Home » Budget Industry » USNI News Video: Coast Guard’s Fleet of Icebreaking Tugs Frees Northeast Waterways


USNI News Video: Coast Guard’s Fleet of Icebreaking Tugs Frees Northeast Waterways

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For a significant number of homes in the Northeast U.S., turning up the thermostat or opening the hot water tap almost completely relies on the Coast Guard.

Called Operation Reliable Energy for Northeast Winters (RENEW), the Coast Guard annually sends icebreaking tugs and other vessels to ply the waterways of New York and New England, allowing commerce to flow free of ice and ensuring aids to navigation do not become hazards if moved by ice.

Roughly 6 million homes in the region are heated by oil. These homes consume about 85 percent of the heating oil used in the U.S. each year, with 90 percent of it delivered by barge on waterways that are prone to freezing over, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

This winter, the Coast Guard kicked-off its annual icebreaking season on December 18, and almost immediately had work to do on the Hudson River, Providence River, Boston Harbor, Penobscot River in Maine, and many smaller waterways in the region that needed ice clearing.

  • D. Jones

    They’re nice, but absolutely pale on comparison to an Arktika or LK-60Ya.

    We have the Russians beat in nearly every category but icebreaking. Yes, they deal with it constantly. We don’t. We have a pair of sorta big icebreakers on the west coast, but the east is these tugs plus whatever the Canadians offer.

    A single Arktika-like breaker on each coast, fast and nuclear-powered, could rapidly accomplish and surpass what all of little breakers could muster. Of course it will never happen. Not enough pork and anything nuke is anathema to reelection-centric congressmen.

    The Russian ships can break ice all the way to the North Pole (up to 13′ thick!) Ours can’t even rescue an LCS from Montreal.

    • Norman Pearce

      While I agree we are far behind in terms of the number and capability of our polar icebreakers, these little 140′ cutters are designed specifically for the kinds of restricted waterways depicted in this article.

    • airider

      The Bay class cutters have been getting it done for decades. Having smaller cutters spread throughout the great lakes and coasts ensures that the time between ice formation and these icebreakers showing up is extremely short. Exactly what you need to keep the commerce flowing throughout all our main waterways.

      Open ocean ice breaking is a whole different animal and the Coast Guard is looking to finally move forward with replacements for that.

    • Ours have gone to the North Pole too. The St Lawrence Seaway is a different problem.

      • Secundius

        The US Congress will NEVER Fund a Nuclear-Powered Icebreaker of Any Kind! Not even a Bio-Eco Friendly “Liquid Thorium” Nuclear-Powered One…

  • Curtis Conway

    The USCSC Mackinaw (WLBB-30) is exactly what the GLAKES needs. I am wondering if one is enough. The platform doubles as a Buoy Tender of which the US Coast Guard is going to have to replace over 30 units that span the continent. These Buoy Tenders fix Aids To Navigation throughout Navigable Inland Water Ways in the United States. The Great Lakes, Erie Canal, Mississippi River, Ohio River, Delaware River, others, and the Intercoastal Waterway. Literally millions of tons of cargo are transported down these waterways every day. In times like this deep cold winter, Icebreakers really come in handy. Many adjacent communities rely on the traffic in some cases for home heating oil deliveries, and other supplies. Many bulk raw materials are moved by barge down the rivers, Intercoastal Waterways, and the Great Lakes. Once the greater cutter upgrades are complete, the Buoy Tenders should be next. I think that many a Buoy Tender should double as an Icebreaker.

    • Norman Pearce

      Most of the larger buoy tenders in the Coast Guard have had icebreaking characteristics incorporated in their design since the 180′ class in the 1940’s (I served on two of them). While the new 225′ tenders don’t break ice as well as the 180’s they replaced, in my opinion, they are still useful icebreakers. Up here on the Great Lakes we have six of the 140’s shown in the video, two of the 225′ tenders, and the Mackinaw. This is almost as many icebreakers as we had up here in my day almost forty years ago, which I think is pretty good considering the number of Coast Guard cutters in general has declined over the same time period,

      • Curtis Conway

        So, numbers are good but age is suspect. Modern navigation and upgraded equipment have got to make a difference. I cannot imagine what it would be like to drive a 50-80 year old car today. This upgrade should be the next in line. Bollinger will have the OPCs going strong in a couple of years.

