How much does a polar bear weigh? The importance of icebreakers in Great Lakes commerce

For those in the areas of our Great Lakes where recreation reigns supreme, winter time means frozen lakes and extreme ice build-up on the Great Lakes shores. All of the activity and enjoyment now moves inland for activities like skiing, snowmobiling or just relaxing by the fire. Don’t let this shift of activity make you believe the lakes go dormant—far from it! Our lakes are a year-round thoroughfare for ships moving goods thousands of miles to keep business humming and global commerce moving seamlessly, but how do they do it when there is thick ice from coast to coast? Icebreaker ships.


Icebreakers have been around for over a century clearing paths for ships to maneuver through bodies of water in cold climates, but how? According to Marine Insight, icebreaker boats have a “…strengthened hull to resist ice waters, a specially designed ice-clearing shape to make a path forward and extreme power to navigate through sea ice.” This special design allows channels to be carved through even the thickest ice and allows merchant ships to continue to navigate the lakes. But what happens if the icebreakers can’t do their jobs or are unable?


With the Great Lakes frozen over, it effectively closes shipping channels and slows commerce. The Lake Carriers Association reports that during the winter of 2018 inadequate icebreaking on the Great Lakes cost the U.S. economy $1 Billion and 5,000 jobs. The Coast Guard that takes care of the icebreaking duties on our lakes was down four icebreaking ships of the total nine in the fleet, putting a pinch on the free movement of freighters throughout the ports in our region. Federal funding will be required to keep them all on the water and not in dry dock but with worthy projects such as the Soo Locks maintenance, the budget is getting stretched thin.  Federal aid is necessary to keep the fleet ready to break but with the recent Great Lakes expenditures, it could be a tough road.  Want to get involved?  Contact your Senator and ask what they’re doing to secure funding to keep our icebreaking fleet up to snuff and what they’re doing to keep Great Lakes commerce moving!



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