The Delta Queen, built in 1926, is the last remaining authentic link to our country’s 200-year tradition of passenger steamboat transportation. Unfortunately, in 2008, the Delta Queen’s grandfathered status from a law that prohibits wooden boats from carrying overnight passengers expired.
Her continued inability to provide overnight cruises poses a critical challenge. Congress granted the Delta Queen a reprieve from this law from 1968 until 2008, but without it the ship’s financial viability and historic integrity are called into question. This threat is easily resolved by passing federal legislation that would reinstate the Delta Queen’s longstanding grandfathered status and allow her to return to overnight cruising -- and in so doing, restoring this one-of-a-kind experience for travelers along America’s great waterways.
The Delta Queen, built in 1926 and listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1989, is the last remaining authentic link to a 200-year tradition of commercial cargo and passenger steamboat transportation. The Delta Queen’s original interior features include Tiffany-style stained glass windows, hardwood paneling, brass fittings, and a grand staircase crowned by a crystal chandelier. She also retains her original system of engines and boilers, though many have been upgraded or replaced to maintain the boat’s functionality.
- Pass federal legislation that would reinstate the Delta Queen’s longstanding grandfathered status and allow her to return to overnight cruising
- Support efforts to provide long-term protection for the Delta Queen’s historic integrity
Ways To Help
Donate to our campaign to save the Delta Queen.
Written by By Shaw Sprague
Better days are ahead for the historic riverboat, Delta Queen. After many years on the market without a willing buyer, Mr. Cornell Martin, president and CEO of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, this week completed the purchase of the Delta Queen and plans to substantially repair the vessel have already begun.
"My partners and I are thrilled to be taking this critical first step toward the preservation and restoration of this important piece of American and river history," said Martin, "We look forward to the day when the Delta Queen will once again be able to ply America's waterways and allow passengers to relive the experiences of Mark Twain and his unique cast of river characters from the decks of a true 1927 steamboat."
It is estimated the Delta Queen will need as much as $7 million in repairs before she is ready to sail again. In addition to restoring the Delta Queen's historic features, necessary upgrades also include replacing the World War I-era boilers, steamline, generators and electric panels to prepare the ship for active service. "Our goal is to have the Delta Queen return to cruising America's waterways in 2016 following extensive mechanical and hotel renovations," said Mr. Martin.
The Delta Queen has a storied history that began in 1927 when she began service as an overnight passenger vessel carrying passengers, cargo and automobiles between Sacramento and San Francisco, California. After a brief period of service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, the vessel was sold as war surplus to Greene Line Steamers of Cincinnati, Ohio. From 1946 to 2008, the Delta Queen operated as an overnight cruise vessel along many of the prominent river and waterways running through America's heartland, including the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Arkansas Rivers.
As the last operational steam paddle-wheeler that provides overnight accommodations, the National Trust has long sought to ensure the long term preservation of this important piece of maritime history. The Delta Queen is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is classified as a National Historic Landmark. In 2013, the National Trust designated the Delta Queen as one of its National Treasures and work began to help return the Delta Queen to active cruising on our inland waterways.
In large measure this has meant working with Congress to renew a statutory exemption from a law that prohibits overnight passenger travel on vessels with significant wood construction. Although the Delta Queen's hull is made of steel, her superstructure is constructed of wood. As such, she requires a statutory exemption from the Coast Guard's fire retardant materials regulations for its continued operations on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Congress has approved extending the Delta Queen's exemption from Coast Guard fire retardant materials regulation nine times over the last 40 years with the last exemption expiring in 2008. The National Trust will continue its work to help move legislation to return the Delta Queen to active service.
By Shaw Sprague
Just before Congress adjourned in September, legislation that would allow the Delta Queen to cruise again, S.1022, was amended to include additional fire safety requirements and passed out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation with the support of Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Republican Member Senator John Thune. Unfortunately, time ran out for the full Senate to pass this legislation. The bill’s lead sponsors Senator Brown and Senator Portman from Ohio, as well as Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), John Boozman (D-AR), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and David Vitter (R-LA) are among the strongest supporters of this bipartisan effort to see the Delta Queen cruise again.
When the Senate returns after the mid-term elections in November, we expect our Senate supporters will request that S.1022 be passed by unanimous consent, a procedure referred to as hotlining. Hotlining legislation is a way to pass non-controversial bills without a recorded vote. If a unanimous consent agreement to hotline S.1022 can be reached, the U.S. House of Representatives will need to pass the amended version of the bill before it can be signed into law.
The Delta Queen National Treasures Team with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Lee Powell, executive director of the Delta Grassroots Caucus, have worked diligently, together with the steamboat community, to advance this legislation.
Written by Nancy Tinker, Project Manager
A recent New York Times article, “A Historic Vessel, Stuck in Place: Riverboat’s Backers Look for a Way to Get the Delta Queen Moving Again,” reported that the Delta Queen is not only stuck in Chattanooga, but stuck in her Congressional process as well. As the House of Representatives passed H.R. Bill 1961, which would reestablish the Delta Queen’s grandfathered status allowing her to once again sail the Mississippi River, the Senate has failed to act, keeping the Delta Queen moored along Tennessee’s north shore.
We will continue our advocacy efforts in the Senate (S. 1022), and encourage them to take the needed next steps in this legislative process to see this vessel, the last of her kind, cruising America’s rivers again.
Written by Rebecca Morgan, Project Manager
For years, America’s last remaining authentic link to our country’s 200-year tradition of passenger steamboat transportation has been prevented from carrying overnight passengers because of an antiquated federal law. Thanks to the advocacy efforts of the National Trust and our partners, the House of Representatives voted in favor (H.R. Bill 1961) of exempting the Delta Queen from SOLAS, which brings this historic vessel one step closer to cruising America’s River’s again.
We look to now move our advocacy efforts toward the Senate (S. 1022), as they take up the next step in this legislative process.
Delta Queen in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
Capt. Don Sanders on October 30, 2014
Before I was 30, I shared command of the DELTA QUEEN with the legendary Captain Ernest E. Wagner, my steamboat mentor. Here Cap and I are coming aboard the DELTA QUEEN at Kentucky Lake in the 1970's. By the Grace of God and the U. S. Congress, the DELTA QUEEN will, again, return to the Mississippi River Waterways, soon. Please support the efforts to return the DELTA QUEEN by contacting your Senators and urge them to vote YES to bring back the DELTA QUEEN.
John & Jerry on October 11, 2014
We did a Gulf Intracoastal Canal Cruise on The Delta Queen New Orleans to Galveston in 2005 and it was amazing! We never knew south coastal Louisiana has so many bald eagles. It is a scenic depiction of what coastal Louisiana is all about. You'll pass the back yards of homesteads with laundry hanging on the line and immediately next door is a huge chemical refinery. The wildlife and scenery is spectacular. We've done river cruises on the Mississippi but the Delta Queen in the Intracoastal Canal was the best! We hope the Delta Queen returns to sailing as we'd love to experience this rarely offered itinerary again.
William French on June 20, 2014
I hope to someday take a ride on the Delta Queen. I remember as a boy seeing her sister ship, the Delta King, half sunk in the San Francisco Bay in Richmond, California. Luckily it was dried out and restored as a hotel in Sacramento. I do hope that this effort pays off. I personally would love to see the Delta Queen returned to it's birthplace in San Francisco.
Nancy Hoffer on January 24, 2014
We all look forward to the day when the Delta Queen will be back in service as an overnight Paddle Steamer!