From about 1820 to 1940, coastal and riverside residents relied on steamboats as much as we rely on cars and buses today for convenient transportation. With poor roads and few bridges, it took far longer to travel on land than it did at eight miles an hour in a comfortable steamboat. But by 1900 railroads had reduced the demand for steamboat service, and with the popularization of the automobile and the development of reliable paved highways in the 1920s, the steamboat became obsolete.

The Steamboat Sabino (pronounced Sah-BYE-No) was built in East Boothbay, Maine, by the W. Irving Adams Shipyard. The vessel was christened as Tourist on May 7, 1908, and operated on the Damariscotta River by the Damariscotta Steamboat Company. After sinking due to an accident in 1918, the vessel ran on the Kennebec River by the Popham Beach Steamboat Company. The new owners changed the vessel’s name to Sabino in honor of Abenaki sagamore, Sabenoa.

In 1927 Sabino was purchased by the Cape Shore Ferry Company in Portland, Maine. From 1927 to 1958 the vessel served the islands of Casco Bay, running out of Portland. For this service the narrow hull was widened with sponsons to make the vessel more stable in the open waters. Although Sabino‘s configuration and passenger capacity changed through the years, the engine did not. The Steamboat Sabino still has the two-cylinder Paine compound steam engine that was installed in 1908. After a career in Casco Bay, the vessel was operated by the Corbin family out of Newburyport, Massachusetts, on the Merrimack River. The Corbin’s put a lot of time into repairing and bringing the vessel up to Coast Guard regulations for a passenger vessel. From 1971-1973 Sabino operated both day and nighttime jazz cruises on the Merrimack River.

In 1974 Sabino was leased for one year to Mystic Seaport Museum to determine if a steamboat would appeal to the Museum’s patrons. Sabino became a popular attraction, prompting the Museum to purchase the vessel to serve as a working exhibit. Sabino has since operated daily trips during the warmer months on the Mystic River for the enjoyment and education of visitors. Sabino underwent a full restoration from 2014 to 2017, and from 2021 to 2023 the vessel was outfitted with a diesel electric engine. The vessel now operates under electric power with a 95% reduction in carbon emissions, but maintains the ability to run on the steam engine for special occasions.

The Sabino was formally designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.

About the Boat

  • Built: 1908
  • Builder: W. Irving Adams
  • Location: East Boothbay Maine
  • Power: Paine compound two-cylinder steam engine or two C2.2T CAT marine generators
  • GRT: 25
  • Length: 57 feet
  • Beam: 21 feet 11 inches
  • Draft: 6 feet 3 inches

The vessel operates seasonally. For the current schedule, click here.