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Ice breakers on duty and ready for the season

Canadian Coast Guard ready to conduct icebreaking operations on the Great Lakes, connecting waterways
Today, the Canadian Coast Guard provided details of the upcoming icebreaking season. On the Great Lakes, icebreaking services are provided by the Canadian Coast Guard and the United States Coast Guard working together as one team.

The St. Lawrence Seaway, Welland Canal and Sault Ste. Marie Locks are closed during the winter months, however, shipping is still active on the Great Lakes and connecting waterways - Lake Erie, Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, St. Clair River, Lake Huron, St. Marys River and Georgian Bay. The Canadian Coast Guard has two icebreakers assigned to the Great Lakes for the entire winter season: CCGS Griffon and CCGS Samuel Risley supported by additional Coast Guard vessels at the beginning and end of the icebreaking season.

Canadian Coast Guard icebreaking support from shore:

Officers at our Regional Operations Centre in Montreal coordinate icebreaking requests with the United States Coast Guard Sector Detroit and Sector Sault Ste. Marie. Industry representatives meet with Coast Guard officials daily via operational conference calls. During the calls Ice Service Specialists from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) provide information to shippers from both countries about ice extent, concentration, and thickness. Further information about ice conditions in the region is also gathered from the air during ice reconnaissance missions using Canadian and US Coast Guard helicopters.

Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS] Officers in Sarnia and Prescott are in contact with mariners 24 hours a day proactively providing information, managing marine traffic, and responding to calls for assistance. Winter maritime search and rescue operations are coordinated by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton. Coast Guard icebreakers and other vessels may be called upon to assist if required. Aircraft from the Department of National Defence and the United States Coast Guard are also involved in maritime search and rescue operations, as necessary.

Additional Coast Guard duties on the waterways during the winter months

In addition to icebreaking for clients, both the Canadian Coast Guard and the United States Coast Guard work to prevent the formation of ice jams and flooding in coastal communities. Problems can occur when ice accumulates and blocks the flow of a river. That obstruction, known as an ice jam or ice plug, can cause flooding as water builds up and overflows the banks. Coast Guard ships are also at the ready to respond to environmental incidents or other urgent or humanitarian emergencies.         

All ice surface users should plan their ice activities carefully, use caution on the ice and avoid the shipping lanes and icebreaking operations. Broken and fragmented ice tracks and ridging left behind by passing icebreakers or commercial vessels may not freeze over immediately. This can result in hazardous conditions for ice users. In addition, newly fallen snow will obscure ship tracks. Unsafe ice conditions can persist long after icebreakers have left the area.

How the Canadian Coast Guard supports the economy by ensuring safe shipping routes

According to the Chamber of Marine Commerce, commercial shipping on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River waterway supports $60 billion CDN in economic activity and 329,000 jobs in Canada and the U.S.

Icebreaking is an important government service, supported by industry fees, that helps the Canadian and United States economies. In this region the Canadian and United States Coast Guards work as one team, providing assistance to commercial cargo vessels to move through ice covered waters, re-supplying industry with much needed goods. By assisting ships both Coast Guards have an important role in providing communities the security, supplies, energy and emergency resources needed throughout the winter.

Coast Guard icebreaking is often essential in the final weeks before the St. Lawrence Seaway shipping season closes at the end of December for steel manufacturers to stockpile raw materials for their winter operations and for farmers to export their crops to world markets.

Canadian Coast Guard Ships Griffon, Samuel Risley ready for Great Lakes icebreaking following refits

Important refit and maintenance work on the CCGS Griffon and CCGS Samuel Risley was recently completed and both Great Lakes-based ships are ready for the upcoming icebreaking season. CCGS Griffon was dry-docked at Verrault Navigation in Les Mechins, Quebec Work included an overhaul of the four main propulsion engines, overhauls of two ship service electrical generators and certification of the ship's propulsion control system. CCGS Samuel Risley was in refit at the Canadian Coast Guard base in Parry Sound. Improvements to the ship include an overhaul of the number one main engine, replacement of an air compressor and annual maintenance.  


"The Canadian Coast Guard has a vital role in supporting maritime commerce, economic activity and jobs connected to the shipping industry in the Great Lakes / St Lawrence River waterway. Cargo is able to move, re-supplying industry with much needed goods. We do this to provide communities the security, supplies, energy and emergency resources needed throughout the winter. Our experienced crews and staff also help communities and individuals through flood control. We look forward to working with our partners and communities for the upcoming Great Lakes icebreaking season." - The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

"With St. Lawrence Seaway cargo volumes up 9 per cent last year, and 4 per cent so far this year, shipping is facilitating economic growth for the region. These deliveries allow mining and energy companies to run their operations in the most cost effective and efficient way, thus safeguarding jobs in their communities. This is an important government service, supported by industry fees, that helps the Canadian and U.S. economies. We look forward to working with the Coast Guard to ensure that adequate resources are in place as the winter program begins." - Bruce Burrows, President, Chamber of Marine Commerce

Quick Facts

  • Coast Guard icebreaking service is an economic enabler. Icebreaking is an important government service that helps the Canadian and United States economies. Both CCGS Griffon and CCGS Samuel Risley recently received important refit work to ensure they can carry out their icebreaking duties this winter. 
  • In 2017-2018, south of 60, in central and eastern Canada the Canadian Coast Guard responded to 1,252 requests for icebreaking. Last winter was one of the most demanding icebreaking seasons to date on the Great Lakes. Both Coast Guards directly assisted 637 ship transits on the Great Lakes.
  • Between December 20 2017 and May 7, 2018 (last day of icebreaking) CCGS Griffon and CCCGS Samuel Risley travelled 27,302 kilometres escorting commercial vessels through the ice, opening shipping routes and breaking out ports throughout the Great Lakes.