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.


The issue of unreliable winter navigation on the Great Lakes is not going away.  The winter of 2021/2022 and the significant delays incurred by shipping were devasting and just another example in a long line of stuck vessels.  The conditions in eastern Lake Superior in March and April 2022 required more than one heavy icebreaker, but unfortunately only one exists.  The Lake Carriers’ Association reported delays totaling 28 days for 1.65 million tons of cargo carrying capacity.  Vessels were stuck for over three days in Whitefish Bay.  However, once again, the USCG reported they were 97 percent successful keeping waterways open on the Great Lakes during the 2021/2022 ice season.  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.  In addition, ice jam flooding in the Great Lakes region has become extreme due to more frequent polar vortexes. Congressional direction is pending in the USCG Authorization Act which will mandate transparent performance metrics that account for the entire Great Lakes system. 

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.  Last year alone, the USCG lost 116 days of operations due to engine failures and shaft seal problems.  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. GLMTF supports provisions in the 2022 USCG Authorization Bill, which approves $350 million for a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker and requires the USCG to provide transparent performance impacts of icebreaking mission failures due to a lack of adequate resources.