Great Lakes Coast Guard ice rescue assets


Ninth Coast Guard District units conduct hundreds of ice rescues and training events each winter. This work is done in the most arduous of environments and it’s dangerous. The 9th District has 39 stations, 2 sir stations, and 8 cutters designated, trained, and equipped for our ice rescue mission. A station’s ice rescue team is comprised of four members operating on foot from land or airboat. During the last two winters, rescue crews were employed in 19 SAR cases and saved or assisted 42 people.

Freezing air and water temperatures significantly decrease survival time for persons immersed in the water or trapped on the ice. It is imperative to use the quickest onscene resources without sacrificing the safety of responding personnel. Helicopters are a primary ice rescue resource. However, the harsh Great Lakes winter environment often limits this option, which places extra responsibility on smallboat station crews to conduct ice rescue by airboat or on foot, in all conditions.

Proper risk assessment and mission planning will dictate what equipment to take, and responders must continually evaluate onscene conditions to determine what to use.

The Special Purpose Craft-Air and the SKF-ICE are the two ice rescue assets used by the Coast Guard on the Great Lakes.



The SKF-ICE is primarily used for ice rescue short-haul cases in enclosed ports, waterways and bays or from a Coast Guard cutter. The construction and inherent design of the SKF-ICE makes this an ideal platform for performing in soft or hard water rescue and may be used to pull a victim out of the water. The SKF-ICE may be used to transport the ice rescue team to a location to complete the rescue.

SKF-ICEs are in a class of their own due to their unique construction. The SKF-ICE has upturned ends and the deck or floor is open at each end, allowing two entry points.

When deflated, it fits into a 2-ft cube that weighs about 50 pounds and can easily be carried by one person.

Its light weight is the greatest advantage the SKF-ICE has on the ice. In a situation where the scene of the rescue is too far to launch a shore-based rescue, the SKF-ICE can be used to transit an ice field to the location in the same manner as pulling a skiff or john boat, but with much more ease due to its light weight. Once on scene, the crew can perform shore based rescue techniques. The SKF-ICE can be pulled across the ice field with or without the engine.



The SPC-AIR is used by various Coast Guard units in the execution of ice rescue missions and flood response and is capable of operating over water, ice and short distances on land. Airboats are also used to get responders into shallow water areas and marsh areas where deep-draft vessels cannot go. They range in length from 18 feet to 24 feet.

The Coast Guard’s SPC-AIR may be used for short and long haul cases in enclosed ports, waterways and bays. Once a determination has been made regarding the best possible method to complete the ice rescue, the air boat may be used to transport the ice rescue team to a desired location to begin the rescue efforts.

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