Great Lakes shippers ask public to boycott Port Huron Float Down

The following is the text of a news release from the Lake Carriers' Association and Canadian Shipowners Association:

(CLEVELAND and OTTAWA) — U.S. and Canadian vessel operators on the Great Lakes are urging the public to not participate in the Port Huron Float Down scheduled for Aug. 16. This unsanctioned event fills the St. Clair River from Port Huron to Marysville with persons in all manner of craft, thus needlessly jeopardizing participants and hindering commercial navigation at the height of the shipping season.

“We recognize that the Great Lakes and their connecting channels are wonderful venues for recreation and when carefully planned and supervised, recreational activities and commercial navigation can co-exist,” said James H.I. Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers’ Association, the trade association representing U.S.-flag vessel operators on the Great Lakes. “However, based on past experience and the tragic loss of life at past events, the Port Huron Float Down is neither carefully planned nor adequately supervised, and when coupled with the expected consumption of alcohol, this is an invitation to disaster. The fast-running and chilly waters of the St. Clair River between Port Huron and Marysville are a federal navigation channel, not a playground.”

Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the Canadian Shipowners Association (CSA), stressed Canadian fleets share LCA’s concern for public safety. “The Float Down is not permitted or sanctioned by federal agencies in either country. Although the event may appear benign, there are a host of risks to participants that are not evident to non-mariners. This is a waterway that deserves the utmost of respect and this unsanctioned event does not have sufficient safety measures.”

Weakley and Lewis-Manning further noted this unauthorized closure of that portion of the St. Clair River has a significant economic impact on commercial navigation and its customers. “Our members’ vessels cost thousands of dollars an hour to operate,” said Weakley. “While companies attempt to schedule around the Float Down, it is inevitable that ships will end up at anchor and the loses can quickly reach five digits.” Lewis-Manning further noted the delays don’t end when the Float Down is over. “It takes several more hours to clear all the traffic that has accumulated as a result of the Float Down.”

Both associations routinely work with recreational interests to share the Great Lakes. For example, the sanctioned Head of the Cuyahoga race closes the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, for nine hours each September, but the U.S. Coast Guard, vessel operators and the Cleveland Rowing Foundation cooperate closely to maximize rowers’ participation while minimizing interruptions in vessel deliveries. This event has a long lead time, is meticulously planned, well organized, and closely monitored with emphasis put on each participant’s individual safety.

By Professional Mariner Staff