While walking along Lake Michigan near his home in southern Wisconsin, Thomas Ceparski had an epiphany. He loved the outdoors and being near the water, so why not see if he could combine the two as a career? He set out to do just that when he came across an opportunity that would allow him to use his more than 20 years of experience in the service industry at Waukegan Harbor & Marina at the Waukegan Port District in Illinois.

He took a leap and is now the general manager of both the harbor and port district. To Ceparksi, the harbor is an expansive and dynamic project that would present him with as much opportunity as he could offer it in return. “I saw an environment that networked people through service and product, with the scenic backdrop of beautiful Lake Michigan,” he said. “Here, recreational and commercial water activities blend, and the community appreciates its natural resources.”

Waukegan Harbor & Marina, located roughly between Chicago and Milwaukee, has been around since 1986. The harbor itself, however, dates back to the late 1800s, when it was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps still maintains the harbor’s deep-draft commercial harbor, which is dredged annually to a depth of 23 feet. Visitors will see boats of all sizes here, from robust commercial shipping vessels to sailboats and yachts.

For boaters with boats up to 65 feet long, the marina’s stationary docks consist of 678 slips. The slips offer sturdy, safe mooring, with the option to customize the slip to all vessel sizes and needs. In 2008, the marina added floating docks that provide the durability of a concrete dock with the convenience and easy access of a floating system.

Waukegan Harbor is divided into two basins — North and South. The North Harbor features fixed concrete piers and can accommodate vessels up to 150 feet, while the South Harbor features both fixed and floating docks with accommodations up to 65 feet.

Plotting Your Course
Whether you’re staying for the season or only visiting for a weekend, there are plenty of things to do in and around Waukegan. The marina’s new Harbor’s Edge facility hosts weekend music festivals throughout the summer. This year, the marina will once again host the Salmon Unlimited Pro/Am fishing tournament.

Boaters can tie up for the day and venture into downtown Waukegan. Known as an artists’ mecca, the city has two live theaters and numerous galleries. Throughout the summer, boaters can find live music downtown or on the lakefront. And not too far away, thrill seekers can spend a day at Six Flags Great America.

For those who prefer a slower pace, there’s lots of shopping in the area or the opportunity to kick back on the attractive public beach. The Waukegan Harbor is also home to the Waukegan-Joseph Conrad Yacht Club, which boasts a full schedule of events and entertainment throughout the year.

At Your Service
Waukegan Harbor & Marina provides a variety of services to its boaters, whether they are addicted to modern technology or looking to escape it. Satellite TV and Wi-Fi can be found at its all-inclusive slips, in addition to potable water, laundry, shower facilities, 30- and 50-amp electrical boxes, a dock box and more. A full-service fuel dock inside of the South Harbor offers boaters ValvTect Marine treated fuel and free pumpout service.

For fishermen, the marina provides some of the best fishing in Lake Michigan, with everything from trout, salmon and perch. You can even charter an experienced captain to take you to the perfect fishing spot.

The marina has a fully stocked bait shop and a ship store, as well as a variety of dining opportunities, from Dockside Dogs restaurant to a deli to an ice cream shop. The Waukegan Metro station is a short walk from the harbor and has regularly scheduled train service to and from Chicago and the North Shore of Illinois.

Getting There
If you’re coming from the north, take I-94 or Highway 41 south to Grand Avenue. Head East to the lakefront. If you’re coming from the South, take I-94 or Highway 41 north to Belvidere Road and then head East to the lakefront.

At A Glance:

Waukegan Harbor & Marina
55 South Harbor Place
Waukegan, IL 60085
(800) 400-7547 (SLIP); (847) 244-3133
Thomas Ceparski, general manager

Dockage: Transient docking available.

Water depth at dock: 9 feet

Fuel: Gas and diesel

Electricity: 30/50 amp

Amenities: Water, ice, pumpout, restrooms, showers, laundry, satellite TV, Wi-Fi, phone, yacht club, snacks, ship store, marine supplies, full-service boat repairs, courtesy shuttle and local restaurants

Hours: Open seven days a week, hours vary

VHF Channel: 16/9

Author: Heather Ervin is the associate editor for HeartLand Boating magazine