Position Papers

Keep Commerce Moving on the Great Lakes During the Winter Months – Protect the Supply Chain


Procure a second heavy Great Lakes icebreaker, repower the 140-foot icebreaking tugs, codify the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) authority for icebreaking into law, mandate realistic icebreaking performance metrics, and raise the level of service provided to American Great Lakes ports, waterways, and vessels to that provided to Canadian Great Lakes ports, waterways, and vessels. The USCG should provide the Great Lakes the same icebreaking level of service provided to American East Coast ports and waterways.


While the 2019/2020 ice season proved to be historically mild (the fifth mildest since 1970), several commercial vessels still suffered delays due to inadequate icebreaking. Over the past ten years, the lack of adequate icebreaking on the Great Lakes has caused the loss of over 10,000 jobs and $2 billion to the economy. Congress continues to appropriate funding for a new heavy icebreaker including $4 million in 2020, $14 million over the last three years, with language directing the USCG to establish an acquisition program office to oversee building the new ship. In addition, bipartisan bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate which will codify the USCG icebreaking mission into law and define the requirements that must be measured. Known as the “Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act of 2020,” this bill will correct the chronic issue of false performance measures that have covered up the Great Lakes icebreaking atrophy over the past 40-years with nearly a 50 percent reduction in the number of icebreakers compared to the fleet in 1979.

The USCG submitted a Congressional Report in June 2020 that outlined an initial cost estimate of $350 million for another heavy icebreaker and relief from time consuming regulations which require mission need studies to be performed before construction can take place. The need has already been identified through an economic impact analysis commissioned by the Lake Carriers’ Association.

Only construction of a twin to the heavy Great Lakes icebreaker MACKINAW will ensure the continued movement of critical raw materials on the Great Lakes during the winter season. The interconnected Great Lakes system requires reliable and predictable icebreaking to ensure workers at the ports, on the ships, at the mills, and at the mines stay employed and continue to produce and transport the vital cargoes needed to keep American economic security intact.

The 40-year old 140-foot icebreaking tugs continue to suffer significant casualties even after their “service life extension program (SLEP)” which was supposed to keep the vessels in service for another 15 years. These crucial icebreaking ships need to be replaced, however repowering the vessels, which was not done during their SLEP, would bridge the gap until new ships can be built.


Full funding must be provided now for a second heavy icebreaker to be built and operated on the Great Lakes. The USCG must repower the 140-foot icebreaking tugs, preferably at shipyards in the Great Lakes. Full support for the Congressional push to codify the USCG icebreaking mission into law and with that authority, detailed performance measure requirements which illustrate whether the mission is being performed adequately. Provide American Great Lakes ports and waterways the same level of government icebreaking service provided to American East Coast ports and waterways and Canadian Great Lakes ports and waterways.