Buoy up!

Seaman Chris LePrevost of Rocky River, Ohio., and fellow buoy deck team members of Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn hoist a radar-reflective buoy aboard their ship April 17, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Charles C. Reinhart.

Seaman Chris LePrevost of Rocky River, Ohio., and fellow buoy deck team members of Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn hoist a radar-reflective buoy aboard their ship April 17, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Charles C. Reinhart.

What body of water is the largest system of fresh, surface water on Earth, containing roughly 21 percent of the world’s supply? If you answered the Great Lakes, you are correct!

The entire Great Lakes system is connected by a series of dams, lakes and rivers; you could travel on the Great Lakes starting at the city of Duluth, Minn., on Lake Superior and make it all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The system was linked together when the Saint Lawrence Seaway was completed in 1959 and today serves as a vital waterway for our nation.

Seaman Zach Beyer, of Coast Guard Buckthorn, removes a battery on a lighted, radar-reflective buoy during routine shoreside maintenance at Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Charles C. Reinhart.

Seaman Zach Beyer, of Coast Guard Buckthorn, removes a battery on a lighted, radar-reflective buoy during routine shoreside maintenance at Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Charles C. Reinhart.

This important waterway recently served as a backdrop for Operation Spring Restore, an annual mission to verify and replace 1,281 aids to navigation throughout the Great Lakes region. The crews began working the operation in early March and are nearing completion with more than 80 percent of the aids already in place.

This is a huge undertaking, as the Coast Guard manages a total of 2,645 aids in the Great Lakes region. These aids come in all shapes and sizes and include lighted structures, beacons, day markers, range lights, fog signals, landmarks and buoys.

The aids to navigation system employs a simple arrangement of colors, shapes, numbers and light characteristics to mark navigable channels, waterways and nearby obstructions. While they are simple shapes, they have a big job – allowing safe passage through the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Seaway and facilitating maritime commerce.

Spring Restore’s counterpart is Operation Fall Retrieve. Roughly half of the aids throughout the Great Lakes region were taken out of service for the winter months in order to minimize damage caused by ice and because of reduced vessel traffic.

Buoy deck team members of Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn prepare to set and commission a lighted, radar-reflective ice buoy in the channel near Neebish Island in Lake Huron. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Charles C. Reinhart.

Buoy deck team members of Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn prepare to set and commission a lighted, radar-reflective ice buoy in the channel near Neebish Island in Lake Huron. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Charles C. Reinhart.

Now that the aids have to go back in place, it’s an “all hands on deck” evolution. The 9th Coast Guard District utilizes six Coast Guard cutters, five aids to navigation teams and five small-boat stations. Each crew has a heavy lift and works around the clock to ensure the aids are exactly where they need to be. In fact, Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn alone will set nearly 300 buoys!

Besides Coast Guard crews, the Lamplighters – a civilian group who manages aids in northern Minnesota, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Saint Lawrence Seaway Corporation assisted. The Coast Guard Auxiliary also helps with verification of privately owned aids in the region.

Crews are almost four weeks ahead of schedule, due to an unusually light ice the past few months.

“After an unseasonably warm winter, we’re ahead of schedule,” said Lt. j.g. David Lieberman, 9th Coast Guard District cutter operations officer. “It’s a good thing, too, because boaters are hitting the water earlier than they traditionally would, and these aids are critical for safe navigation.”

With summer well on its way, crews are putting in long hours and using their technical expertise and initiative to get the job done. If you live on or near the Great Lakes, make sure you thank your local Coast Guard crews who keep the waters in your region safe!

Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn buoy deck personnel prepare to bring aboard a winter mark buoy from the channel near Neebish Island during Operation Spring Restore. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Charles C. Reinhart.

Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn buoy deck personnel prepare to bring aboard a winter mark buoy from the channel near Neebish Island during Operation Spring Restore. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Charles C. Reinhart.

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  • Joe

    I have heard and read several publications stating Lake Baikal is the largest fresh water lake (by volume) in the world. It contains more water than all the great lakes combined.  I wonder…

  • LT S. M. Young

    Hello, Joe! Thanks for the comment. We pulled the data from the Great Lakes fact sheet put together by the EPA: ; Their calculations are here:  Respectfully,Lt. Stephanie YoungCoast Guard Public Affairs

  • Dmiller

    I used to be part of that restore/retrieve operation in the 60′s. We just called it the spring and fall buoy run…seems to have been sufficient.
    DJ Miller Former USCGC ACACIA sailor and EM

  • SailorMitch

    if you want to believe Google, Lake Bikal barely edges out the Great Lakes in cubic KM 23,000 to 22,573.  In either case, we are talking about huge lakes!  Kudos to the Coast Guard from this Chesapeake Bay sailor.

  • Gschadel

    I was on the Mesquite (W305) my she serve her new post with dignity.
    spring and fall bouy run was good enough for us also

  • Matthew Voorhees

    CGC Buckthorn was my first unit! I loved it and would do that job any day…Take care of her boys!