Capt. Mike Marshall
Captain Profiles

Capt. Mike Marshall, American Cruise Lines 

Mike Marshall grew up in New Orleans, the son of a U.S. Marshal. His next-door neighbor was the president of Electro-Coal Transfer Corporation, and over the years, the two fathers had an understanding: If one of their children reached adulthood and needed a job, then the other would do what he could to help. As it turned out, Marshall was a beneficiary of that neighborly agreement. 

“I got out of high school and really didn’t have a plan,” Marshall said. “He gave my dad’s son—me—a segue into Electro-Coal’s barge company, Mid-South Towing Company.”

Marshall started out as a deckhand on a Mid-South Towing Line boat on the Lower Mississippi River. The connection was immediate.

“I just really liked it,” he said.

Early on, Marshall was encouraged to put in his service time and get a Coast Guard pilot’s license as soon as possible. That’s what he did, and by 1980 he had his first-issue license and was piloting fleet boats in the greater New Orleans area. At that same time, part of Mid-South Towing Company’s business involved transporting coal from Mile 785 on the Ohio River down to the Electro-Coal Transfer Terminal at Mile 55 on the Lower Mississippi, near Myrtle Grove, La. 

“We had four boats on that trade, and they were trying to develop steersmen for that,” he said.

Soon enough, Marshall left the New Orleans harbor behind and was headed upriver on a line-haul vessel. By 1983, he was standing his own watch on the Mississippi River. And in 1985, he was made captain on the boat he’d been working on.

Marshall said it was the captains he learned from during that first stage of his career who really set him on a course for a lifetime of success. One of those captains was Cecil Hailey.

“He had the patience of Job working good practice into my head as I was learning to bring tows down the Mississippi River,” Marshall said.

Marshall said he can still hear Hailey asking, “What are you going to do, Michael?” when he would get out of position coming around a bend or lining up to go under a bridge.

“It’s hard to sit back and watch someone do something wrong,” Marshall said.

Another mentor captain Marshall mentioned was Don Salsbury. Marshall said Salsbury had the same patient and teaching spirit as Hailey.

“Don was calm and encouraging,” Marshall said, “even when you really screwed up.”

In 1992, Marshall applied for and was hired as a port captain for Mid-South, which was later renamed Teco Barge Line. Marshall served in that role until 2005, when he and his wife moved back to New Orleans for him to go to work for Turn Services. At Turn, Marshall served as senior vice president of operations until 2020. Still, throughout those years working ashore, Marshall, at the encouragement of Salisbury, maintained his captain’s license. 

“‘When you go shoreside, keep your license,’” Marshall recalled Salsbury as saying. “‘Don’t let it go away.’ That was good advice because the trained mariner is the employable mariner.”

At both Teco and Turn Services, Marshall would fill in as needed on the companies’ fleet boats, not only to help out and keep up his hours, but simply because he enjoyed it. That came in handy in 2020, when Marshall retired from Turn Services and went back to the wheelhouse. After leaving Turn Services, Marshall tripped for Bruce McGinnis at McNational, then spent close to two and a half years working as a pilot for Canal Barge Company.

By 2023, though, Marshall was ready for a change of pace. He still enjoyed life as a captain, but he wanted a change from the hard schedule of pushing barges. Fortunately, his mentor Don Salsbury, more than 30 years prior, had encouraged Marshall to put in for his passenger vessel endorsement. That credential—and Salsbury’s foresight—meant Marshall was able to jump at an opportunity to be a captain with American Cruise Lines. He started aboard the passenger vessel American Melody in April 2023.

“It was a new vantage, which is what I was looking for, because Canal moves a lot of freight,” he said.

Looking back at his career, Marshall can see how each opportunity gave him more and more experience. With Mid-South, Marshall got to know the Lower Mississippi and Ohio rivers and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. At Canal Barge Company, he learned the Upper Mississippi River and the Illinois Waterway. With American Cruise Lines, Marshall has added the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers to his knowledge base.

“It’s been one education after another with every transition,” he said.

Now, Marshall said he’s focused on giving American Cruise Lines passengers a glimpse of the life of a mariner, while also paying forward to the navigation mates aboard the American Melody what he received as an up-and-coming steersman. In that way, he’s honoring the memory of mentors like Hailey and Salsbury who made such an impact on his life.

“They were giants,” Marshall said. “They made hard work look easy, and that’s the mark of a master.”