9/7/23 - 9/8/23: OPERATION SAFE HARBOR

Operation Safe Harbor was a multi-agency safety exercise conducted on Mackinac Island. For this exercise, Operation Safe Harbor formulated a mass evacuation strategy for a region dependent on ferry boat transportation.


To add complexity, the premise of the exercise was that the primary harbor was inaccessible. This could be for a number of reasons: a natural disaster (eg wild fires), human error (eg fuel spill), or any situation whereby people would have to clear the area.

The solution to this challenge was to build a makeshift dock with floating causeway (aerial lifted and assembled by the National Guard) and have passenger vessels dock and load passengers at the floating causeway. During the course of the exercise, Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry helped to prove proof of concept by using both T-Class and K-Class passenger vessels. With the participation of our volunteers, Shepler’s successfully loaded fifteen passengers and one puppy from the floating causeway.

Madi and Keeanu are two Shepler cast members who are also National Guard members. They participated on Shepler’s side of the operations during the exercise, and we are very proud of the work they do here in the Straits of Mackinac and beyond with the Army National Guard.


In addition to protecting the well-being of our cast members and our guests, the Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry remains equally committed to protecting the well-being of the environment. Through the Safety and Security Program, Shepler’s added a work study role of Environmental Specialist.

Not only does our Environmental Specialist know the ins and outs of our operations, Lindsey is in her seventh season as a Shepler’s cast member, she is a graduate of Central Michigan University with a degree in Environmental Studies.

One program our guests have seen on the Mackinaw City Dock is the introduction and testing of a new kind of receipt paper. The company EcoChit produces a receipt paper that is 100% free of phenols as well as 100% recyclable. Further, as part of EcoChit’s mission, the company contributes to the regeneration of critical ecosystems.

Be sure to check the back of your receipt paper and the QR code for more information! Or check out: ecochit.com


On May 24, 2023, Shepler’s partnered with Summit Fire Protection (SFP) for fire safety training and drilling. SFP provided a great training overview for our Mackinaw City and St. Ignace Cast Members about the characteristics of fire, fundamentals of firefighting, and particulars to shipboard firefighting.

Following a detailed tutorial we moved to a live drill, and our cast members knocked down several contained fires using both CO2 and dry chemical fire extinguishers (i.e. the types of extinguishers we have on our vessels and docks for safety). This firsthand experience allowed our Cast Members to witness how the fire reacts to the different types of extinguishers and to get a feel for discharging a fire extinguisher.

The debriefs, when we asked our Cast Member about the experience, were informative and contained a lot of enthusiasm. The lessons learned and the confidence gained from the hands-on drill better prepares our Cast Members for a real-world emergency.

While unlikely, Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry takes great pride in preparing for these low frequency, high risk events. Thank you Summit Fire Protection for your participation in our safety program!


Traditions is a company wide training for new cast members. At Traditions, we teach our cast the history of the company, our business philosophy, our company culture, our service model, and the core principles of our operations. This two-day training helps immensely as it empowers our cast members by providing them the framework to make decisions in any situation while maintaining the consistency, class, and care expected from our guests.

Additionally, Traditions includes: a tour of the island via Carriage Tours, lunch at the Grand Hotel, a trip to Fort Mackinac, and other highlights of Mackinac Island. On the mainland, we show our cast all of our facilities and discuss how they tie into the big picture of our operation. By experiencing the Island first hand and understanding the entirety of our business, our cast is better suited to answer questions from our guests.

One of the great advantages of Traditions is the team building that takes place among the new cast members during those two days. Between the meetings, short breaks, and social events, we develop a stronger, tightly knit crew.


Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry requires First Aid, CPR, and AED training for many of our cast members. Our local EMTs, Cheboygan Life Support, taught and drilled these very topics with our cast:

  • Elementary First Aid – STCW Code Table A-VI/1-3
  • Elementary First Aid – 46 CFR 11.302(a)(3) and 12.602(a)(3)
  • First Aid and CPR Training – 46 CFR 11.201(i)(1)
  • All Elective Sections of Heartsaver First Aid with CPR AED – AMERHA-216

The attending cast members earned Basic Life Support Certificates as well as Heartsaver AMERHA-216 Certificates from the American Heart Association.

During the course of the season, Shepler’s will conduct training drills while underway, and you may be onboard our vessel as our cast members are performing compressions on a manikin and rehearsing the fundamentals of First Aid, CPR, and AED training. In addition to our training, Shepler’s will be adding three new AEDs to our facilities this season. Well-trained cast members and modern equipment are part of our company culture as well as our commitment to provide our guests the best experience in the Straits of Mackinac.


Following September 11, 2001, like much of our country and the world, an emphasis in security measures naturally merged with our existing safety program. Over the years since 9/11, Shepler’s continued to further develop industry leading practices in safety and security. In building upon this rich tradition, Shepler’s recently adopted a symbol of safety and security for our company; the international code flag “S” or “Sierra” – a blue rectangle surrounded by a larger white rectangle.

How does our Crew earn their Safety Pin?

Cast members earn this insignia only after successful completing the Shepler’s safety and security curriculum. Every member of the Shepler’s cast undergoes;

  • thorough training (formal instruction on safety and security procedures),
  • specialty drills (the demonstration of an individual safety or security skill set), and
  • team exercises (a rehearsal scenario in which cast members must combine multiple aspects of training and the subsequent skill sets to best simulate a real world incident).