula. The Weather Service office in Gaylord issued the first severe thunderstorm warning at 3:39 p.m. and the last at 5:48 p.m. The storm system moved through Michigan in about three hours.
So how do the Ferry boats handle bad weather? Shepler’s deckhand Kaylee Hoolsema of Rudyard said that one ferry run Sunday evening around 5 p.m. was delayed for 10 minutes to allow high winds to pass by. When significant storms are passing, boats in the water are told to stay the course and boats at the docks are ordered to wait. So according to Kaylee Hoolsema Boats on the water are to stay the course and at the docks are to wait the storm out. According to Star Line CEO Jerry Fetty said only a special one-time trip, such as a bridge cruise, would be canceled because of a storm. If Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry starts seeing lightning or hail, they bring people below deck and remind everyone to stay calm.
“We do this a lot and everything is just perfectly fine and dandy and we just kind of ride it out,” Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Captain Billy Shepler Said,
As for the ferrys that cross Lake Michigan to looks like they both cancel trips if the conditions are known to be bad but I have not found what they do if they get caught in a storm once out in the lake my guess is they would ride out the storm not sure what happens if there is a strong north or south wind half way across the lake. If anyone has had first hand experience go ahead and post that information. So far the only information on when the boast to Mackinaw Island might not run is when it is too windy for docking this is from the old (no longer running) Arnold Transit.

“Rain or shine, the ferry boats will keep sailing in the Straights of Mackinac, but it is always important to keep an eye on the weather reports. On rare occasions, high winds can stop the boats, especially when docking becomes difficult.”

Here is some information on a “accident” that happened on May 13th 2005. This is from the Island Town Crier.

“Four passengers aboard a Shepler’s ferry from Mackinaw City were injured Friday, May 13, in heavy seas. The U.S. Coast Guard reported the accident aboard the 83-foot Wyandot and said three of the passengers were taken to the Mackinac Island Medical Center and the fourth was treated and released at the Mackinac Island dock.

Seas were rough Friday, with east winds blowing into the Mackinac Island harbor and large swells building just outside the west breakwall throughout the afternoon. The accident occurred between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. during the boat’s run from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island, according to the Coast Guard. The Mackinac Island ambulance was dispatched at about 4 p.m.

Wind recordings at the center span of the Mackinac Bridge, 200 feet above the water, recorded gusts up to 47 miles per hour from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Waves were in the 8 to10 ft range.

Mackinac Island Medical Center would not say what happened to the patients, and Shepler’s declined comment on the incident. The Coast Guard in Sault Ste. Marie, which issued the original release of the accident and is investigating its cause, said no additional information was available as of Tuesday, May 17″.


As of this morning here is summery of how July 2018 has been around the state of Michigan. The list is the station, mean temperature, departure from average, rain fall for July and the number of days of 90 or better so far this summer. Grand Rapids 75.4° (++2.9) 2.21” 15 days of 90 or better. Lansing 74.1° (+2.5) 0.89” 15 days. Muskegon 74.3° (+3.2) 1.31” 9 days. Detroit mean 76.7° (+3.0) 1.26” 17 days of 90 or better. Flint 72.3 (+1.7) 1.13” 12 days. Saginaw 74.1 (+3.0) 1.24” 10 days of 90 or more. Alpena 72.1 (+4.8) 2.12” 13 days of 90 or better. Houghton Lake 70.9° (+3.8) 2.72” 8 days of 90 or better. The Sault 71.0 (+5.8) 1.49” 5 days of 90 or better. Marquette 67.2 (1.7) 3.19” only 1 day of 90 or better. Anyone remember a few years ago when Flint was always much warmer compared to average then the rest of the state? I wonder what happed that they (Flint) is no the case! The rest of July looks to be cooler to near average.

As you can see the warmest location is Detroit the warmest compared to average is Sault Ste Marie the coolest location is Marquette.


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Susan Waite
Susan Waite

Hi Slim.
I was one of the passengers that was injured on Sheplers Ferry, May 13, 2005. The 3 waves hit our boat dropping it between the waves (2 times). This caused our bodies to fly up off the bench and land very hard. My back was broken, the T12 vertebrae completely shattered and a fragment of bone still remains in my spinal column leaning against my spinal cord! I completely blame Sheplers for my safety.
Thank You

That is how bad it was. I had my 83-year-old mothe
That is how bad it was. I had my 83-year-old mothe

September 21, 2018. The ferry from Mackinac Island back to Macinaw City should have been canceled around 3:00 pm. I simply cannot believe it was not mandatory to wear lifejackets and to alert all passengers that if they could possibly stay at the island to do so due to the roughness and conditions of the lake. I found that amazing and simply unnecessary to run a boat in the conditions that I had to go through. Many people got sick on the boat. I will never return to that island just for the simple fact that they did not even… Read more »

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

On our honeymoon 25 years ago we took one of the faster ferries across to the island, and it was really rough. Don’t remember all the specifics, but I remember it being very windy with huge waves that were exploding over the entire boat. We of course had to stay inside because you would have been washed right off the boat. I thought it was a great ride bouncing all over the place, my wife not so much. She got crazy sick and said she would never again go to that island.


Good post as usual Slim – I have ridden the ferries in all sorts of weather – rough weather never bothered me – I used to go out on my grandfathers fishing boat in 8 foot waves – great fun if you have a good captain – he was a Navy man so he new how to handle rough ‘seas’.


We were on a ferry when it was rainy and the waves were a bit choppy coming back to the mainland from the Island. Never during a storm though.

Sandy (Hudsonville)
Sandy (Hudsonville)

SLIM good read. I have never been on the Mackinac Bridge or ferry to the island during a storm. I think I would be really scared if a storm blew up while crossing Lake Michigan to Wisconsin. Storms over Lake Michigan can be really strong.