Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Pride of the Susquehanna still in dock, under financial stress, as pandemic grounds the riverboat

The Pride of the Susquehanna last year, in happier times, at its dock on City Island.

Two years ago, the Pride of the Susquehanna riverboat had a near-death experience after heavy rains washed out much of its sailing schedule.

Now, it’s facing another crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has kept the Pride in dock, delivering another blow to the fortunes of the iconic, red-and-white paddleboat.

“We’re in a dire situation because we’ve already lost the whole of May,” said Deb Donahue, board chair of the Harrisburg Area Riverboat Society, the nonprofit that operates the Pride.

Typically, the Pride launches into the Susquehanna River with great fanfare in April, but, this year, it remains on dry land.

Donahue said that the riverboat’s challenges are twofold.

First of all, like many shuttered, “non-essential” businesses and nonprofits, finances have fast become an issue. In 2018, the Pride lost about one-third of its sailing days after long periods of heavy rain and high waters. An urgent appeal to the community raised about $90,000, allowing it to continue operations last year.

But money now is again a concern, so Donahue hopes that another community appeal will allow the Pride to stay afloat.

“We’re trying to think out of the box like everybody else,” she said.

Best case, the Pride hopes to launch in mid-June following a delayed U.S. Coast Guard inspection. But that also depends upon what the state allows, which brings up the second challenge.

Even if the Pride can sail, it inevitably will be subject to a new set of rules and regulations to ensure adequate social distancing and maximum cleanliness.

So, passengers for the riverboat’s daily and special cruises probably will have to be cut in half, thereby significantly reducing revenues. At the same time, expenses are certain to rise, as Plexiglas will have to be installed around the bar and the boat will need to be constantly sanitized.

Donahue said that the volunteer board is still trying to figure out how best to operate in this environment—how many passengers can they take and what activities can still go forward? For instance, she’s not optimistic about the fate of the Pride’s popular dinner cruises this year.

The most immediate concern, though, is cash flow.

“Money is a big concern, to be honest,” she said. “It’s not good.”

For more information and to support the nonprofit Pride of the Susquehanna, visit their website.

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