Local Voices: A Captain’s Story


The following profile of Maid of the Mist Captain Mike Dennis was originally published by Destination Niagara USA, the official Destination Marketing Organization for Niagara County, including the iconic Niagara Falls. 

Maid of the Mist captain Mike Dennis started his career as a deckhand on the storied ship. Find out how he rose to the top and get his insider tips on how to make the most out of your ride!

When he started his first job on the fleet, Captain Mike Dennis had no idea he would earn the title of “captain.” In 2014, the local native applied for a job as a deckhand on the Maid of the Mist, leveraging his knowledge and love of boating on the upper river. What would follow was a meteoric rise to captain by 2021 — the first time anyone has climbed the ladder from deckhand to captain in the Maid of the Mist’s 178-year history.

Capt. Mike Dennis 3 26 24

Swabbing the deck

This is not to say that deckhand is an insignificant role on the ship. Dennis describes it as “an important job. The deckhands are keeping an eye on all the customers, all the passengers, and they tie the boat up. When we pull up to the dock, they untie the boat, they put our gangways, our ramps on for loading. They keep an eye out for security and safety.” A pretty big job for an 18-year-old straight out of high school.

After five years, Dennis saw his opportunity to move up the ranks. Throughout the 2019 season, Dennis put in the required sea time (the amount of time spent on the water) and took the tests to be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard. By early 2020, he had his license and started driving a few days a week, moving him up to the rank of first mate.

A life-changing experience

Dennis was made captain in 2021, an opportunity and responsibility he was grateful for, especially considering how many people ride the boat every single day (up to 600 per outing). He still relishes the opportunity to see how blown away passengers are by riding the Maid of the Mist. Dennis describes multiple people telling him that it’s been a life-changing experience, and he can see why. “You can feel it with all your senses,” he says. “You’re hearing the water. It’s like a thunderous sound, especially on these new boats because they’re so quiet. And then obviously the views are incredible. You’ve got the mist just hitting your face.”