10 things that make the Great Lakes Coast Guard unique

1. We don’t get a summer or winter break

Members of an ice rescue crew from Coast Guard Station Marblehead, Ohio, prepare to deploy the SKF-ICE during Icy Resolve 2013, an ice rescue training exercise held at the station, Feb. 9, 2013. The SKF-ICE is used to rescue people on the ice during the winter months when their rescue boats are stored in the station’s boat house.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Laughlin

Members of an ice rescue crew from Coast Guard Station Marblehead, Ohio, prepare to deploy the SKF-ICE during Icy Resolve 2013, an ice rescue training exercise held at the station, Feb. 9, 2013.
The SKF-ICE is used to rescue people on the ice during the winter months when their rescue boats are stored in the station’s boat house.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Laughlin

Operational seasonality is an on-going reality for all Coast Guardsmen who call the Great Lakes home. Just as the summer months bring a hectic 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. At certain times of the year the Great Lakes Coast Guard is dealing with ice-covered waters in one area and recreational boaters in the other parts.“Being stationed in the Great Lakes is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to work both a boating season and a winter ice season,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Lance Strand, a

Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Wolner, an aviation electronics technician, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Troy Ramsdell, an aviation survival technician, pose next to an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter after they assisted two duckhunters who were stuck in the mud in Lake St. Clair near Mitchell's Bay, Ontario, Nov. 2, 2012. Both air crewmembers, from Air Station Detroit, were assisting Joint Rescue Coordination Center Trenton in the rescue of the boaters. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Ryan Lamb.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Wolner, an aviation electronics technician, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Troy Ramsdell, an aviation survival technician, pose next to an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter after they assisted two duckhunters who were stuck in the mud in Lake St. Clair near Mitchell’s Bay, Ontario, Nov. 2, 2012. Both air crewmembers, from Air Station Detroit, were assisting Joint Rescue Coordination Center Trenton in the rescue of the boaters. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Ryan Lamb.

coxswain at Coast Guard Station Ashtabula, Ohio. “Boating season starts as soon as the weather gets warm and then once it cools off we start training for the busy ice season.”

2. We save a lot of lives

In 2012 the Great Lakes Coast Guard saved 379 lives, assisted more than 5,300 mariners during 3,061 search-and-rescue cases. Search and rescue is perhaps the most well known of all the Coast Guard’s missions. Saving lives is the reason many Coast Guardsmen join. Search and rescue in the Great Lakes is not a small matter. With the lakes being seasonal it provides the Coast Guard the opportunity to rescue people throughout the year, from water recreationalist in the warm months and ice enthusiasts in the winter.“I joined the Coast Guard to drive boats and save lives, and that is what I get to do in the Great Lakes,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas Foley, a member of Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor, in Cleveland.
“I am from the area and know that when it gets warm lots of people run to the lakes for fun in the sun and I wanted to be assigned here to help make a sure they stay safe.”

3. We like it up here

The Great Lakes Coast Guard has a running joke about how once a Coast Guardsman is stationed in the Great Lakes, he will stay here. Many members request back-to-back assignments in the Great Lakes or once stationed outside of the Great Lakes, requesting to come back.

“I’m not exactly sure how to define the draw the Great Lakes has to us, but personally I like serving in the world’s largest fresh water source and how drastically the pace of operations change or how they become so different,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Lisner, private aids to navigation specialist, 9th Coast Guard District Department of Prevention, who has been a D9 Coast Guardsman for more than 10 continuous years.

“The Great Lakes are the best kept secret, it is just hard to attribute it one thing.”

Members of Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor, in Cleveland, pose for a photo outside the station, May 10, 2013. The station’s members are responsible for an area the size of Phoenix. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Members of Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor, in Cleveland, pose for a photo outside the station, May 10, 2013.
The station’s members are responsible for an area the size of Phoenix.
U.S. Coast Guard photo

4. We are small in numbers compared to our area

 With 6,000 active duty, reserve, civilian and auxiliary men and women who make up the 9th District, we have to cover more than 6,700 miles of coast line, which translates to less than one person protecting each mile. In 2012 the Great Lakes Coast Guard enforced regulations and laws with 14,281 vessel boardings, resulting in 980 voyage terminations due to safety deficiencies and the removal of 111 intoxicated boat operators.

“In the 2012 boating season, I had to perform the duties as the coxswain, boarding officer and officer of the day at the same time because of the large amount of turnovers during transfer season and the lack of qualified personnel in the section,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Julia Kinney, a coxswain at Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor, in Cleveland.

The station’s area of responsibility in Lake Erie is approximately 550 square miles, the same as Phoenix, the 6th largest city in the U.S. With the station having only one boatcrew a day, it equals to the city of Phoenix having only one police and ambulance crew responding to all emergencies.

