Boatnerd is an online community and information hub for enthusiasts of all things related to commercial shipping and marine activity on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. The site provides up-to-date news, ship tracking tools, photo galleries, discussion forums and an extensive database of current and historical shipping information.

A Passionate Community

At its core, Boatnerd is focused on connecting and sharing information with others who have an intense interest in Great Lakes commercial shipping. The site’s founders describe it as a “passionate interest bordering on obsession.” While outsiders may not understand this fascination with enormous cargo ships, the Boatnerd community shares a deep appreciation for the engineering, history and activity of marine transportation.

Real-Time Tracking

A major feature of Boatnerd is its AIS (Automatic Identification System) ship tracking tools. This network of coastal antennas and satellites provides real-time positioning of vessels equipped with AIS transponders. Boatnerd integrates this data into an interactive map that shows locations and information on thousands of commercial ships, passenger ferries, tugs and barges across the Great Lakes region.

News and Discussion

Boatnerd contains timely news articles and high-resolution image galleries of various maritime topics. The site also has active message boards where members exchange information on ship arrivals/departures, weather conditions, ports, shipping companies, vessel accidents, boat watching and more. These forums generate deep discussions reflecting members’ extensive knowledge.

Historical Archives

While Boatnerd emphasizes current maritime activity, it also has expansive databases detailing the histories of ships, companies, ports and more dating back over 100 years. Enthusiasts can delve into this rich content to understand past shipping operations. These archives also help members identify and appreciate the ships they spot today.

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Who Uses Boatnerd?

The Boatnerd community consists of a diverse range of people who share a passion for Great Lakes shipping. Some common member types include:

Vessel Enthusiasts

Many are drawn to Boatnerd simply because they find large commercial ships fascinating. They love tracking daily maritime operations, posting photos of favorite boats, and learning about new vessels. Some travel long distances around the Great Lakes region to get views from ports, bridges and canal locks.

Industry Professionals

Boatnerd is followed closely by maritime industry insiders like commercial sailors, dock workers, ship yard employees and port authority staff. They rely on the site for news relevant to their jobs and appreciate connecting with other shipping professionals.

Ship Spotters

Ship spotting involves observing and documenting commercial vessels much like bird watching or train spotting. Spotters use Boatnerd to coordinate outings, share notes on recent sightings, and identify ships in photos based on distinctive markings and features.

Model Builders

Those who build highly-detailed scale models of ships get inspiration and reference photos from Boatnerd. Enthusiasts can precisely recreate certain vessels once they understand key dimensions, designs and colors.


Boatnerd’s archives offer valuable insights for historians researching Great Lakes shipping lines, famous vessels, industry evolution and maritime events. The stories, data and images shed light on cultural and economic aspects of shipping.

Casual Readers

You don’t have to be a shipping fanatic to enjoy Boatnerd. Many appreciate learning about an interesting niche transportation method that shapes regional commerce and environments. Reading updates keeps them connected to local current events.

How to Use Boatnerd as a Resource

Boatnerd provides diverse tools and content streams for monitoring Great Lakes commercial maritime activity:

Browse Ship Tracking Maps

Spend time watching boats move around the lakes on the AIS ship tracker. Click vessels to reveal recent locations, speed, destination and technical specifications. See them arrive and depart major ports.

Look Up Specific Ships

Use the boat database to search for photos, history and fun facts on particular ships that catch your interest. Discover when/where they were built and track their ownership changes.

Check Photo Galleries

The latest images showcase ships, ports, shipyard work, accidents, weather events and more. Browse various port galleries to see what’s happening around the region. Read comments from photographers for insights.

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Read News Reports

Daily news posts provide details on maritime developments, new boats, terminal contracts, shipping incidents and industry issues. This timely reporting comes directly from Boatnerd’s network of contributors.

Discuss in the Forums

Engage with other enthusiasts by joining site discussions. Share your own ship photos, ask questions, meet up for boat watching, get advice on the best viewing spots and more.

Dive into History

Explore the site’s archives of ship histories, shipyard data, shipping line evolutions and port chronologies dating back over a century. Understand how products were transported in the past.

Follow Social Media

For real-time updates, follow Boatnerd on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These accounts post breaking news, cool photos, event announcements, weather reports and more throughout the day.

Boat Spotting 101 – Method and FAQ

Ship spotting, or boat spotting, is a key part of the Boatnerd community. Here is a beginner’s guide to the hobby:


  • Get a smartphone with camera and a scanner app like MarineTraffic to identify ships in real time
  • Check Boatnerd’s AIS ship tracker to see vessels moving through your area
  • Drive along highways and bridges near ports and rivers at optimal times like early morning
  • Listen for foghorn blasts which may indicate an incoming ship
  • Setup safely near a dock and watch boats unload/load cargo and passengers
  • Photograph each vessel focusing on name, ID number, logos, flag and any unique details
  • Post your best photos to share with other Boatnerds and get help identifying mystery ships


Where are the best spots to see ships?
The Soo Locks in Sault Ste Marie, Detroit River, Toledo Shipping Channel, Cleveland Harbor, and Duluth Harbor offer excellent views. Scenic parks, canal locks and river bridges also make good vantage points.

What time of day is best?
Mornings typically have the most activity, but schedules vary. Use AIS tracking maps to see when ships are on the move.

What equipment do I need?
Just a camera! A scanner app, binoculars and telephoto lens help capture details. Dress for the weather and bring rain/sun protection.

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How can I identify ships?
Apps like MarineTraffic provide real-time ship details. Name, IMO number and MMSI number also visible on hull help match to Boatnerd’s vessel database.

Can I visit docks/harbors?
Some public spaces like parks afford views of commercial slips. Otherwise, stick to public land and be courteous if accessing private marinas. Do not impede operations.

Is it safe?
Use caution near water and in industrial areas. Avoid trespassing on docks. If confronted, explain your harmless hobby. Ship spot responsibly!

How do I connect with other ship spotters?
Introduce yourself on Boatnerd forums. Attend maritime museum events. Exchange tips and photos with fellow spotters in your area.

Great Lakes Freighter Viewing – Steps and Tips

Ready to see some huge cargo ships up close? Here are helpful steps and tips for newbies to safely watch Great Lakes freighters from shore:

Prep Work

  • Check Marine Forecast – Wind and waves influence which side of the harbor has best views.
  • Consult Boatnerd – Use the AIS ship tracker map to see incoming vessels and their destinations.
  • Know Arrival Times – Freighters keep to tight schedules. Be in position well before arrival.
  • Pick Your Spot – Scout locations like parks, piers and bridges ahead of time for optimal angles.
  • Grab Essentials – Bring binoculars, camera, snacks, layers, sun/rain protection.
  • Fuel Up – Use restroom, get coffee and fuel car beforehand. You may be parked awhile.

Ship Viewing

  • Arrive Early – Allow extra time to get situated, parked, and set up equipment.
  • Safety First – Avoid private docks, stay back from water, and be aware of surroundings.
  • Shoot Photos – Capture images of ship details like name, flag, logos for identifying later.
  • Soak it In – Savor the rumbling engines, horns and whistles! Enjoy seeing immense vessels up close.
  • Show Respect – Don’t disrupt operations or access restricted areas. Be courteous if questioned.
  • Swap Stories – Chat with fellow ship watchers. Veterans enjoy sharing their knowledge.
  • Have Patience – Wait for epic photos of ships passing under bridges or mooring at docks.

After the Spotting

  • Identify Mystery Ships – Use MarineTraffic app or check Boatnerd archives to