Guest Post: Planting buoys for spring takes a team effort


Commander Scott Smith, Commanding Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw is today’s guest blogger.

“The first signs of spring are here, and the Ninth District Coast Guard Cutters and Aids to Navigation Teams assigned to aids to navigation duties have begun to repopulate the myriad of navigational markers which safely guide the mariners of the Great Lakes from port to port.

I am Cmdr. Scott J. Smith, Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, and I want to paint a picture of what my crew and I have been doing for Operation Spring Restore.

(Right: The Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, homeported in Cheboygan, Mich., prepares to set a buoy during Operation Spring Restore running April through May annually. Photo by Lt. Cmdr. Justin Kimura, USCGC Mackinaw.)

For those not familiar with the operation, the Ninth District ATON units remove all of the lighted buoys in the Great Lakes or replace them with ice resistant buoys (Aids to Navigation markers) in the fall. In the spring, we reverse the process and everything gets placed back on station. This requires the fleet to work 1,242 buoys between April and the end of May.

(Left: The crew of the Mackinaw prepares to set a buoy at sunset. AToN work takes a good deal of stamina, especially since we’re talking about setting buoys that weigh up to 10,000 pounds a piece! Photo by Lt. Cmdr Justin Kimura, USCGC Mackinaw)

We have been a steady fixture on Lake Michigan, working buoys within Grays Reef Passage to Milwaukee harbor and continuing on up the Door Peninsula to Lansing Shoals.

So far, we’ve successfully set 30 buoys, including ten large buoys on the deck for our first run. That’s more than 100,000 pounds on deck for the start of our spring buoy operation and a total of more than 700,000 pounds for the season!

During one of our runs, we had the opportunity host a reporter and photographer from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to show them how we assist the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with some of their navigational aids. Station Milwaukee brought them out to the Mackinaw aboard their new 45-foot Response Boat Medium, a very impressive boat.

(Right: Coast Guard Station Milwaukee’s new 45-foot Response Boat Medium pulls alongside Mackinaw’s buoy deck to transfer members of the media. Photo by Lt. Cmdr. Justin Kimura, USCGC Mackinaw)

On this day, the Journal Sentinel folks were aboard to do a story on the NOAA buoy and its importance to mariners and the National Weather Service. This buoy is one of many on the Great Lakes serviced by the National Data Buoy Center at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

(Right: Work on a buoy deck often continues long into the night. Wind plays a major factor in the servicing of any buoy. The cutter needs to be able to position itself safely and place the buoy in a specific location with little margin for error. Photo by Lt. Cmdr Justin Kimura, USCGC Mackinaw.)

As one of five heavy-lift buoy tenders on the Great Lakes, it takes a true team effort to restore the larger aids on the Lakes after the harsh winter season. Mackinaw works as part of team, through good communication and effective planning, with the Coast Guard Cutters Alder, Bristol Bay, Hollyhock, and Mobile Bay to meet the reasonable demands of industry. It is that spirit of cooperation and team cohesiveness that makes being a part of the Great Lakes fleet a fantastic experience.

Semper Paratus, well done shipmates!”

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