Maritime Matter of the Week

Coast Guard Undergoes Preparations For Winter Ice


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Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. is comprised of attorneys that are nationally-recognized industry leaders in the field of maritime and admiralty law. Our team of lawyers has over a century of combined experience, has successfully handled over 3,000 cases, and has recovered over 300 million dollars in damages for our clients.

When it comes to accidents that take place on the high seas, each admiralty lawyer at our firm knows that far too many people can be injured due to unfavorable weather conditions in the wintertime. Although based in Miami, we don’t get to see too much chilly weather, maritime authorities have to prepare for the cold season up north. While many accidents at sea take place during the summer, when boaters and cruise goers are more likely to set out to sea, winter is all about preparation and maintenance operations, especially for the U.S. Coast Guard.

The 9th Coast Guard District is already working hard to prepare for the winter season on the Great Lakes. Ice is bound to come, and crews have to schedule ice maintenance operations, search and rescue tactics, ice-breaking, and not to mention help vessels navigate through icy waters. The Coast Guard District’s helps maintain safe and efficient maritime activity in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway region during this time of year by marking safe passage for all domestic, international, commercial and recreational vessels. Coast Guard crews manage 3,127 fixed and floating federal aids in the area and when ice forms, there is a high chance the aids will be damaged.

Known as Operation Fall Retrieve, the mission involves 16 Coast Guard units and two contracted companies who are in charge of retrieving 1,282 navigational aids and is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 28. About half of the region’s aids are taken out of service during the winter months due to decreased maritime traffic as well as to minimize damage from harsh weather and ice.

“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 buoys, known as wintermarks or ice hulls, remain in place as they are designed to ride underneath the ice.

Operation Fall Retrieve requires the help of six Coast Guard cutters, five aids to navigation teams and five smallboat stations. In addition to these units, Lamplighters (civilian employees who manage the inland waters of Northern Minnesota), Canadian Coast Guard partners, and the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation aids in the mission. The Coast Guard Auxiliary helps as well by inspecting around 3,000 privately-owned navigation aid systems in the area.

Currently, Operation Fall Retrieve is about 88 percent complete, with 961 of the 1,282 aids scheduled to be worked on having already been either decommissioned for the winter season or replaced with winter marks. Crewmembers are working hard to finalize the project and ensure maritime safety in the region is maintained in order to avoid serious accidents.

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