        • The Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) is being built by Eastern. Bollinger is still building the smaller 154 foot Webber class WPCs.

        • Norman Pearce

          For the domestic icebreaker fleet, as opposed to the polar icebreakers, age isn’t currently that much of a problem. The 180’s I served on all finally left service over a decade ago. The 225’s which replaced them are mostly under twenty years old. While the 140’s have been around since the late seventies, most of them serve on the Great Lakes so their hulls are still sound and will be for decades.

          • Curtis Conway

            The 140s (Bay Class) are going through a midlife upgrade?

      • Curtis Conway

        Thanks for the heads-up Norm. I went back and downloaded the surface craft list and quite a list it is. Many of the platforms appear to be location specific (Like the USCGC Mackinaw in GLAKES). That replacement would take a lot of thought and planning, and I hope that effort got a lot of input from the Commanders, and crews of those vessels. It would probably take the better part of a 1/2 $Billion just to replace them all. Commonality and standardized systems would save on training, logistical support, and maintenance in the lifetime support package. Coasties (unlike the US Navy sometimes) not only like to be efficient, given their budget priority most of the time, they MUST be efficient.

        Like the 140′ Bay Class upgrade, I suspect most of the hulls are good and just need some maintenance. New electrical power generation and bus systems, network, new or rebuilt propulsion motors and seals/valves, upgrade the accommodations, and install the latest and greatest standard bridge on everybody (don’t forget the chart table, and stand alone VHF with battery/USP for when the EMP comes). Simplifies training and maintenance. New paint job and off we go.

        • Secundius

          Keep in mind that the Original Mackinaw’s beam of 74.3-feet which made too Wide to Transit outside the GL. While the New Mackinaw’s beam is ~58.5-feet, allow Easy Transit of Locks into the Ocean…

          • Curtis Conway

            Secundius, I read that with interest, and then wondered how many places would need the Mackinaw’s services at once. As good as the US Coast Guard is, they cannot be in more than one place at a time. These recent cold snaps, and the problems they created, are germane. There was one freighter that could not get into port to pick up an load because of the ice, and the inability of that to be handled with the vessels present. That is why I placed a comment in several places about whether or not ONE Mackinaw is enough. Perhaps another or two sister ships with home ports from Duluth, Minnesota; Chicago, IL; and Cleveland, OH; to assist during these kind of times. AND they are large enough to tow things (stranded LCS).

          • Secundius

            The problem is, IS there’s NO International consensus on what constitutes as Light, Medium or Heavy Displacement of a Vessel. What is Medium in One Country, could either Light or Heavy in another. So what IS a Heavy Icebreaker? From what I’ve Pieced Together, “Heavy” is anything between 7,045-tonnes to 30,000-tonnes…

    • DaSaint

      Great little vid. Such unheralded work by our Coast Guardsmen and women. Need more CG postings like this.

      • Curtis Conway

        Since I left Active Duty, I have developed a real appreciation for the US Coast Guard. They do it for real and for keeps EVERY DAY!

        • Secundius

          Let me guess? Party Boat and a Cooler of Beer!/? Ran Out Fuel or Beer and/or Both…

          • Curtis Conway

            Once upon a time . . . I was delivering Sonobuoys to US Coast Guard Station, Floyd Bennett Field, NY. I hate driving in that city, but this is just crossing the bridge and dealing with some industrial area traffic, and as you approach their bldg, hangars, and drive down the runway you can usually watch Law Enforcement practicing their driving on the runway/taxiways. As I approached the first time, I noticed a swimming pool next to the Barracks and Operations Center/Space. There was a sign on the fence of the swimming pool that said something to the effect of “This is a Fire Fighting Water Storage space”. I was rolling my eyes realizing who paid for the pool for the Coasties. However, those US Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin Helicopter crews put those buoys right where we asked them to, and it was not easy. The GIB (Guy In Back) had to take off the tape on the buoy ready for deployment, read the channel to the Copilot in the front, and dump it out the door. So, you see my attitude about the US Coast Guard has been a mixed bag of feelings.

