Photo provided by the St. Clair Shores Historical Commission

Looking Back: Ice boating on Lake St. Clair

St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 7, 2021


ST. CLAIR SHORES — In this undated image, three two-person ice boats of the Racing 60s class are getting ready for competition on Lake St. Clair. Ice boating was popular on Lake St. Clair, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s (likely when this photo was taken) and into the middle part of the 20th century.

The first U.S. ice boat was built in 1790 by Oliver Booth in Poughkeepsie, New York, for use on the Hudson River. Later boats were designed with the steering runner at the front, a direct result of a 1937 Detroit News sponsored home-buildable ice boat contest. The winning design gave rise to a new class of boats known as the International DN. These boats can achieve 55-65 miles per hour while racing; the older boats sometimes approached 90 mph. There are no brakes on an ice boat; the operator steers into the wind to stop.

The “Belt of Ice Boating” is around 40 degrees north latitude and includes Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, New York, New Hampshire and Ohio, as well as some Canadian provinces. The best ice for the sport is the black ice found in this band: smooth and without snow, with a reliable breeze blowing.

World championships alternate each year between Europe and the US. About 150 competitors participate in the DN class.

To view this image and other historic photographs, please visit the Digital Media Archive at

— Submitted by Heidi Christein, archivist, St. Clair Shores Public Library