ting diodes to save cost and battery
The Coast Guard, formerly called
the Revenue Cutter Service, has been
tasked with patrolling and marking
waterways for safe vessel traffic since
the 1800s, when lighthouses were
the primary means of alerting
boaters of hazardous conditions.
According to the service, the
U.S. aids-to-navigation system
employs a simple arrangement of
colors, shapes, numbers and light
characteristics to mark navigable
channels, waterways and obstructions adjacent to these.
Aids-to-navigation equipment is
designed, mainly, to help reduce
loss of life, property and damage to
vessels. Ninth District leaders
attribute improvement in the aids-to-navigation system, along with a
dedicated effort to keep the buoys
in year-round working order, as
two main reasons why the number
of incidents and marine casualties
have fallen in recent years.
The district had 259 incidents,
resulting in 31 deaths, in 2010.
Those numbers dropped in 2012 to 234 incidents and
nine deaths, according to the service. The number of
marine casualties, or boating accidents, also has declined,
from 560 in 2010 to 396 in 2012.
Ninth District leaders said they expect those numbers to continue to fall in the coming years thanks in
part to marine safety classes that are being offered to
better educate boaters on safe boating techniques,
which includes reading and following buoys.
Along with two 225-foot seagoing buoy tenders in
the district’s fleet, Alder and Hollyhock, two 140-foot icebreaking tugs, Bristol Bay and Mobile Bay, also are capable of doing aids-to-navigation work. Having ships with
dual-purpose capability is a great asset, said Lt. Cmdr.
Matt ten Berge, head of domestic icebreaking at the
Ninth Coast Guard District.
“We are doing more multi-missions here than ever
before,” he said.
The St. Mary River, which connects Lake Superior and
Lake Huron; St. Clair River, which drains Lake Huron
into Lake St. Clair; and Detroit River, which flows into
Lake Erie, are considered “tier one” waterways, the highest priority due to geographical location or importance of
cargo to public health and safety, and have the most aids-to-navigation equipment in them, ten Berge said.
U.S. COAST GUARD
The deck force aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay, a 140-foot ice-
breaking tug, uses a crane to maneuver a navigational buoy aboard an aids-to-
navigation barge connected to the cutter Nov. 27. Bristol Bay was removing
navigational buoys from Lake Erie as part of the Ninth Coast Guard District’s
annual Operation Fall Retrieve, which is designed to limit damage to navigation
buoys in the Great Lakes during the winter months.
The district uses private contractors to assist with
major buoy repairs.
“We are fortunate that we have all this fresh water
so buoys last longer than average,” Chief Warrant
Officer Ralph Kugel, in the district’s waterways and
management branch, said.
Salt water is far more corrosive.
Repair costs vary depending on the type of buoy, the
cost of shipping and the needed repairs. Some in service
now on the Great Lakes have been in the water since 1946.
During the open-water season, Lake Superior, the
northern-most body of water and the largest of the Great
Lakes, sees the least amount of vessel traffic, specifically
because of the smaller population along its shores, while
Lakes Michigan and Erie are busier, he said.
The total number of buoys in the district fluctuates
each year and the exact location of them can change
every three years, based on waterways management
studies. But, by and large, both the locations and number have been consistent for the past decade.
One thing that has changed is the lighting used on
buoys. Walking down a hall in the Cleveland headquarters, one gets a history lesson in buoy lighting. On
display are lights of days gone by, large and bulky, and
those used today, which are smaller and use light emit-