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Nothing’s too thick for the Great Lakes’ only heavy ice-breaker

Mar 13, 2017

It's a mighty tall order: maintaining navigation channels through the Great Lakes all winter long.

That mission is fulfilled by a mighty ship: the USCGC Mackinaw. She's the only heavy ice-breaker the U.S. Coast Guard has on the Great Lakes.

She docks in Cheboygan, and during the winter months she maintains navigation channels through the Great Lakes by splitting ice.​

Vasilios Tasikas, the commanding officer of the Mackinaw, spoke to Stateside about his ship’s unique mission.

The economic viability of the Great Lakes is based on the movement of ships, Tasikas said. Ice can bring that transportation to a dead stop.

That's where the Mackinaw comes in.

The massive weight of the ship does most of the work to break up thick ice. When the ship hits the ice, the impact causes it to crack. 

The power of the USCGC Cutter Mackinaw is about 9,000 horsepower, Tasikas said.
Credit Courtesy of Commander Vasilios Tasikas

“And the bow kind of slides up on the ice and the ice is pushed down under the ship, causing a kind of bend in that ice plate and when the ship continues on the ice, it crushes under the weight of the ship and causes the plate ice to break up into small pieces,” he said.

He said the impact shakes the entire ship and can be rather violent.  

The ship is “punching and riding on top and breaking and crushing and smashing,” from sunrise to sunset," Tasikas said.

To hear more about the Great Lakes’ only icebreaker, listen to the full interview above.

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