Glass Bottom Boats - See Beneath the Waves

See Beneath the Waves while Staying Dry

James R.
"All aboard on the glass bottom boat, it's the greatest show that was ever afloat. Take a ride on the tide with the guide and see, the way out wonders of the deep blue sea."

Glass Bottom Boat in Oregon - History - Marinalife
Glass Bottom Boat in Oregon from The Catalina Island Museum

Actress Doris Day sang these words in the 1966 MGM film entitled -- no surprise -- The Glass Bottom Boat. In this romantic comedy, she plays a glass bottom boat tour operator on California's Catalina Island who also performs as a mermaid and is mistaken by NASA scientists as a Soviet spy. Producer-writer Everett Freeman claimed his inspiration for the film came after riding on one of Catalina's famous glass bottom boats.

Tourists have taken rides on these vessels in Catalina since the 1890s. Many historians believe the concept for these boats originated on the rocky island 20 miles offshore and southwest of Los Angeles.

The story goes that an abalone fisherman named Charley Feige built a wooden box with a glass pane in the bottom. He'd hang over the side of his skiff and submerge the box in the clear water of Catalina's Avalon Bay to search out mollusks below. One day, according to island lore, a local hermit saw Feige fishing and wisely suggested that he instead put a glass pane in the bottom of his rowboat. Feige took the hermit's advice and subsequently so did other Catalina fisherman.

As tourism started to become a lucrative business on Catalina Island, Feige began ferrying visitors out in his small boat to peer down through its bottom and into the bay. Other enterprising men caught wind of this and soon built bigger, more comfortable wooden boats, some with poles and awnings to keep the sun off the tourists.

Sugarloaf and Early Glass Bottom Boats - History - Marinalife
Sugarloaf and Early Glass Bottom Boats from The Catalina Island Museum

By the early 20th century, glass bottom boat rides were quite in vogue, according to the Catalina Island Museum. Visitors clamored to see the marine life in Avalon Bay, especially the lush kelp forests that were likened to a ballet with swaying leaves folding and unfolding in the water.

William Wrigley, who made his fortune from chewing gum and was the largest landholder on Catalina Island, got into the game, too. He commissioned a fleet of glass bottom boats to help promote island tourism. One of his boats, Phoenix, was 109 feet long, the largest glass bottom boat in the world. It looked more like a gentleman's yacht than the other more modest boats.

Glass Bottom Boats Tour - History - Marinalife
Glass Bottom Boat Tour by Gina Trapani

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Americans started to travel for leisure to experience the fast-growing country. They journeyed by rail, coach and boat, taking in the scenery, history and cuisine at their destinations.

The American West, especially California, caught the imagination of these adventuresome tourists, but so too did Florida, particularly the north central part of the state that is home to more than 700 freshwater springs that stay cool no matter how hot the air temperature. Americans read about these springs and the untamed wilderness in newspapers and magazines by popular writers of the day. They called inland Florida "America's Garden of Eden," long before beach tourism took hold in the state.

Silver Springs was one of the larger and better-known springs. It's still operating today. Some Florida historians estimate that 50,000 people visited it annually by the end of the 1880s. It featured a 200-person hotel with dancing and concerts and -- you guessed it -- a glass bottom boat.

If you believe the folks at Silver Springs, a man named Hullam Jones built a small wooden boat and inserted a pane of glass in the bottom to help him search for fallen cypress logs in river and springs. The owner of Silver Springs, Ed Carmichael, supposedly took the idea and built a flat, glass bottom boat so his guests could view the aquatic life beneath the surface.

Glass bottom boat front - History - Marinalife
Glass Bottom Boat Looker from Wikimedia Commons

Many who documented Florida tourism have expressed doubt at this origin story. They point out that no glass bottom boat was mentioned in any late 19th century promotional writings about Silver Springs. The debate continues to this day.

Regardless of when the boat made its initial appearance in Florida, it's safe to say slow-moving, flat, glass bottom boats were used at most Florida springs resorts by the early 1920s. While Florida spring water was crystal clear, the tourist attraction owners realized the glass in the bottom of the boat provided guests with a better look below, because it removed optically erratic surface disturbances, much like a diving mask.

In 1947, Texas entrepreneur A.B. Rogers introduced a glass bottom boat at Silver Lake in San Marcos, TX, after riding on one in Catalina. Like many glass bottom boat operators, he provided other entertainment to lure visitors, such as swimming pigs and attractive young women dressed as mermaids. In 1953, a glass bottom boat tour opened in Key West, FL, one of only a few attractions on the island. For most of the 1950s, Silver Springs was drawing more than one million visitors annually.

