The ice is coming! The ice is coming!

The crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay, a 140-foot ice breaking tug, uses a crane to manuever a navigational buoy aboard an aids-to-navigation barge. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Levi Read.

The crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay, a 140-foot ice breaking tug, uses a crane to manuever a navigational buoy aboard an aids-to-navigation barge. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Levi Read.

A version of this story originally appeared at Coast Guard Great Lakes and was authored by Petty Officer 2nd Class Levi Read.

Like many places around the country, the cold season has arrived on the Great Lakes. Operational seasonality is an ongoing reality for all who call the region home, and Great Lakes crews are all preparing for the ice to come.

Seaman Christian Wilson, a crewmember aboard Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay, tightens a chain connected to a buoy to secure it to the deck of an aids-to-navigation barge. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Levi Read.

Seaman Christian Wilson, a crewmember aboard Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay, tightens a chain connected to a buoy to secure it to the deck of an aids-to-navigation barge. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Levi Read.

Just as the summer months bring a busy schedule due to increased search and rescue and law enforcement cases, the winter brings a hectic schedule full of ice maintenance operations including search and rescue, ice-breaking and aids-to-navigation.

The 9th Coast Guard District’s aids to navigation system facilitates safe and efficient maritime activity in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway region by marking safe passage for domestic, international, commercial and recreational vessel traffic. The Coast Guard manages 3,127 fixed and floating federal aids in the region and when ice forms there is a high probability of damage to these vital aids dotting the Great Lakes.

Operation Fall Retrieve – which involves 16 Coast Guard units and two contracted companies who are hard at work retrieving 1,282 navigational aids – is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 28. The aids, approximately half the region’s total, are taken out of service during the winter months due to decreased vessel traffic and to minimize damage from ice and severe weather.

“Operation Fall Retrieve is the operation for swapping out or pulling out the ATON before the ice season sets in,” said Lt. Cmdr. John Henry, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay. “The normal ATONs are too big and gangly to withstand pressure from ice flow, so the ice would take them under the water and destroy them.”

The smaller, lighter and more buoyant buoys, known as wintermarks or ice hulls, are designed to actually ride underneath the ice when it comes, but still stay on location.

Petty Officer 1st Class William Vaughn gives instructions to deck force members while securing a naviagational buoy to an aids-to navigation barge connected to the the Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Levi Read.

Petty Officer 1st Class William Vaughn gives instructions to deck force members while securing a naviagational buoy to an aids-to navigation barge connected to the the Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Levi Read.

To accomplish the this mission, the district employs six Coast Guard cutters, five aids to navigation teams and five smallboat stations. These units are also joined by the Lamplighters, civilian employees who manage the inland waters of Northern Minnesota; Canadian Coast Guard partners; and the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. The Coast Guard Auxiliary also helps inspect approximately 3,000 privately-owned aids to navigation in the region.

Operation Fall Retrieve is 88 percent complete as of today. Of the 1,282 aids scheduled to be worked during the operation, 961 have been either decommissioned for the season or replaced with winter marks. Crews are now in the home stretch as they continue to make the region safe for vessel traffic.

Click the above image to see a video of the Bristol Bay in action.

Click the above image to see a video of the Bristol Bay in action.

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  • http://twitter.com/hobova hobova

    Well done Coast Guard

  • http://twitter.com/hobova hobova

    Well done Coast Guard

  • http://www.facebook.com/chuck.wright.7355 Chuck Wright

    Is this really a 140 ft Tug. Looks like a bouy tender to me.

  • Burbothunter

    It is a barge being pushed by a 140 tug.