US Coast Guard for the Great Lakes

Michigan is a great spot for a holiday break or vacation spot.  There are loads of things to do – something to keep the whole family busy. In summer, there’s endless water activities on the Lake and of course in winter there’s fun ice sports.

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Michigan, stands at the centre of activities in the region and is the hub of the Great Lakes waterway system, the world’s largest freshwater source. Describing them as Lakes is possibly a gross understatement, as it does not give true perspective of the vastness of the Great Lakes, region. They are more inland seas than lakes.

The Great Lakes covers a water area more than 94,250 square miles and has a coastline shared with Canada of 10,900 miles. Michigan’s Great Lakes coast totals 3,288 mi, more coastline than any state but Alaska. The task of looking after such a large area is daunting. The amount of commerce carried by Great Lakes shipping exceeds $40B annually. The fishing economy stands at $10B. The US Coast Guard plays a vital role for each of the Great Lakes States and the national economy.

The entire Great Lakes region falls under the responsibility of the Ninth Coast Guard District and responsible for all Coast Guard operations throughout the five Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence Seaway and parts of the surrounding states including 6,700 miles of shoreline and 1,500 miles of the international border with Canada.  With over 6,000 active duty, reserve, civilian and auxiliary men and women whose primary role is in in services in search and rescue, maritime safety and security, environmental protection, maritime law enforcement, aids to navigation and icebreaking.

To give you some idea of the extent of the Coast Guard’s responsibility one needs to consider that there are around 4.6 million registered craft in the Great Lakes.

US Coast Guard Harbor Beach

There are 47 separate Coast Guard stations scattered across the Great Lakes in four separate Sector areas; Buffalo, Detroit, Lake Michigan and Sault Saint Marie. The entire Upper Thumb is in the Detroit Command as far north as Tawas.

So just how does the Coast Guard protect the Great Lakes. Let’s have a look at some of the key areas of their mission:

  • Safety Inspections are one of the disciplines that the Coast Guard uses to ensures safety on the Great Lakes. Every year, thousands of on-board inspections are carried out to ensure that craft and personnel comply with laid down safety standards. Unsafe craft and intoxication are amongst the major causes of concern.
Great Lakes Coast Guard
USCG in Training for Water Rescue
  • Search and Rescue operations are carried out regularly and hundreds of lives are saved every year. The USGC reports that on a typical year they respond to over 20,000 distress calls. The responders are typically 19-24 years old and highly trained for the task. It is thanks to the brave men and women of the US Coast Guard that distress calls are responded to promptly and professionally.Navigational aids and systems – The Coast Guard is responsible for navigational aids such as light houses and buoys, ensuring that the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence Seaway are safe and clearly navigable. There are around 262 lighthouses within US waters, which will give some idea of the significance of the task at hand. An issue that seriously adds to the work load is the fact that many of the buoys are removed from the water during the winter season, because the ice would crush them if left in the water. These all need to be precisely repositioned in the warmer months. In the lower Great Lakes, the USCGC Hollyhock is a 225-foot Seagoing Buoy Tender responsible for nearly 150 aids-to-navigation on the lower Great Lakes. Built in 2003 the Tender’s primary missions are aids-to-navigation, search and rescue, environmental protection and domestic ice-breaking.
  • Patrols & Border Control – Regular water and reconnaissance patrols are done to keep a watchful eye out for possible problems. The Coast Guard Air Station Detroit is located on Selfridge Air National Guard base in the Northern suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. The Air Station covers the southern portion of Lake Huron, Lake St Clair, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario. Immigration checks can be conducted from this Air Station up to 100 miles away from our boarder with Canada.

The Great Lakes form such a vital cog in the socio-economic success of the region that it is heartening to know that the safety and wellbeing of both commercial and recreational activities are so well looked after by the Coast Guard. Recent budget proposal by the current administration look to cut $1.3B from the US Coast Guard. This would likely force closure of stations and retirement of assets used in search and rescue operations.

Images and information provided by the USCG.

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Michael Hardy

Michael Hardy is the owner of Thumbwind Publications LLC. Michael was born in Michigan and grew up near Caseville. In 2009 he started this fun-loving site covering Michigan's Upper Thumb. Since then, he has authored a vast range of content and established a loyal base of 60,000 visitors per month.

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