"All aboard, all aboard, on the glass bottom boat, it's the greatest show that was ever afloat..."

Glass Bottom Boats from Pxhere.com - History - Marinalife
Glass Bottom Boat from Pxhere.com

One summer back in 1969, my grandparents took my brother and me to ride on a glass bottom boat. We left Miami in the morning and five hours later arrived at Silver Springs. We ate sandwiches my grandmother had packed and then after lunch boarded the boat. I remember looking down, excited to see a solid sheet of glass, beneath which would be alligators, sea cows and other exotic creatures.

As you might imagine, it wasn't like that at all. Instead of a glass floor there was what looked to me like a wooden coffin in the middle of the boat with a bunch of adults peering down into it. When I finally took my turn and looked in, there wasn't much to see except a swirl of fish eating food that the guide had dumped into the water to attract and excite them. We had driven hours to look at an aquarium! The experience was quite underwhelming. Luckily, a creepy reptile farm and a Seminole Indian village at Silver Springs was more to our liking.

I share this story, because by 1969 the golden age of the glass bottom boat was waning. Tourism was changing. Air travel was bringing faraway places closer. Interstate highways were slowly choking off quirky mom and pop attractions. Travel was becoming more about entertainment and modern luxury. Disneyland had opened in 1955, and Disney World would open in 1971. People who wanted glass bottom boat cruises, especially in Florida, were seen as old fashioned.

The glass bottom boat, however, proved to be resilient. It may have grown less popular, but it never disappeared. Many seaside destinations continued to offer glass bottom boat tours, including on Catalina Island where it all began. In fact, it's fair to say we're seeing a revival of glass bottom boats this century with the rise of eco-tourism and the rising popularity of water sports.

Glass bottom boats - History - Marinalife
Glass Bottom Boat in the Caribbean from Needpix.com

National Geographic Expedition cruises, for example, feature luxury ships with glass bottom compartments, so guests can safely and comfortably get up close to undersea life in places such as the Arctic and South Pacific. Canoes and kayaks are being manufactured today out of tough transparent polymers so users can observe marine life while gliding over it.

While the popularity of glass bottom boats has ebbed and flowed over the decades, their purpose -- to provide a glimpse into the world below -- remains the same today as it was 100 years ago.


Alpena Shipwreck Tours

Alpena, MI

thunderbayfriends.org, 888-469-4696

Explore the shipwrecks of Lake Huron's Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. (Opens in spring 2021.)

Catalina Island Company

Avalon, CA

visitcatalinaisland.com, 877-778-8322

Take a trip to the island's colorful undersea life at the place where it all started. Charter night trips available.

Fury Water Adventure

Key West, FL

furycat.com, 888-976-0899

Combine a boat ride with a sunset cruise or reef eco-tour.

Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours

Munising, MI

shipwrecktours.com, 906-387-4477

Discover shipwrecks, cliffs, caves and wildlife on Lake Superior. (Opening date for 2021 to be determined.)

Hawaii Glass Bottom Boats

Honolulu, HI

hawaiiglassbottomboats.com, 808-729-6720

Visit Oahu's south shore to see reefs and shipwrecks by glass bottom catamaran. Private events available.

Key Largo Princess Glass Bottom Boat

Key Largo, FL

keylargoprincess.com, 305-451-4655

Take daily tours to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary.

Kona Glassbottom Boat

Kailua-Kona, HI

konaglassbottomboat.com, 808-324-1749

Delve into the Kailua Bay coastline and nearby reef in a special handcrafted wooden glass bottom boat. Event charters and ash scatterings available.

Silver Springs State Park

Silver Springs, FL

silversprings.com, 352-261-5840

Explore the country's largest natural spring via a classic glass bottom boat, kayak or canoe. Camping, cabins, hiking and horseback riding are also available.

Related Articles
Hurricane Hunters

Hurricanes are nature’s grandest, most ferocious storms. They fascinate us, and they repel us. As a radio news and weather reporter in Miami for 30 years, my grandfather was obsessed with hurricanes. (Confession: I am, too.) Using colored pencils and a wooden ruler, he meticulously plotted their paths onto an enormous paper map tacked up on the wall of his study. It was a beautiful and mesmerizing record of these ferocious and complicated storms that somehow feel alive as they zigzag and wobble across the ocean like drunken sailors.

