The Dock

SAR Station Port Weller
stands watch over
Western Lake Ontario

By Roger Lelievre and Neil Schultheiss

C.G.R. 100 speeds across Lake Ontario

Late October winds howl around the Canadian Coast Guard's Port Weller SAR Station Niagara. A northwest gale whips western Lake Ontario. A distress call crackles over the radio from a boater in trouble on the western end of the lake. The station's four-person crew dons their gear and heads for one or both of the boats at their disposal. Barely wasting a moment, they scream out into the lake, past the safety of the Port Weller piers, and into seas running 12-15 feet high. It's another routine day at the office for Leading Seamen Chris VanKoppen and Clint Thompson, Engineer Maurice Ethier and relief Commanding Officer Paul Beesley (current relief commanding officer). The station responds to approximately 75-100 calls a year from boaters in trouble from late March to mid-December.

Crew inside C.G.R. 100The station is located on a scenic peninsula at the entrance to the Welland Canal. The location may be unfamiliar to most boat watchers as the station is hidden from view on restricted property owned by the Seaway north of Lock 1 on the west side of the canal. This location offers front row seating for boat watching as freighters pass a short distance off the station.

The crew’s primary vessel is the search and rescue vessel C.G.R. 100, a Multi -Task Medium Endurance Lifeboat, part of the Canadian Coast Guard (Central Region) fleet since 1987.

C.G.R. 100 has an aluminum hull measuring 45’ 11” long, 15’ 09” wide and 5’ 07” draft. Jet driven, she’s powered by twin Caterpillar geared diesels of 525 hp each capable of driving her at 32 knots maximum speed (26 knots cruising speed). Cruising radius is 275 nautical miles and the C.G.R. 100 can run at full speed for 10 hours (12 hours at reduced speed). The wheelhouse is quipped with VHF marine radio, radar, depth finder, GPS and many other navigational aids. A bow compartment offers Mark V takes Flightstorage for the crew’s bright orange Mustang survival suits and provides space for any survivors that may be brought aboard.

Also available is a bright orange, 19.4-foot Mark V Zodiac, powered by twin, 90 HP Evinrude outboards. Top speed is 39 knots.

Both boats are built to be self-righting if overcome by heavy seas.

The station’s area of coverage is from Oshawa, Ont., to Olcott, NY (and all areas west). Crewmembers are on 15-minute call, which means they can never travel more than 15 minutes from the station. On one recent, late-night call, the four were up and headed out five minutes after the distress signal was received.

The crew on duty shares a comfortable building that’s attached to the old lighthouse keeper’s quarters, built in 1931, for the Port Weller light north of Welland Canal Lock 1. Besides sleeping quarters, the station includes a combined kitchen/dining room, office, gymnasium, lounge and workshop. There are two crews in rotation with each working two weeks on and having two weeks off. Cooking and housekeeping duties are shared by two of the crewmembers.

On the Niagara RiverDuring rescue calls, SAR Station Port Weller works side by side with their U.S. counterparts and enjoys a strong relationship with the crew at the U.S. Coast Guard station located at the mouth of the Niagara River in the shadow of historic Fort Niagara.

After an accident last year in which two of their U.S. Coast Guard comrades lost their lives, the crew of the Port Weller station honored their fallen brothers with a plaque at a small memorial site at the U.S. Coast Guard base overlooking the Niagara River.

The plaque, placed near an inscribed brass bell, reads “Honour and courage shall always reside here... Working together without borders. In Memory of Petty Officer Second Class Scott J. Chism and Seaman Christopher E. Ferreby.”

Another plaque reads “This bell honors our fallen shipmates. May it never be torn down. May it stand strong like them and they country they served.”

SAR Station Port Weller at the Lake Ontario Entrance to the Welland Canal
- Taken during the open house on Saturday by Dave Wobser

On October 20 the editorial staff of Great Laker magazine joined the crew at Station Port Weller to ride along on a typical patrol. Our trip took us from the station at Port Weller, across Lake Ontario to the Niagara River, then back to Port Weller after a quick visit to Port Dalhousie east of Port Weller.

Our patrol begins as we depart the station Sunday morning. (pictures by Roger LeLievre and N. Schultheiss)

Our trip lasts 20 minutes and we reach the Niagara River. The upper river offers swift currents that run at 15 knots making plenty of work for the helmsman.

Outbound we make a quick stop at the U.S. Coast guard Station Niagara. The Station Port Weller crew carries a portable radio, ready to depart at a moments notice.

We depart heading for Port Dalhousie west of Port Weller

Patrol complete we return to Station Port Weller


My sincere thanks to Paul Beesley Chris VanKoppen, Clint Thompson and Maurice Ethier of SAR Station Port Weller for allowing us to ride along on a patrol.

For more information visit Paul's home page at

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