DULUTH, MN ---- December 5, 2012 -- The cold season is upon us here in the 9th Coast Guard District. As the month of December has begun and the official winter season nears, we are all preparing for the ice to come. Operational seasonality is an on-going reality for all of us who currently call the Great Lakes region home.
Just as the summer months bring a hectic schedule due to increased search and rescue and law enforcement cases, the winter brings a hectic schedule full of ice maintenance operations including search and rescue, ice-breaking and aids-to-navigation. With the ice that forms on the vast waters of the Great Lakes comes the high probability of damage to the vital aids-to-navigation that dot the Great Lakes.
The 9th Coast Guard District’s aids to navigation system facilitates safe and efficient maritime activity in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway region by marking safe passage for domestic, international, commercial and recreational vessel traffic. The Coast Guard manages 3,127 fixed and floating federal aids in the region.
Operation Fall Retrieve, which involves 16 Coast Guard units along with two contracted companies who are hard at work retrieving 1,282 navigational aids, is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 28. The aids, approximately half the region’s total, are taken out of service during the winter months due to decreased vessel traffic and to minimize damage from ice and severe weather.
“Operation Fall Retrieve is the operation for swapping out or pulling out the ATON before the ice season sets in,” said Lt. Cmdr. John Henry, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay. “The normal ATONs are too big and gangly to withstand pressure from ice flow, so the ice would take them under the water and destroy them.”
The smaller, lighter and more buoyant buoys, known as wintermarks or ice hulls, are designed to actually ride underneath the ice when it comes, but still stay on location.
Presently, Operation Fall Retrieve is nearly 75 percent complete. Of the 1,282 ATONS scheduled to be worked during Operation Fall Retrieve, 961 have been either decommissioned for the season or replaced with winter marks. Nine of the Coast Guard units have completed their buoy assignments and the remaining units are well on their way to a successful and on-time completion.
To accomplish the aids-to-navigation mission, the 9th Coast Guard District employs six Coast Guard cutters, five Aids to Navigation Teams; five smallboat stations with aids-to-navigation duties; the Lamplighters, civilian employees who manage the inland waters of Northern Minnesota; and Canadian Coast Guard partners and the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.
In addition, the 9th District Coast Guard Auxiliary helps inspect approximately 3,000 privately-owned aids to navigation in the region.