Ice breakers plow through the Great Lakes

With ships passing through the Soo Locks as of Friday, the Great Lakes shipping season is upon us.

The U.S. Coast Guard operates nine ice breaking vessels to help maintain shipping lanes on the Great Lakes and interconnecting waterways. This year’s extensive ice cover may make the breakers’ work a bit harder.

“Ice breaking activities typically do last until May. (I) wouldn’t be surprised to see it go a number of weeks longer than normal,” said Christopher Connolly, Executive Petty Officer at the Marquette U.S.C.G. station. “This is more ice than we’ve seen in a number of years. So the ice breakers first have to establish a track through which they can escort a vessel. They also will maintain those tracks. However, shifting wind and other weather conditions dictate whether or not those tracks remain passable.”

Ice breakers are currently facilitating the movement of commercial vessels and will begin breaking up ice sheets in harbors as they become available. A breaker should be arriving in Marquette near the end of this week to help clear a path for supply shipments to industries like We Energies, who are currently awaiting a large shipment of coal.

The Coast Guard warns that people venturing out onto the ice need to stay informed about the weather.

“The reason we say they need to pay attention to the weather forecast is because shifting wind will most certainly affect where there is and is not ice,” Connolly added. “The ice flows that you can see piling up along the shoreline are extremely dangerous, such as what’s currently along the breakwall in lower harbor, and that should be avoided at all costs.”

Carrying the proper equipment can help to prevent a potential tragedy. A lifejacket, protective clothing, a cell phone in a waterproof container, an ice pick, and a whistle are all among the essentials that the Coast Guard encourages citizens to carry when on the ice.