What are icebreakers doing in Georgian Bay?

Canadian Coast Guard Photo by Shutterstock/Denis Comeau

If you’re a resident around south Georgian Bay, keep an eye out for the red hull of an icebreaker.

Last weekend, the Canadian Coast Guard’s CCGS Samuel Risley carried out icebreaking operations in Midland Harbour, opening a passageway for the CSL Frontenac to depart.

Earlier in the month, the CCGS Samuel Risley and the CCGS Judy LaMarsh were spotted around the North Channel on Lake Huron conducting icebreaking exercises to simulate close-quarter vessel escorting. The CCGS Judy LaMarsh is a light icebreaker that the Canadian Coast Guard purchased in November 2021, bringing its fleet up to 19. The exercises were intended to train the crew of the new vessel for when it engages in joint Canadian-United States Coast Guard icebreaking operations on the Great Lakes.

According to Jeremy Hennessy, a spokesperson for the Canadian Coast Guard, it’s common to see icebreakers on Georgian Bay at this time of year. They provide ice escorts for commercial vessels and conduct harbour breakouts for commercial ports.

“CCG icebreakers operate on the Great Lakes between western Lake Erie and Sault Ste. Marie (including interconnecting waterways/rivers) between December to March annually, and on Lake Superior once the Soo Locks re-open, typically around mid-March,” he said in an email.

Icebreakers use their bows, which are curved like the back of a spoon, to slide on top of the ice, breaking it with their weight. They create passageways for other ships, free trapped vessels, and help prevent flooding by breaking the ice into smaller pieces. This allows the wind and currents to clear the ice out of the way, preventing ice jams and ensuring good water flow.

From Midland, the CCGS Samuel Risley is headed to Lake Superior to conduct the initial spring breakout for the Port of Thunder Bay. While the CCGS Judy LaMarsh is headed towards Chaleur Bay in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to continue its training exercises in shallower ports, such as Shippagan and Caraquet, Hennessy said.

The Canadian Coast Guard advises that people stop all ice activities while icebreaking operations are happening in the area, including walking on the ice, fishing, and snowmobiling. Even after the icebreakers have left, the public should remain cautious. “The ice may move, creating a real danger for anyone on it,” the Canadian Coast Guard said in a statement.

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