top of page

Boats Over Niagara Falls: A Dangerous Reality

Every year, Niagara Falls attracts millions of visitors from all over the world who marvel at its breathtaking spectacle. Often, the conversation centers around a question – has a boat ever gone over Niagara Falls? As astounding as it might seem, the answer is yes.

Caroline Niagara Falls Horseshoe Falls

Let’s turn back the hands of time to 1827. In a publicity stunt designed to attract attention and increase tourism, a hotel owner named William Forsyth purchased an old condemned Lake Erie schooner named Michigan. The ship was initially destined to be destroyed, but Forsyth had another idea. He stocked the ship with a motley crew of live animals and sent it on a course straight for the thundering Niagara Falls. To the audience's shock and horror, the boat toppled over the Horseshoe Falls. Sadly, all animals onboard perished, except for a single goose that somehow managed to survive the turbulent plunge.

On a cold, moonlit night in 1837, the American steamship 'Caroline' is set ablaze and propelled over Niagara Falls. Built in Buffalo, the Caroline primarily served as a ferry carrying goods and passengers between the U.S. and Canada. The ship became entangled in a clash between Canadian loyalists and the Patriots, an armed group of Canadian rebels aspiring to independence during the Upper Canada Rebellion. The rebels used the Caroline as a transport vessel, turning this innocuous steamboat into a contentious military asset. On the chilly night of December 29th, British loyalist forces made the risky decision to board the Caroline, seize control, and send it adrift in the Niagara River. Set on fire to illuminate the cascading water and act as a signal to fellow loyalist forces, the blazing Caroline swiftly travelled downstream. It plunged over the legendary Niagara Falls in a breathtaking, fiery spectacle - a symbol of heated contention, a flame that ignited international tensions between Britain (representing Canadian interests) and the United States.

However, the most dramatic incident involving a boat occurred in 1861, when a large flat-bottomed boat or scow became grounded on a rock shoal just 838 meters from the brink of the Canadian Falls. This boat, initially used for dredging operations, was caught in a fast current and broke loose from its towing tug with two men (James Harris and Gustav Lofberg) on board. Miraculously, both men were saved the next day by a breeches buoy in a dramatic rescue effort which is still talked about to this day. The rusting hulk of the scow remains on those rocks as a prominent reminder of that daring rescue.

Yet another notable incident happened in 1930 when Red Hill Sr., a Niagara Falls river man, navigated the Whirlpool Rapids in a steel barrel fashioned into a boat. It wasn't until the late 1980s when Smiling Jean Lussier survived the plunge in a homemade rubber ball boat equipped with a shock absorber.

Each event contributes to the allure and mystery of Niagara Falls. It serves as a poignant reminder of nature's raw power and humankind's daring feats. While it may not be on your itinerary to intentionally take a boat over Niagara Falls, the Maid of the Mist (USA) and Niagara City Cruises (CANADA) provide a safe and thrilling boat ride to the misty base of the thundering falls to create memories of a lifetime. Remember, obeying safety regulations ensures everyone gets to enjoy the awe-inspiring wonder that is Niagara Falls.


bottom of page