“I relied heavily on my break-in coxswains to take control of the boat so I could focus on making notifications and conducting post-search-and-rescue boardings,” said Kinney.

 

5. We protect 1,500 miles of our nation’s border

 

Seaman Nikura Walls, a boarding team member at Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor, in Cleveland, mans the M-240B machine gun while underway on a 25-foot Response Boat-Small in Buffalo Harbor, Aug. 21, 2012. Walls and other members of Cleveland Harbor were in Buffalo conducting tactical techniques and procedures training. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Cleveland Harbor

Seaman Nikura Walls, a boarding team member at Coast Guard Station Cleveland Harbor, in Cleveland, mans the M-240B machine gun while underway on a 25-foot Response Boat-Small in Buffalo Harbor, Aug. 21, 2012.
Walls and other members of Cleveland Harbor were in Buffalo conducting tactical techniques and procedures training.
Coast Guard photo courtesy of Cleveland Harbor

As a shared waterway system, the Great Lakes require bi-national cooperation to ensure the safety and security of the region, as well as citizens and visitor from both the U.S. and Canada.

“Protecting our nations border gives me a great feeling of accomplishment because I am America’s first line of defense- personally protecting my family, friends and country men and making our country safe,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas Chegin, a coxswain at Coast Guard Station Belle Isle, in Detroit.

Brash ice builds around White Shoal Light in Northern Lake Michigan, Jan 23, 2004. The light is an active aid to navigation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall.

Brash ice builds around White Shoal Light in Northern Lake Michigan, Jan 23, 2004. The light is an active aid to navigation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall.

6. We have more lighthouses than any other district

The Great Lakes is home to more than 400 standing lighthouses, 262 on the U.S. side and 151 on the Canadian side with almost 90 percent being active aids to navigation. The Great Lakes Coast Guard regulates 50 of the lighthouses.

“One great thing about being at station in the Great Lakes is the beautiful lighthouses and the ability to perform maintenance on them,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Burnett, coxswain at Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Duluth, Minn.

“While working an aid on Isle Royale in the western part of Lake Superior, my team found ourselves completely isolated from civilization and was able to explore the north end of the island for hours. It was basically a once in a lifetime enjoyable experience that tourist pay boat loads to get to do, and we did it in the line of duty.”

7. We are the only district to remove buoys in winter and replace them each spring

Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alder, a 225-foot Seagoing Buoy Tender homeported in Duluth, Minn., conduct buoy operations durng icy conditions, Nov. 28, 2012. The crew of the Alder was participating in the 9th Coast Guard District's annual Operation Fall Retrieve, which is the nation's largest domestic aids to navigation recovery operation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Justin Z. Strassfield.

Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alder, a 225-foot Seagoing Buoy Tender homeported in Duluth, Minn., conduct buoy operations durng icy conditions, Nov. 28, 2012. The crew of the Alder was participating in the 9th Coast Guard District’s annual Operation Fall Retrieve, which is the nation’s largest domestic aids to navigation recovery operation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Justin Z. Strassfield.

The Great Lakes Coast Guard’s aids to navigation system facilitates safe and efficient maritime activity in the lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway region by marking safe passage for domestic, international, commercial and recreational vessel traffic. The district manages 3,137 fixed and floating aids in the region. Ever fall the men and women of the Great Lakes Coast Guard retrieve 1,282 navigational aids for the winter to minimize the damage from ice and severe weather and then replace them each spring.

“We remove the aids each fall because they can’t withstand pressure from ice floe and the ice would push them under the water and destroy them,” said Lt. j.g. Katie Pierson, cutter operations officer at 9th Coast Guard District Prevention Department.

“Imagine uprooting every plant and blade of grass in fall and then in spring once the snow is gone, going back a replanting them in the exact spot. It is hectic work, but it needs to be done.”

Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn, a 100-foot inland buoy tender, was built by the Mobile Ship Repaor, Inc., in Mobile Ala. The cutter was commissioned in 1964 and was first homeported in Detroit, then transferred to Buffalo in 1967, and transferred once again to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., in 1970. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn, a 100-foot inland buoy tender, was built by the Mobile Ship Repaor, Inc., in Mobile Ala. The cutter was commissioned in 1964 and was first homeported in Detroit, then transferred to Buffalo in 1967, and transferred once again to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., in 1970.
U.S. Coast Guard photo.

8. We have the Buckthorn

The Coast Guard Cutter Buckthorn, a 100-foot class inland buoy tender, commissioned Aug. 18, 1963, is the oldest cutter in use on the Great Lakes.

“Sailing around the Great Lakes on the Buckthorn is the best first assignment that I could have asked for,” said Seaman Steven Strohmaier, a crewman aboard the cutter.

