Passengers on the Iroquois, Vista King, and Voyageur cruise ships have passed under century-old raising bridges and laid eyes on history-rich chunks of Milwaukee skyline. However, they've also sat under squadrons of F-18s performing barrel rolls over Lake Michigan. Licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard to perform tours and charters on the lake, Jake Chianelli and his captains offer their passengers a unique perspective on the city's waterside events. They also partner with the nonprofit organization Historic Milwaukee by using their trained docents to lead history tours, which include facts and anecdotes from the arrival of the first fur traders up to modern day.
With kitchen facilities and a full bar on board, each of the three double-decked ships are equipped for tours as well as a range of corporate events, wedding-rehearsal dinners, and Moby Dick-themed improv shows. Climate-controlled lower decks give passengers shelter in all weather, and open upper decks house a stage space where local indie-rock bands play during a summer concert series.
In 1977, a group of Milwaukee’s sailors responded to its city’s lack of a public sailing institution by banding together with county officials to create a not-for-profit organization accessible to everyone. The Milwaukee Community Sailing Center has continued to uphold this original vision of granting everyone—regardless of age, physical ability, or financial means—a chance to develop sailing skills while exploring Lake Michigan’s aqueous expanses. Since its founding, it has imparted its knowledge upon upwards of 100,000 student via hands-on classes and private lessons.
Throughout the summer’s balmy months, Milwaukee Community Sailing Center’s experienced and certified staff can be found reviewing boat safety with students during on-shore lessons or calling out instructions to their trainees from within a sailboat cruising around the lake. As winter’s frigid winds rage across the city, a host of off-season winter sessions enables skippers to keep their sea legs toned until spring returns. Bobbing cheerfully in the onsite marina, the center’s seaworthy fleet is comprised of more than 80 meticulously maintained vessels, including sturdy dinghies, cruisers, and saddled-up krakens. The center’s dedication to bringing the community together on the water is further evidenced in its outreach programs, including one designed to help Milwaukee’s at-risk youth turn a new leaf by helping them uncover hidden talents, develop leadership skills, and conquer their fears.
Though its staffed by a crew of student volunteers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Sailing Club at UWM has spent decades helping both the student body and community enjoy all aspects of sailing. Every year, from the end of April through late October, the group navigates Lake Michigan's waters aboard a fleet of sailboats that all either meet or surpass Coast Guard safety regulations. There are cruise boats designed for mild meandering, as well as sturdy Ynglings and Solings equipped with heavy fixed keels reinforced to maintain stability in turbulent weather or emotional break-ups. In addition to simple trips on the lake, members of the club can learn hands-on techniques from experienced sailors and participate in activities such as races, bonfires, and weekend cookouts.
Throughout the summer, the paved paths of Frame Park welcome outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and interests, including riders seated on High Roller Fun Rentals's unique bikes and pedal carts. Two-, three-, and four-wheel vehicles transport groups down the 1.7-mile river walk—a path flanked by playground equipment, picnic areas, gardens, and volleyball courts.
For those looking to make a splash, High Roller Fun Rentals also maintains a floating fleet of creature boats, canoes, and kayaks. These inventive vessels allow groups of two, three, or four to navigate the Fox River with ease. And for added convenience, the rental center hands out maps to encourage exploration.
For the past 29 years, John and Loie Laimon have proudly contributed to the tight-knit fishing community that surrounds them by running their own fishing-and-bait business. Whether they are selling U.S.-made, handcrafted baits or other handpicked products, renting pontoons for small groups, or winterizing boat motors by fastening Santa hats to them, the Laimons approach each service personably and attentively. This approach has helped them grow to two locations on Pewaukee Lake.
Action Marine keeps cutters in wave-cruising order with its comprehensive boat-maintenance services. A recommended part of the summerizing process, boat tune-ups are overseen by Action Marine’s certified technicians, whose constant training keeps them up-to-date on techniques for stomping out nautical nuisances on ships from manufacturers such as Mercury, Yamaha, MerCruiser, and Johnson. A typical tune-up involves inspecting the fuel and wires, replacing overworked filters and rotors, and making sure spark plugs haven't been replaced with vintage Game Boys. Mechanics also take a deeper look at engines, preventing mean-spirited contaminants from spiking the fuel with water. Once properly tuned, boats shake off the rust accrued during a wintery off-season, smoothly navigating summer seas while providing the low harmonies in all-boat Beach Boys cover bands.