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The Discovery III docked in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The Riverboat Discovery is a tour company in Fairbanks, Alaska which operates sternwheel riverboats on the Chena and Tanana rivers.

Riverboat Discovery
Family Business (Owned by the Binkley family)
HeadquartersFairbanks, Alaska, United States
ProductsRiver tours
ParentAlaska Riverways, Inc.


The Riverboat Discovery business was founded in 1950 by Jim Binkley, a former freight riverboat captain on the Yukon River.[1] Binkley was approached in 1950 by Alaska tourism entrepreneur Chuck West, who expressed interest in a local river tour in Fairbanks, Alaska, and asked if Binkley could provide such a service.[2] Binkley initially operated a small converted missionary boat, the Godspeed, on tours of the rivers near Fairbanks.

The company's first sternwheeler, Discovery I, was built by Jim Binkley in his backyard in 1955 to accommodate more passengers. Later, more riverboats were added to the Discovery fleet; Discovery II was converted from a freighting steamboat in 1971, and Discovery III was built in 1987 at the Nichols Brothers Boat Builders shipyard on Whidbey Island near Seattle, Washington.


1898: Charles M. Binkley comes to Alaska during the Gold Rush, builds boats on the Yukon River.

1940: Jim Binkley goes to work as a deckhand on the Idler, a 62-foot sternwheel riverboat.

1942-1945: Jim Binkley is employed by the Army running freighting riverboats on Alaska's rivers.

1950: Jim Binkley starts a tour business on the Chena and Tanana rivers using the Godspeed, a converted missionary boat.

1955: Jim Binkley builds the Discovery I in his Fairbanks backyard; Discovery Igoes into immediate passenger service.

1956-1960: The Discovery I is renovated during the winter months to accommodate more passengers.

1971: The Discovery II is built on the hull of the freighter Yutana. Discovery II takes over as the Riverboat Discovery's primary tour vessel.

1986-1987: The Discovery III is built in Whidbey Island, Washington. Discovery III goes into passenger service on July 4, 1987, taking over from Discovery II as the company's primary tour vessel.

2000: The Discovery II resumes passenger service after being mothballed for approximately 10 years for renovations.

2004: The Discovery I resumes light-duty operation as a vessel for special tours and charters.

Present-Day OperationsEdit

As of October 2019, all three Discovery sternwheelers are still in operation. The Riverboat Discovery operates daily tours and occasional charters with the sternwheelers from mid-May until mid-September. In addition to the sternwheelers, the company also operates a sizeable gift shop and dining hall at the landing from which the boats depart.

Current FleetEdit

Ship Began Service Tonnage Length Passenger Capacity Passenger Decks
Discovery I 1955 34 tons 65 feet 150 2
Discovery II 1971 180 tons 116 feet 400 3
Discovery III 1987 280 tons 156 feet 900 4

External linksEdit


  1. ^ Madonna, James. 1999. Alaska Gold Trails: The Pioneers. A.P. Publishing, Fairbanks, Alaska. ISBN 1-891733-08-7, pp. 27-28
  2. ^ Sturgis, Ken. 1988. Four Generations on the Yukon. Epicenter Press, Fairbanks, Alaska. ISBN 0-945397-01-1, p. 38