New to Cruising Lake Michigan

Nick Hahn

Member
Apr 25, 2020
84
Port Sheldon, MI
Boat Info
1994 Sea Ray 400 EC
"Annalea"
Engines
7.4 Horizon
We purchased a 400EC 3 years ago - been slowly getting her back in shape - finally got all the electronics updated this spring so we have working radar and chart plotter. We would like to do some extended cruising - based out of Holland MI. We just don't know what we don't know! My main concern is finding slips - we travel with 2 dogs, so spending any extended time away from land (more than 8 hours) is not really an option. We don't have a dingy and the 80lb labs are not going to be able to use "potty pads".
We have done a couple of overnights in South Haven, but we would make reservations a few days ahead when we were reasonably sure the weather would cooperate. ( Had to cancel one due to high winds ).

How do you go about finding marinas to overnight at? Do you make reservations well in advance ( weeks/months ). If weather gets bad and you cannot move to the next marina is that typically an issue?

There is a lot of the Great Lakes to explore and we are looking to get some experience with shorter ( 3-5 day ) trips before we go off for a week or two.

Any advice - personal experiences or recommendations welcome!
 
I generally book as far in advance as possible. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, most marinas are flexible in my experience.

Adding days when you can’t leave is also generally easy in my experience. If it’s bad enough you can’t get out, most likely the other guy waiting on your slip isn’t coming. Win win.
 
We cruise extensively in the summer, and and generally port hop every couple of days. You can find marinas by looking at Google maps or Great Lakes Waterways. Some take reservations by phone, but many are now using the Dockwa app which doesn't take reservations until May 15th I believe. When weather is an issue, staying where you are is typically not an issue as no one is coming in either but then when it clears you could lose your next reservation. It just takes some clever planning, and once you get to know the local dock masters often times they'll fit you in. Many boaters make multiple reservations, and cancel as needed so there's usually an available slip somewhere.
 
Dockwa and snag-a-slip apps are the way to go....by the way you really should consider a dinghy. It will open up a whole world of cruising to you....especially with the dogs
 
Dockwa and snag-a-slip apps are the way to go....by the way you really should consider a dinghy. It will open up a whole world of cruising to you....especially with the dogs

We have considered adding a dingy - but are concerned that a dingy on the swim platform will be in the way of the dogs swimming after a ball off the back of the boat! Could also be an issue in our slip as we have a 40' slip, stern in so we already hang out 5'. Will have to see how everything fits and access to the boat now that the water is lower.
 
We have cruised the Great Lakes for many years and with few exceptions have never made reservations. With the exception of Harbor Springs we have done nothing more than show up. The size of boat makes a difference. Our boats have been 40' and smaller. There are lots of slips in that size range. Once you need 45 feet or more reservations become more important. Having a generator makes a big difference as well. Not having to worry about running batteries down adds flexibility. Many places have temporary slips for shopping or a gas dock that is available when it is closed. We simply never had an issue finding a spot. Dogs certainly complicate things.
 
Michigan slips are a bit of a pain b/c you can only book 6 months in advance, so as others have said weather usually locks every one in place.
 
Boating should be spontaneous. Having reservations all locked up in advance, and having to be some place by a certain date, weather be damned, takes the fun out of it. Relax, take it a day at a time. You will have more fun.
 
Boating should be spontaneous. Having reservations all locked up in advance, and having to be some place by a certain date, weather be damned, takes the fun out of it. Relax, take it a day at a time. You will have more fun.

Generally I agree - when we were long distance camping, we would have a reservation some place, but would find places along the route to get there. My experience in the Holland / Grand Haven / South Haven area is that it is difficult to find a slip, but I haven't had the recommended apps.
 
Generally I agree - when we were long distance camping, we would have a reservation some place, but would find places along the route to get there. My experience in the Holland / Grand Haven / South Haven area is that it is difficult to find a slip, but I haven't had the recommended apps.
So the benefit of your side of the lake is nice towns every hour or so up and down the coast. Downside is limited slips. If you venture across, you’ll loose a lot of the small towns until north of Milwaukee. On the other hand, slips are usually available in places like Racine, Winthrop harbor and even Chicago at 31st street.
 
Check out Lakeland boating magazine. they profile different ports and you can post a pic of your pooches! We have only run into No Vacancies at Saugatuck, Harbor Springs, & Fish Creek. Maybe Sister bay in the thick of it. Every where else you should be good!
 
We have cruised the Lakes for years and rarely make reservations, usually only when traveling with other boats so that 2 to 4 of us can get in, and once we reserved so we could joint the Lake Michigan CSR group. When alone, we call the day before when we know the weather and that we have seen enough of the place we are at and are ready to move.
Once we had to hang on the hook for a few hours to wait for a slip at Charlevoix, that’s it. BUT, we don’t move on weekends. We stay in the towns and take part in the festivals, farmers markets and concerts in the parks. Once we are in the marina on a Thursday, they we’re always able to accommodate us through the weekend due to cancellations or better planning.
We have done the great loop, can you imagine having to reserve in advance when doing that? Not.
 
Check out Lakeland boating magazine. they profile different ports and you can post a pic of your pooches! We have only run into No Vacancies at Saugatuck, Harbor Springs, & Fish Creek. Maybe Sister bay in the thick of it. Every where else you should be good!
If you don’t mind rafting off, Coral Gables can usually accommodate lots of boats in Saugatuck. Can be noisy however, no reservation needed.
 
If you don’t mind rafting off, Coral Gables can usually accommodate lots of boats in Saugatuck. Can be noisy however, no reservation needed.

Lots of great advice -thank you all. Any other good advice is still more than welcome!
 
Another good place to check things out in addition to what has already been mentioned is the Michigan DNR site midnrreservations.com site. Set up an account with your boat profile and its easy to check what is available at many Michigan marinas based on dates.
 
Another good place to check things out in addition to what has already been mentioned is the Michigan DNR site midnrreservations.com site. Set up an account with your boat profile and its easy to check what is available at many Michigan marinas based on dates.

What do most figure for food? Do you mostly cook on your boat or eat at a local restaurant? We typically plan for lunch on the boat and eat out once we get to our overnight slip. I don't know if most marinas have restaurants within walking distance? We don't have a dingy so can't dingy from the marina to local restaurants. ( May be a necessary upgrade in the future. )
 
We usually have breakfast and lunch on the boat and go to a nice restaurant for dinner. Most harbors have places to eat within walking distance.
 
We do a little of everything regarding food. We carry a portable grill which we use a lot both on and off the boat, sometimes it’s just more fun and relaxing to grill than go out to eat. Most marinas are within walking distance to restaurants with the exception of Fayette. It depends on the length of the trip also if its a short weekend trip we usually go out for dinner but on longer 3-4 week trips we do a lot more cooking on the boat and grilling. A lot also depends on weather and what the day’s activities may have been.
 
If you don’t mind rafting off, Coral Gables can usually accommodate lots of boats in Saugatuck. Can be noisy however, no reservation needed.

We're dating ourselves now but Coral Gables used to be quite the scene.

It's been quite a number of years since they've had that wall available. Since at least 2015ish it's been slips...sadly.

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What do most figure for food? Do you mostly cook on your boat or eat at a local restaurant? We typically plan for lunch on the boat and eat out once we get to our overnight slip. I don't know if most marinas have restaurants within walking distance? We don't have a dingy so can't dingy from the marina to local restaurants. ( May be a necessary upgrade in the future. )
We cruise with a set of folding electric bikes which, in addition to the dinghy, also opens up a whole new aspect of cruising fun.
 

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