The Delta Queen was a familiar and welcome presence on Madison’s riverfront. (Courier file photo)
The Delta Queen was a familiar and welcome presence on Madison’s riverfront. (Courier file photo)
The Delta Queen Steamboat Company hopes to have the Delta Queen cruising the inland waterways again in 2020 after action Tuesday by the U.S. House of Representatives.

President and CEO of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company Cornel Martin said Wednesday the Queen will cruise the same route on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland, Kanawha and Arkansas rivers she did before her decade-long retirement, which includes making port in Madison.

“It’s fantastic,” said Madison Mayor Damon Welch of the news that Congress had passed the bill including the Queen’s exemption.

Welch and other Madison community members have shown their support to the area’s legislators by sending letters in support of the Delta Queen.

“On behalf of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, I want to sincerely thank our supporters and fans in Madison for their continued support throughout all this time,” said Martin.

The overnight steamboat last sailed rivers like the Ohio, Cumberland and Mississippi in 2008 after it failed to get its 10th consecutive exemption from the 1966 Safety at Sea Act.

“The law intended to prohibit ocean-bound vessels from carrying overnight passengers unless completely made of non-combustible materials included the Delta Queen, even though she was never more than several hundred yards from shore,” said a news release. “Congress approved nine exemptions over four decades to allow the Delta Queen to continue operations until 2008. The vote (Tuesday) completes a decade-long legislative effort to renew the exemption.

“Once signed into law by the President, major repairs will begin to allow the Delta Queen to return to overnight service.”

The company does not plan to set a hard deadline for the boat’s first post-retirement cruise because there is much work left to do. Cosmetically, the Queen will be the same, but there are some major mechanical upgrades in store for her that will take at least through the next year.

Martin said the biggest change will be the boat’s new boilers, custom-designed for the Delta Queen, which will be modern and more fuel efficient. The generators, steam line, HVAC and sewage systems also will be replaced and modernized.

“She hasn’t cruised in 10 years, but she has been well maintained and cosmetically she doesn’t need as much work as you might think,” said Martin.

After her last cruise, the Delta Queen was a dockside hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for five years before Martin and his partners purchased her in February 2015 and took her to a shipyard in Houma, Louisiana. She will remain in Houma until her restoration work is complete.

“Preserving the boat’s historic integrity and ensuring passenger safety are our priorities,” Martin said. “With this approval, we may now move forward with our renovations and return her to the waterways, where she belongs.”

“A remarkable piece of the nation’s maritime history is reborn,” said Leah Ann Ingram, vice president and chief operating officer of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. “The Delta Queen is an American icon that offers a nostalgic experience unlike any other vessel. Since 2010, restoring and returning her to overnight service has been our mission. Today, we’re thrilled to take the next step to welcoming explorers and history enthusiasts aboard this floating piece of history.”

The Delta Queen is a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. The steamboat is also included in the National Maritime Hall of Fame and was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“On behalf of all of us at The Delta Queen Steamboat Company, we would like to thank our past passengers, supporters, crew members and lawmakers who did not give up on our efforts to save the Queen,” said Martin.

“Returning the Delta Queen to service would have been impossible without our supportive legislators, namely Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot, Missouri Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, and Missouri Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer and Jason Smith,” added Ingram. “In addition, we must thank the many government officials in Jefferson County, Port Authority and Economic Development Corporation who have been steadfast in their dedication to the Delta Queen’s return to her home port.”

For more information about the Delta Queen, go to

Courier staff writer Tali Hunt can be reached at or 812-265-3641