Science has improved dramatically since my grandfather’s era. A fleet of Earth- observing satellites providing real-time data now help thousands of scientists around the world answer three age-old questions: Where and when will the hurricane hit and how strong will it be? Modern forecasts are pretty accurate. Long gone is the day when a storm could sneak up and hit without any warning. Here are the stories of three men who helped pave the way.

Three Who Paved the Way for How We Track & Predict Hurricanes Today

Father Hurricane

When the regime of Queen Isabella II of Spain collapsed in 1868, many who supported her thought it wise to flee the country. Father Benito Viñes, a Jesuit priest and educator, was one of them. He emigrated to Cuba and found a position as director of the meteorological observatory in Havana. Shocked by the damage hurricanes regularly inflicted upon the island, he made it his mission to learn everything he could about them.

Within five years of arriving, Father Viñes knew more about hurricanes than any living person. He was the first to discover that the cloud pattern and the behavior of the wind well in advance of a storm could be used to track it accurately. Using this information, he designed the “Antilles cyclonoscope,” a kind of slide-rule that could estimate from a considerable distance the current position of a hurricane and calculate its likely path. Up until then, weather observers could tell when a hurricane was coming but not where it was going.

His first forecast was published in a Havana newspaper on September 11, 1875 — two days before an intense hurricane ravaged the southern coast of Cuba. Many lives were saved because of the timely warning. Throughout the 1880s he exchanged hurricane information with other weather observers across the Caribbean via telegraph. It was the first hurricane warning system and a model the United States. Weather Service later emulated it. Father Viñes was so well-respected that for a short time hurricanes were even called Viñesas and identified numerically. The pronunciation, however, was difficult for Americans, so the practice ceased. Father Viñes died in 1893.

The Aerial Acrobat

Len Povey

Len Povey was a self-taught pilot who flew with the new U.S. Army Air Service until 1922 when he left to pursue a more “colorful” career testing race planes, flying bootleg liquor and barnstorming over the Great Lakes as a headliner with a flying circus. His aerial acrobatics at the All-American Air Maneuvers show in Miami in 1934 caught the eye of a Cuban Air Force official who hired him to train Cuban pilots and serve as the personal pilot for Fulgencio Batista, the chief of the armed forces and later president and dictator of the island nation.

When Cuba’s Weather Service detected a storm intensifying several hundred miles east of the island in early September 1935, Len Povey volunteered to help pinpoint the location and movement of the storm. He jumped in his Curtiss Hawk II, an open cockpit biplane, and flew over the Straits of Florida where he located the hurricane farther north than predicted and moving northwestward toward the Florida Keys. The Cubans dispatched a warning, but it was too late. Later that same day, the storm roared ashore at Islamorada, FL, with winds of 200 m.p.h. and a 20-foot storm surge that drowned more than 400 people, mostly Army veterans who were building the Overseas Railroad.

Povey later joined the faculty at Embry-Riddle, a private Florida college focused on aviation and aerospace programs, where he was a tireless advocate for aerial hurricane patrols. However, the type of reconnaissance mission he envisioned didn’t happen until July 1943, when Air Force Colonel Joe Duckworth flew a plane directly into the eye of a hurricane churning toward Galveston, TX. Len Povey died in 1984. His obituary claimed he survived a mid-air collision and an encounter with a turkey buzzard that sheared off a portion of his plane’s wing.

The Data Cruncher

One of the most recognized voices on hurricanes in the late 20th century emanated ironically from a mile-high lab at Colorado State University. That voice was Dr. William Gray, a professor of tropical meteorology from 1961 until 2005.

Bill Gray grew up in Washington, DC, wanting to be a baseball player. He was a standout pitcher for George Washington University until he hurt his knee. During service in the Air Force, he turned to a career in climatology. He once told the Los Angeles Times he was inspired to study hurricanes after he flew a plane through one off the east coast of Florida in 1958.

Dr. Gray was an outlier when it came to hurricanes. He eschewed computer modeling, focusing instead on observational science: historical storm data, old maps featuring storm patterns, and statistics on wind speed, water temperatures and other meteorological factors. He was the first to determine that the intensity and frequency of storms in the Atlantic was cyclical and that likelihood of a hurricane reaching the East Coast of the United States depended on a variety of factors including the amount of rainfall in Africa and the impact of El Niño (the periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean that produces powerful winds that shear off the tops of storms developing in the Atlantic). In short, he figured out Mother Nature’s recipe for powerful storms.

