Skip to main content
Book a private virtual tour for conferences and corporate events

Cruise on a Piece of Local History with Chicago Fireboat Tours

By Alex Bean on August 14, 2019


Our team of Chicago tour guides recently got the chance to take a sunset cruise with our new partners at Chicago Fireboat Tours. We’ll be working with them to arrange private boat tour charters and guides for parties up to 127 people. That’s alongside our other private group boat tour partners, Anita Dee and Knockout Charters. A private Chicago boat tour charter is a great way to take visitors and locals up and down the stunning and historic waterways of Chicago. They also provide a great venue for customized tours if your group wants to explore a particular part of the waterfront.

Motoring up and down the lakefront as the sun dips behind the skyline is always a peerless experience. The Chicago Detours tour guides spent a couple hours geeking out over the architecture, marveling at the sunset, and enjoying some drinks. We also had the chance to wander around the Fred A. Busse, the Chicago Fireboat Tours’ ship. The boat is a fascinating relic from Chicago’s past, making it a great venue for historic architecture boat tours. After checking it out firsthand, I can explain exactly why we are so excited to begin booking private group outings for our guests with Chicago Fireboat Tours.

History of the Chicago Fireboat Fleet

Chicago fireboat 1940s Chicago River grain elevator fire
The Fred A. Busse, today’s Chicago Fireboat, battling a blaze on the river in 1939. Photo courtesy of Chicago Fireboat Tours.

First of all, stepping onto the Chicago Fireboat vessel is like walking into a historic building, which is kind of our thing at Chicago Detours. The Fred A. Busse is just one of a historical fleet of fireboats that helped fight fires in the Second City. Even with changes in zoning and construction materials after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, this was still a highly combustible city. The riverbanks were especially susceptible to fires. Grain silos filled to bursting, lumber yards towered with timber from the great northern forests, trains threw sparks as they trundled into their shed, and the warehouses of the old South Water Street Market overflowed with a cornucopia of flammable materials.

Hence the need for a fleet of fireboats. These industrial craft could pump thousands of gallons of water per minute and launch the spray dozens of stories in the air. The ships proved invaluable on the industrial zones up and down the river, out near the sailboats and cruise ships on Navy Pier, or at the Lake Calumet port. However, time still passed by the fireboats. As deindustrialization ramped up in the ’70s, the Port of Chicago was used less and less with each passing year and the fireboats saw less action. The city decommissioned the Fred A. Busse in 1981.

The Pleasure of a Chicago Boat Tour

Chicago Detours guides boat tours skyline sunset cruise customized tours
Alex and Ellen are Chicago tour guide pros, but they’re still enraptured by the view from the Chicago Fireboat. Photo by Marie Rowley.

The Fire Department’s loss is our gain, because the Fred A. Busse now provides one of the great scenic excursions in the world, a Chicago river and lake boat tour. Everyone knows it, but it bears repeating that the boat tours of Chicago are a stunning experience. The architecture boat tours on the river are always hugely fun for visitors and locals alike. You just cruise through American architectural history amidst the towering canyon walls of steel and glass. I’ve found that locals tend to really love the sunset cruise down the lakefront. Often a bit lighter on the history, these expeditions serenely sail past nautical landmarks, like the harbor lighthouse, and provide eye-popping views of the dramatic skyline. Of course, we can always create customized tour experiences that mix and match vistas and stories.

Though I’ve done many boat tours, taking the cruise with Chicago Fireboat Tours provided a unique experience. When the Fred A. Busse came out of the dry dock in 1937 its purpose was saving lives and property, not sightseeing. You still get a feel for that when you’re on board. The old fire nozzle still points up on the portside near the bow. Old photos of the fires that the Busse’s crew battled adorn the walls. Those little historic details made the experience more memorable while the cruise still provided the breathtaking skyline views you’d expect from a private architecture boat tour.

Book a Customized Private Group Boat Tour

Chicago Detours guides boat tours Chicago fire boat customized tours
Some of the Detours team enjoying our sunset cruise with Chicago Fireboats. Please note Ellen’s kickin’ nautical outfit – she was very proud of it.

Chicago Detours is always ready to help you have a pleasurable time on the waters of the Windy City. We leave the logistical headache of hourly public cruises to the Wendellas of the world. Instead, our guides and staff can help charter a customized private group boat tour for events like wedding celebrations, corporate outings, family reunions, or any other reason you might have. We will work with the staff of the Chicago Fireboat to create customized tours to fit the needs of your group. Connect with us to book both the boat and the tour guide at once, and we can even work out the details of the bar package for you.

The guides will come courtesy of Chicago Detours, of course. Booking a private boat tour means you’ll likely be learning about the city from either yours truly or Amanda, our Executive Director. Not to toot our own horn, but the two of us are pretty proud of both our vast knowledge of Chicago’s history and architecture and our professional guiding skills.

So give us a ring at 312-350-1131 or email [email protected] if you’d like to set to sea soon.

– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide


Chicago Detours offers guided walking and bus tours of architecture, history and culture to public and private groups. We are a passionate team of educators, historians, artists and storytellers, and are proud to be one of very few tour companies in Chicago that is rated five stars on both Google and TripAdvisor.


Call: 312.350.1131
E-Mail: [email protected]