Michigan Marvels: Ice breaking on the Great Lakes

As winter ice begins to thaw, and shipping slowly resumes, ice breaking operations on the Great Lakes kick into high gear. 

Both U.S. and Canadian icebreakers have been busy operating in the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and Detroit River recently, keeping a path open for ships but also to ease flooding caused by ice jams. 

The U.S. Coast Guard operates nine icebreakers in the Great Lakes, and they work closely with the Canadian Coast Guard.

„As of now we have 4 icebreakers in our area of responsibility ranging from Tawas, Michigan to Cleveland, Ohio,” said Lt. JG Jeremiah P. Schiessel, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. 

Coast Guard Sector Detroit. „The Coast Guard supports ice breaking throughout the winter months to support shipping commerce and also exigent community service.” 

Cargo moved on Great Lakes waterways includes fuel and oil, iron ore, coal, limestone, grain and salt, general cargo and project cargo such as wind turbine blades. 

Icebreakers date back to the 11th century. Those early versions, one-and-two masted sailing ships, were known as Kochi and were developed in communities along the coasts of the Arctic Ocean. 

One of the biggest icebreakers in the world is the United States Coast Guard’s Mackinaw. It is the U.S. Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker on the Great Lakes. 

It was commissioned on June 10, 2006 and is 240 feet long, 58 feet wide and is powered by 3 Caterpillar turbocharged V-12 engines. It calls Cheboygan home.