In 1984 Dr. Gray unveiled the first Atlantic seasonal hurricane forecast and quickly became a hurricane superstar and media darling. He, however, considered his greatest legacy the students whom he taught and mentored, many of whom went on to become leaders in weather research and forecasting. He died in 2016.

Check out Marinalife's recent article about How Hurricanes Get Their Names.

Hurricane Tracking Apps for Your Phone

You don’t need all six of these apps, but we’re certain you’ll find one here that you like. All are available on Google Play and the Apple App Store.


Rain radar, storm tracker and severe weather warnings help you prepare for hurricane season, as well as storms and heavy rain. Monitor live radar updates, an hourly rain tracker, storm radar news, and local weather forecast on the go. Free. Available in English and 30 other languages.


Official data, custom graphics, updates and maps from National Hurricane Center (NHC) experts. Considered the grandparent of all hurricane trackers. Free. Available in English and French.


Reliable, real-time and hyperlocal forecasts combining data from 250,000+ personal weather stations and a proprietary forecast model provide an incredibly accurate local forecast. Interactive radar and customizable severe weather alerts. Free. Available in English and 30 other languages.


Previously called NOAA Radar, this is a good hurricane tracker app, because it lets you overlay rain, radar or satellite images on top of the tracker. This gives you a detailed look at what’s happening in the storm. Add multiple locations to the map to get alerted if you’re in the path of a hurricane. Free. Multiple languages. Paid upgrade packages available.


If you’re willing to spend some money on an app favored by weather nerds and professional storm chasers, then check out RadarScope. The learning curve is steeper than with others, but it features high-resolution radar data sourced from NOAA’s next generation radar and Doppler Weather Radar. Available in English, French, German and Spanish.


Monitor conditions in your area or throughout the storm track, prepare your family and home, find help and let others know you are safe. Free. Available in English and Spanish.

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How Hurricanes Get Their Names

Historically, hurricanes in the United States were referred to by their time period and/or geographic location, e.g., the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900. In the West Indies, they were named after the particular saint’s day on which the hurricane occurred. A colorful Australian weatherman named Clement Wragge began assigning Greek and Roman mythological names to Pacific cyclones in the late 19th century. He later began naming them after politicians he particularly disliked.

During World War II, U.S. Air Force and Navy meteorologists plotting storms over the Pacific needed a better way to denote tropical cyclones while analyzing weather maps. Many began paying tribute to their wives and girlfriends back home by naming the cyclones after them. In 1954, the National Weather Bureau officially embraced the practice of giving hurricanes women’s names. Because America led the world in weather tracking technology, the practice was adopted elsewhere.

In response to pressure from women’s groups, the National Weather Service and the World Meteorological Association began using both men’s and women’s names starting in 1979. More recently, the lists of names, which are predetermined and rotate every six years, have been further diversified to reflect names used in the many regions where tropical cyclones strike. Names of devastating storms, such as Katrina in 2005, are permanently retired.

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The Fishy Side of Ocean City, MD

With its sandy beaches and boardwalk attractions, Ocean City is the quintessential family summer vacation destination. It’s also a popular spot for sport fishermen and boaters traveling up and down the East Coast. But it wasn’t always that way. 

Ocean City was established on a barrier island called Assateague that extended 60 miles from the Indian River Inlet in Delaware to Chincoteague, VA. The section of the island belonging to the State of Maryland had no outlet to the sea, and early visitors came to bathe in the surf and take in the fresh ocean breezes. These travelers arrived by ferry boat from the mainland until 1876 when a wooden trestle train bridge was built. 

In its younger days, Ocean City was half resort town and half fishing village. The fishing was “pound fishing,” a style I’d wager few people today have ever seen. It was practiced originally by Native Americans and became popular in the 19 century along the East Coast from Maritime Canada to the Carolinas.

Pound fisherman used wide nets attached to wooden poles to catch fish. They drove these tall poles into the ocean floor about a half mile from shore, creating permanent structures called pounds. When fish entered the open end of a pound, they were then corralled by the nets and couldn’t escape. 

With no passage into the Atlantic, crews of Ocean City fishermen needed to launch 40-foot boats from the beach directly into the ocean and row out to the pounds. To harvest the fish, the crew would remove the ends of the nets from the poles and pull them up by hand. The fish were then brought back to shore, carted across the island, packed in barrels of ice and shipped via railroad to fish markets in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.

