Cruising from summer job to boat captain

By Elizabeth Czapski | Staff Writer

Published September 04, 2018

When Gabriel Argumedo was 15, he got a summer job with Chicago’s First Lady Cruises and Mercury Cruises as a deckhand, taking tickets, cleaning bathrooms and acting as a lookout for the captain.

“When I started down here, I didn’t even know that Chicago had a river,” said Argumedo, who is originally from Barrington, Illinois. “That’s how green I was.”

Now 30, he has risen to the rank of captain, piloting vessels on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan for tours and private events. He also works as director of vessel operations and runs the maintenance department during the winter off-season. Argumedo’s brother, David, works as a captain as well.

A typical day for Argumedo begins around 7:30 a.m., giving him and his crew time to prepare for the first river cruise at 9 a.m. They run safety drills first and then set up the boat and check that everything is working and ready to go. Then the tours begin—three to six each per day.

Argumedo offers several tours, including a Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise and a river and lake tour, the latter being Argumedo’s favorite.

“I never get tired of that view of the city from the lake.” He said his favorite moments on the lake are at sunset or at night.

When he does private events like corporate parties or weddings, Argumedo said he sometimes works late into the night. Piloting for private charters takes more skill and is, “more involved with the customer one-on-one, and you’re doing more custom routes and making a lot more decisions,” Argumedo said.

Argumedo said he loves his job because it changes every day and he’s constantly
meeting new people.

“If you’re a social butterfly, this is definitely the job for you,” he said.

Argumedo said he just likes being out on the water. Some of his most exciting moments have involved rescuing other boats and meeting celebrities, he said.

But being a boat captain does come with challenges—namely, dealing with river traffic.

“While there is plenty of room for everybody to be on [the river], the most difficult part is just getting the education out there of how to maneuver on the river,” Argumedo said.

He said the boating industry is always looking for good people to hire.

“I think most people are unaware that this opportunity or this industry even exists,” he said.

He said it’s possible for a boat lover to make a career out of it—and a fun one, at that.

Argumedo said that because he enjoys what he does, “it really doesn’t feel like work most of the days.”

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