Icebreakers get busy as Operation Coal Shovel begins

(DETROIT) — The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday began Operation Coal Shovel, an annual domestic icebreaking operation ranging from southern Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair to the St. Clair/Detroit River system, and into Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers work together in these waterways as conditions worsen throughout the winter to ensure the ability to conduct search-and-rescue, community service, and the facilitation of navigation to meet the reasonable demands of commerce.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw escorts the bulk carrier Algoway through the lower St. Clair River in February 2014. Photo courtesy of the Algoway crew

Both the U.S. and Canadian fleets also assist with flood mitigation efforts when requested to do so by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, other emergency operations include opening channels to icebound communities or breaking ice for the ferries that serve them to ensure critical supplies of food, heating oil or access to medical assistance are maintained.

U.S. Coast Guard Sector Detroit provides command and control for Operation Coal Shovel and may place restrictions or close waterways as ice conditions dictate. Due consideration is given to the need for cross-channel traffic (e.g. ferries), the availability of icebreakers, and the safety of the island residents who use naturally formed ice bridges for transportation to and from the mainland.

As the 2022-2023 Operation Coal Shovel season begins, Sector Detroit and the Canadian Coast Guard will continue to monitor potentially hazardous ice conditions and conduct icebreaking operations throughout the Great Lakes.

Furthermore, phone conferences are conducted regularly with maritime shipping company representatives to coordinate icebreaking services and facilitate the movement of commercial vessels.

The U.S. Coast Guard recommends all recreational ice users plan their activities carefully, use caution on the ice, and stay away from shipping channels. Waterway users and island residents should stay tuned to local media resources for the status of channel closures.

– U.S. Coast Guard

By Rich Miller