It was laborious work, and for years local businessmen petitioned state and federal agencies to create a manmade inlet to connect the bay directly to more fertile fishing grounds farther off the coast.

A Fierce Storm Carves Out a New Inlet

In August of 1933, a hurricane came ashore in Norfolk, VA, and then tracked up the center of the Chesapeake Bay, bringing up to 10 inches of rain per day and flooding the back bays to the west of Ocean City. Oceanside, wind and waves destroyed homes, hotels and businesses on the town’s boardwalk. 

When the storm subsided, the railroad bridge and fish camps had been washed away, replaced by an inlet 50 feet wide and eight feet deep that formed when built-up water driven by high tides rushed east over the barrier island from the swollen back bays to the ocean. Mother Nature did what governments wouldn’t do, and it changed Ocean City forever.

It didn’t take long for officials to take advantage of this event and enlarge the inlet to ensure its permanence. As a result, a commercial harbor, marinas and docks began sprouting up around the inlet and across the bay on the mainland. Most fishing was commercial in those immediate post-hurricane years, but a few captains realized the recreational fishing potential in the shoals and fertile canyons offshore that were teaming with billfish and other species. During World War II, a lack of fuel and the presence of German U-Boats in the Atlantic virtually shut down offshore fishing. Things picked up after the war, and by the late 1950s and 1960s more and more fishermen were coming to Ocean City. 

But it was the white marlin that really put Ocean City on the sport fishing map. A challenging fish known for its beauty, the white marlin wows anglers with its speed and jumping antics. These fish travel in packs and are prevalent in Maryland waters in late summer and early fall. 

Sport fishermen have been chasing white marlins off the coast of Maryland since 1934 when President Franklin Roosevelt visited and caught two of the feisty billfish. To celebrate this exceptional fish and attract more attention to Ocean City, local fishermen launched the White Marlin Open in 1974. Fifty-seven boats entered that first year. By contrast, the 2021 Open drew 444 boats, more than 3,500 contestants – including NBA superstar Michael Jordan – and awarded $9.2 million dollars in prize money making Ocean City the undisputed “White Marlin Capital of the World.”

Ocean City today counts eight marinas, 20 fishing tournaments and numerous charter boats. According to the city council, boating and sportfishing are significant economic drivers bringing tens of millions of dollars annually to the local economy. 

So, whether you’re a hardcore sport fisherman, casual angler or a boater who simply enjoys a cocktail dockside at sunset, there’s something for everyone “Goin’ downy O, Hon!” as native Marylanders like to say about a visit to their beloved Ocean City.

Check Out Three World-Class OC Fishing Tournaments

Ocean City Tuna Tournament
July 8-10, 2022

Entering its 35th year, this has become the world’s largest tuna tournament with more than 100 participating boats and a record payout that eclipsed $1 million in 2021. 

White Marlin Open
August 8-12, 2022

First held in 1974, the WMO is inarguably the highlight of the Ocean City fishing tournament calendar. Now the biggest and richest billfish tournament in the world, the WMO drew 444 boats and 3,500+ contestants last year.

Poor Girls Open
August 17-20, 2022
Launched in 1994, this is the largest ladies-only billfish release tournament benefitting breast cancer research. Despite its charitable overtones, the tournament is all about the fishing, and the hundreds of boats and hundreds of competitors take it very seriously.

The Orange Crush: A Cocktail Born on the OC Docks

Orange Crush | Susan Elnicki Wade

The Orange Crush is a staple cocktail in most Maryland bars. It’s basically a screwdriver with a shot of triple sec and a splash of lemon-lime soda. The secret to a good one, though, is fresh-squeezed orange juice. And there’s no place better to try one than the Harborside Bar & Grill in Ocean City where the cocktail is said to have originated on a slow night in 1995 when a couple of bartenders were bored and playing around with a bottle of orange-flavored vodka.

Harborside is a wooden establishment whose backside opens onto the commercial harbor in West Ocean City. Gritty is the word that comes to mind. As you would expect, the sign out front boldly announces the home of the Orange Crush, as do newspaper articles framed on the walls and t-shirts for sale. Inside, people pound crabs and watch the Orioles play baseball. Ceiling fans whirl, and it smells of Old Bay and French fries. White lights strung across the ceiling add a festive touch. It doesn’t get more Maryland than that. 

To try your first Orange Crush, visit Harborside Bar & Grill, in Ocean City, MD, 410-213-1846.

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