            Then I put riders on Island Class Cutters out of Rosey Roads, PR. What an eye opening that was. These boys and girls are locked and loaded as they deal with Pirates, refugees (who knows what they are), and drug smugglers. Some of my sailors came back with medals after riding over night on a mission, for saving DOMREP (Domminican Republic Refugees) lives. Didn’t catch any druggies though.

          • Secundius

            OK, Ok! The USCG Serves Better FOOD…

          • Curtis Conway

            AND awesome accommodations. Compared to US Navy Standards they are spacious. THAT is why LEDET tours on Destroyers is considered tough duty for the Coasties.

    • Secundius

      I suspect the New Icebreaker class will have a Near “Mackinaw” look on an “Oblique Hull” with Fore and Aft “Azipods”. Tried for Several weeks to Find a Design that Actually Shows an Artist Conception of the Class. And keep get Mixed In designs of a Finnish Built Icebreaker using a Oblique Hull and Azipods (Fore and Aft)…

      • No design has been accepted yet.

        • Secundius

          There were FFG(X) Designs Out as Far Back as 2014, for a Frigate Design Competition to be held in 2018. I find it Hard To Believe that there ISN’T a Design Anywhere of an Icebreaker Replacement for 2023. It’s almost like the US Government PLANS to “Plug-The-Plug” on the Whole Notion of Building an Icebreaker Replacement PERIOD. And “Dismiss” the Concept of a Icebreaker Fleet. I suspect their (the US Congress) is Wishing for an ALL Merchant Marine Icebreaker Fleet…

          • Selection process is underway, and award is expect next FY. But so far I haven’t seen any artist concepts or models for any of the proposals. Presumably the Coast Guard has seen some, but apparently nothing at the Surface Navy Association Symposium. Our icebreaker is certain to be different from anything out there right now because of the range/endurance requirement and because of the space/weight/power reservation for weapons.

          • Secundius

            I’ll believe it WHEN the First Icebreaker is Officially Commissioned into the USCG…

  • Yamanote

    They should go rescue that LCS stranded at Montreal.

  • Stephen

    Thank you USCG! Here’s hoping you can acquire more ice-breaking assets. Seeing the operation, first hand, on the Connecticut River, impressive. I can’t imagine the nerve-rattling effects of ice-busting & the constant turn/advance/lift/fall/turn procedure… Bravo Zulu!

  • RobM1981

    Semper Paratus, indeed.

  • John B. Morgen

    The United States Coast Guard needs to build up a Fleet of ice breakers; ranging from super large ice breakers down to ice breaker tugs. The Fleet should match the maritime needs, depth restrictions and ice thickest. A few iced breakers is [NOT] enough as our climate during the winter seasons increases by getting much colder during every year..

  • Duane-aka Sir Lockmart

    Silly coasties. Don’t they know we have the best ice-breaker BAR NONE in the LCS. after all “littoral” mean shallow water, and that’s where the LCS with it’s massive waterjets can simply suck up all the ice in it’s intakes and crunch it out, spitting it out back harmlessly. When the ice is too thick, it’s “one shot one kill” 57mm gun with special ice-breaking fusing, simply wipes the waterway clear of any ice “swarms.” Ice breakers are obsolete and are so 20th century, today the future belongs to the LCS, the first true 21st century WARfrigate, mine sweeper, ASW platform, destroyer of enemy fleets, and best d a m n icebreaker BAR NONE

  • The 140s are being renovated and modernized, but nothing is being done about the smaller 65 foot tugs that also do icebreaking.

  • David Flandry

    When is the CGG going to ask for a meeting with the President to tell him of the real state of the USCG?