“Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Shipping: We need Icebreakers” –MarineLink

Launch of USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30) on April 2, 2005. Photo by Peter J. Markham.

Marine Link reports that,

“The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence shipping industry is calling for at least five new icebreakers to be part of the (Canadian–Chuck) federal government’s recent announcement of $15.7 billion for Canadian Coast Guard fleet renewal.”

This appeal was addressed to the Canadian government, but we can expect to hear continued appeals for more USCG icebreakers on the lakes as well.

“Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard crews worked tirelessly during the Great Lakes spring break-out, but were hampered by the age and condition of the fleets at their disposal. Two U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers were out of service in March and a Canadian icebreaker assigned to Lake Superior was only able to operate at 60 per cent of capability and was idled in April due to mechanical issues.”

Congressmen from states bordering the Great Lakes have been asking for more icebreakers for years. There was $5M in the FY2019 budget to start work on procurement of a Great Lakes icebreaker at least as capable as USCGC Mackinaw.

There is an indication that the system may be expanded and the navigation season extended,

That economic contribution is only set to increase as ports and their customers invest in increasing the capacity of the waterway as well as looking at options like lengthening the navigation season of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

There might be an opportunity here to combine the program to provide medium polar icebreakers with a new icebreaker for the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes icebreaker might serve as a prototype for the medium polar icebreaker.

13 thoughts on ““Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Shipping: We need Icebreakers” –MarineLink

  1. All the relevant technology for the medium polar icebreaker will already be tested in the PSC. The future GLIB should be tailored for Great Lakes operation.

  2. I have lost track of which icebreakers other than the PSC are funded? And isn’t the GL breaker similar in size to the medium breakers which are POR?

    • At the moment, nothing but the first PSC.

      The future GLIB will be much smaller, probably similar in size to Mackinaw, whereas the mediums will probably be closer to Healy.

    • Marinette Marine has been impacted by the lakes being frozen, delaying launches of their Freedom LCS. This may also impact the 4 Saudi frigate derivatives. I wonder if that played a role in Lockheed Martin bowing out of the FFG(X) competition.

  3. Transportation on the lakes are not strategic relevant. Hence, maybe they should charter a civilian companies to do it. In Finland it is done by a state owned company, to keep it cheap. Same for Russia. Of cause, if they get the USCG and CCG to do it, it is free for the companies who benefits. On the other hand, if the ships will have to have icebreaker escort through out the winter, they may think about investing in the double acting cargo ships, as the other will be too expensive. Maybe they just want a extension of the season and that can likely be had if they invest in larger ice breakers than the Mackinaw – something like the Polaris.

  4. I will leave alone how the economy does intersect with the military, but just looking at the military benefit of the icebreaker fleet and why those assets are assigned to the Coast Guard. It seems obvious on in the Pacific, where the icebreaker fleet assures continual access to the US arctic territory, which is all in Alaska. Moving onto the eastern seaboard and the military requirement it is less obvious, but still there. There is a strategic need to assure the Navy construction ports are free of ice and ships can freely transient in and out, one of which is on the lakes. But there is a reserve need for icebreaking capability to support North Sea obligations. In order to assure the capability to get men and material to support NATO treaty obligations the Navy needs reserve Atlantic icebreaking capability. In the past with Atlantic icebreakers supporting Greeland this capability was inherent to the 2nd Fleet. Without any Atlantic icebreakers anymore it appears the lake icebreakers is what is going to provide that strategic reserve capability by default.

    • Good points and that is also a valid reason to keep them in the USCG, but then the costs goes up. The Finnish civilian medium sized icebreaker Polaris priced at 125m€ is crewed by only 16 and would fit through the locks. That makes for very cost efficient icebreaking capability. If the 750m$ heavy USCG is anything to go by and the US naval procurement office is anything to go by, then a medium USCG will likely cost north of 500m$ and have a crew of 50+ if they buy 3.
      I would suggest USGC to consult the Finnish company about which requirements they should set up to suit their needs and likely also a design. Small series of special designed ships can be economical, if they are done by companies that have the required competencies to make them so. Which precludes most US contractors. Then they can always get a US shipyards to bid for the construction part.

  5. Chuck,

    Please find the attached press release from the Lake Carriers Assoc. It’s a very powerful storyline supporting the production of a second Great Lakes Heavy Icebreaker. Basically the Coast Guard’s lack of investment in domestic icebreaking has caused it to become the weak link in the national supply chain that feeds America’s heavy industry.

    This is particularly timely with the new tariffs on Chinese imports and the associated increase in trade tensions.



    Fred Wilder

    CAPT USCG (ret)


    (850) 566-9368

  6. Pingback: Case for a Second Great Lake Icebreaker | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  7. Pingback: Second Great Lakes Icebreaker? | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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