COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Jessie Demery doesn’t look 24.
She wears braces, has a face that belongs in high school and displays a playful spirit.
So some are surprised to see her behind the wheel with Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises. A few have asked if she’s old enough to drive, as reported by our news partners, the Coeur d'Alene Press.
Demery doesn’t mind.
“I try and joke about it,” she said. "I try and do jokes here and there, like, ‘I've only been captaining for 25 minutes.’ And then I'll get docked and say, ‘Like not bad for 25 minutes. I watched the YouTube video.'”
But it’s not her youth that makes Demery different in this male-oriented field.
She is the only female captain with Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises, and the first woman to captain The Mish-an-Nock and The Coeur d’Alene. They are the larger boats in the fleet at more than 100 feet long and able to carry up to 400 passengers.
“Not only am I a female captain, but I'm a young female captain, which blows people's minds,” she said, laughing.
Jessie Demery, behind the wheel with Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises
Born in Coeur d’Alene and raised in Post Falls, the daughter of Ted and Michele Demery has two older brothers, so she grew up roughhousing and learned early to hold her own.
“I'm used to the boys’ world,” she said. “I’m used to proving myself.”
When she graduated from Post Falls High School in 2016 she wanted to travel, so she went to work with American Cruise Lines. In two years, she went from Maine to Florida and down the Mississippi River and through the Panama Canal.
It was then she set her sights on being in charge of the boat.
“I just completely fell in love with it,” she said.
But first, she wanted to come home and be on the water. In 2018, she went to work with Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises. She worked as a deckhand, studied the trade and climbed the ladder.
To become a captain she had to have 60 days on a U.S. Coast guard-certified vessel and pass physical and written tests.
“It's pretty grueling, but it's definitely worth it,” Demery said.
In 2019, she earned her captain designation and started on the 65-foot smaller boats in the fleet, The Osprey, The Kootenai and The Spirit of Coeur d’Alene.
This summer, she began captaining the Mish-an-Nock and The Coeur d’Alene. Demery handles three and four daily outings on Lake Coeur d’Alene, the St. Joe River, the Spokane River or shuttling people by boat from The Coeur d'Alene Resort to the Hagadone Events Center.
Some are sight-seeing cruises, some weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. All have people aboard who want to have a good time.
Demery does her best to deliver.
“That's the best part of my day," she said. "I love seeing people happy. And I just love being on a boat and moving it around.”
Perhaps best is when little girls pass by the wheelhouse, see her behind the boat’s wheel and excitedly point out “a woman captain!”
“I love that,” she said. "That's the best part to me, is when those little girls do come up. And then if I have time, I have them come in and show them they can turn the wheel just like me. They can do what I can do.”
Being the captain isn’t all glory. Safety of passengers is the priority. She and the other seven captains with Lake Coeur d'Alene Cruises are responsible for hundreds of people every day.
“It's like, that's kind of crazy, I'm only 24,” she said, smiling.
Challenges await on the water.
When it’s windy, docking is difficult. She must constantly be alert for other watercraft, skiers, wakeboarder, paddleboarders and even an occasional moose swimming the St. Joe River.
“All of a sudden it decided to start to swim in front of me,” she said. “It was like the craziest thing I've ever seen.”
She avoided it by flipping to neutral and waiting until the animal was safely away.
Demery has to maintain course, manage time and answer calls. And she handles all that while often providing a running commentary on the history and geography of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“I live five minutes down the road from a huge lake, 25 miles long. It's crazy,” she said.
Demery loves the opportunities her role provides to interact with guests.
“You've got to keep them calm and relaxed,” she said. “Keep that banter going.”
Demery lives in Coeur d’Alene and has family in the area.
“You can spend the day on the water, get some sun, but then go back to your house with your dogs or go see grandma and grandpa," she said. "You're not missing out on all these events. You're still in the town that your family's in.”
Demery did not spend her youth on the water, but recalled being fascinated by it. During her middle-school years, her grandparents took her to the Oregon Coast.
"I pretty much just sat there that whole vacation looking at the cargo ships go by,” she said. “I just always had that passion for boats and ships.”
Her time in the cruise industry opened doors, too.
“It let me see a lot of other things, and that's when I really was like, ‘I want to do what they do. I want to drive that boat.’”
The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our partners, click here.