“Not only is it a great cutter, but I feel like I am a part of history.”

9. We have awesome communities that support us

The Great Lakes Coast Guard has 47 small boat stations which respond to more than 5,000 rescue, enforcement and response missions each year. These small boat stations are mostly located in small towns.

Members from Coast Guard Station Tawas, the local community and members of Neiman’s Family Market pose for a picture before the Coast Guardsmen run for the first time in the Thunderwater-Great Lakes 500 Canned Food Drive, Oct. 24, 2012. The local community donated more than 3,000 canned food for the runs, which were then given to local charities. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan McLean

Members from Coast Guard Station Tawas, the local community and members of Neiman’s Family Market pose for a picture before the Coast Guardsmen run for the first time in the Thunderwater-Great Lakes 500 Canned Food Drive, Oct. 24, 2012.
The local community donated more than 3,000 canned food for the runs, which were then given to local charities.
Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan McLean

 “The Great Lakes is an excellent place to be stationed because the communities here take care of their own and the small boat stations receive overwhelming support,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan McLean, a coxswain at Coast Guard Station Tawas, in East Tawas, Mich.“In 2012 Station Tawas held its first run for food drive and more than 3,000 cans of food were donated to us by locals. Some even stood on their front porches and cheered us on as we ran through the towns to promote the food drive.”

10. We have this guy:

Dale Funderwhite, a volunteer with Lakeside Fire Department in Marblehead, Ohio, leads an ice rescue team onto the ice of Lake Erie during Icy Resolve 2013 mass rescue full-scale exercise at Coast Guard Station Marblehead, Feb. 9, 2013. Funderwhite, along with other members of the local fire departments and law enforcement agencies work closely with the Coast Guard to protect people recreating on the lake. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Laughlin

Dale Funderwhite, a volunteer with Lakeside Fire Department in Marblehead, Ohio, leads an ice rescue team onto the ice of Lake Erie during Icy Resolve 2013 mass rescue full-scale exercise at Coast Guard Station Marblehead, Feb. 9, 2013.
Funderwhite, along with other members of the local fire departments and law enforcement agencies work closely with the Coast Guard to protect people recreating on the lake.
Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Laughlin

The complexity and strategic importance of this region has spurred the Great Lakes Coast Guard to establish and maintain long-standing partnerships with federal, state and local agencies to promote safety, security and economic opportunity. With more than 4.6 million boaters registered in the Great Lakes, the Coast Guard and partner agencies partnership work continuously to protect the Great Lakes.

“We here at the small boat stations in the Great Lakes have a close relationship with the local law enforcement, protection and rescue agencies,” said McLean.

“We both understand that with each other’s help we can accomplish much more and I always know that I can count on any member or any department to help us out as they have many times before.”

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9 Responses

  1. Floyd says:

    Thank you for writing these details online.

  2. melissa cox says:

    I had an amazing time being stationed at Sta. marblehead!!!! there was rarly during a dull moment to be had esp. during the summer months!!! and my boyfriend who’s ex navy is a firefighter with portage fire department and had the privilege to be a part of the ice rescue evolution!!!!

  3. eric bigelow says:

    I don’t know about elsewhere but in woods hole we replaced/changed buoys in the winter.

  4. Scott Pugh says:

    Number 7 is not true. The First and Fifth CG Districts also have seasonal Aids to Navigation.

    Other than – good article! I was a Great Lakes Coastie for three years.

  5. Scott Pugh says:

    ** Other than THAT…

  6. Art Miller says:

    I remember when the Buckthorn was among the newest ships on the lakes. (Buffalo) MAPLE crew turned Maple over to (former) White Lupine (Ogdensburg) crew and they got the new ship!!! November, 1967

  7. Mark Tilkens says:

    I spent my 4 years on the Great Lakes as Engineer and DC (1967-1971).
    1st year at Toledo Coast Guard Station, SAR and Patrols.
    2nd year in Cleveland, OH on the USCGC Kaw – 110′ YTM, SAR and Ice Breaking.
    3rd & 4th year in Sturgeon Bay, WI on the USCGC Mesquite – 180′ Bouy Tender and Ice Breaking.

    Great Mates (most of them)

  8. Janice Hietikko says:

    My husband was in the Coast Guard for four years and is very proud of his service. He has been a lifelong resident of Sault Ste. Marie area and if he could have gotten assigned to the Sault Ste. Marie station he would probably have stayed for a minimum of 20 years. I met him many years after his service but his continued love of the Coast Guard is contagious. We often hear the saying, “once a Marine always a Marine”, but my husbands mantra is “once a Coast Guard always a Coast Guard”! Thank you all for your continued service!

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