Chief Engineer set to retire after 33 years of service

July 23, 2016

Chief Engineer James (Jim) A. McCoy

Jim McCoy’s career began onboard the Steamer Belle of Louisville in March of 1975. He spent his first years working as a Deckhand preparing the boat for cruises, handling lines, performing maintenance, and up keep. His dedication, strong understanding of seamanship, and natural leadership abilities propelled him from Deckhand to First Mate by 1977. In the Mate’s position, he supervised nineteen crew members through one of the boat’s busiest years on record.

McCoy’s career on the Belle took a turn in early 1978 when he accepted a position in the engine room. It was a natural path for him.  His uncle Chet Foster had worked on the Belle as a Chief Engineer in the 1960’s. Jim quickly learned to raise steam as a boiler fireman and handle the engines as he developed an understanding of the engine room’s operating aspects.

In August of 1979 Jim McCoy left the Belle for a more lucrative job with LG&E. He worked at the company’s hydroelectric plant and often stopped to visit the Belle and former crew members after work. It was only a matter of time before he would be lured back to the boat. Jim left LG&E and returned to the Belle in 1987. He was once again at home in the vessel’s engine room.  Jim had an appetite for learning.  Recognizing this, the engineers that worked with him passed on their knowledge and river experience.  Jim was promoted to Engineering Assistant later that year as he continued to learn the Belle’s mechanical operating system.

He tested for and received his Engineering License from the U.S. Coast Guard in early March of 1991. Within less than a year, on February 15th 1992, Jim McCoy was promoted to the senior Chief Engineer position. This was accomplished through due diligence and a tremendous amount of hard work on his part as he rose through the ranks.

Over time Jim has guided the engine room’s operation through many successful years. He has accomplished this by leading his highly qualified engineering team in daily operations and projects. Under his direction they have taken the Belle out of town on numerous occasions, six of which were well over a week long to Cincinnati’s Tall Stacks celebrations.

The Belle has undergone a tremendous amount of change since Jim assumed command of the engine room in 1992, much of it was in engineering areas. He has overseen the installation of two new diesel generators, rebuilding of pumps, reworking the vessel’s electrical system, boiler furnace repairs, plumbing repairs, air conditioning upgrade, and numerous other projects. In 2014 Jim and his engineering team worked directly with Atlas Machine Company who generously donated all materials and workmanship, refurbishing the Belle’s main engines that are well over 120 years old.

Chief Engineer Jim McCoy has stood his longest watch overseeing the Belle of Louisville’s engine room for well over 22 years. Including his time on deck he has over 33 years of service. Jim leaves the boat in much better shape than when he first accepted the Chief Engineer’s position in 1992. Most importantly through his mentoring he has ensured that the Belle of Louisville is in good hands for years to come. Three licensed engineers who came up during his tenure will remain to carry on his legacy.

Jim is expected to remain involved with the Belle as a consultant and relief engineer.


Q: Who was your favorite person or celebrity you encountered during your time on the Belle?

A: John Wayne of course! He was a really cool dude. I also really enjoyed meeting Heather French Henry. She was always very gracious and a great person.

Q: Do you have a favorite cruise or trip you went on?

A: Our first trip to Cincinatti in 1975 was probably my favorite. It was our first big trip that I’d been on and it was just the thrill of having that new adventure.

Q: What has been your worst moment?

A: August 27th, 1997. I was asleep at home when I got a call the boat was sinking. Fastest I’ve ever gotten to work. Waided around in waist deep water to make sure the boilers didn’t explode.

Q: Do you have a moment your most proud of?

A: I’m proud every day! Every day I’m here is the moment I’m most proud of. Just to keep her running. It was great to be Chief during the Centennial celebration.

Q: Plans for retirement?

A: Just spending time with my grandkids and playing a lot of golf. And doing whatever my wife tells me to do!


Jim will oversee his last cruise aboard the Belle on July 31, 2015.

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