Cruise on a Piece of Local History with Chicago Fireboat Tours

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 if you’d like to set to sea soon.

– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F

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