Great Lakes ferry operator adopts waterjet propulsion

William Richard


William Richard

Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry is a company that takes family, and tradition, seriously. 

But when it came time to build a new high-speed ferry, the third-generation family owners broke from the past. 

They decided to put waterjets on William Richard, which is scheduled to enter service around Oct. 1, 2020. 

“We took a leap of faith,” said Chris Shepler, the company’s current president and grandson of company founder William Henry Shepler. “We were a little scared to make that move because we get pretty good winds and we maneuver in tight quarters, and we need to not be blown around.”

Each of the six vessels in the company’s fleet has conventional propulsion with engines, shafts and props. The 281-passenger Miss Margy, built in 2015, has 6,000 horsepower, three big propellers and tunnel drives. This setup, the company found, causes cavitation. 

“We have to fix those propellers, sometimes every three years, depending how hard she’s run in the summertime,” Shepler said. “When we decided to build a new $4.5 million boat, with this cavitation having to replace props and constantly monitor props and rudders, we thought, let’s try jets.”

Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry runs to Mackinac Island in Lake Huron from Mackinaw City in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and from St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula. Seacraft Design of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., designed the ferry, and Moran Iron Works of Onaway, Mich., built it.

Propulsion on the 84-by-20-foot William Richard comes from four Yanmar 6AYEM engines each generating 803 hp at 1,900 rpm. The engines drive HamiltonJet HM461 waterjets through Twin Disc MGX-5146SC gears. The vessel reached 33 knots lightboat in trials, and is expected to reach 28 or 29 knots carrying 210 passengers. 

William Richard, named for Chris Shepler’s father and the company’s current CEO, is the first ferry on the Great Lakes with HamiltonJet waterjets. It’s also the first ferry in the world with HamiltonJet’s AVX control system.

By Professional Mariner Staff