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Welcome to Great Lakes Shipping
To handle Great Lakes cargo, a special type of vessel has evolved...the North American "laker," the largest being 1,013 feet (335 meters) long, capable of carrying up to 70,000 tons (70,966 tonnes) of iron ore or 1,700,00 bushels (45,552.5 tonnes) of grain in one trip.

On any given day during the sailing season, the vessels of the U.S. and Canadian fleets are in continious motion carrying a wide range of cargos.

So what exactly is it about a Great Lakes cargo vessel that makes it so unique among the world's merchant fleet? Consider the following:

Efficiency:
Vessels in Great Lakes and Seaway service carry more tonnage, with fewer ships (one 1,000-footer carries as much cargo as three of the 600-footers common on the lakes prior to 1973) now than in the past. In one sailing season, the 1,013-foot Paul R. Tregurtha alone carried 3,244,780 net tons to lower lakes steel mills. In recent years, American-flag vessels (sailing under the Jones Act, a law which mandates cargos carried from one U.S. port to another must be carried on U.S.-flag, U.S.-built and U.S.-crewed vessels) moved more than 125 million tons of dry and liquid bulk cargo on the Great Lakes, the combined U.S. and Canadian flag fleets carried more than 174 million net tons. Most lakers require around six hours in port loading or unloading; many self-unloaders are so highly evolved it often takes just one man at the controls to unload the entire vessel.


Versatility:
Not only are lakers able to quickly move their cargos from port to port, they can also handle just about any bulk cargo that needs moving. The majority of lakers are self-unloaders - able to discharge cargo without dockside equipment. Many such vessels that once carried only ore pellets, stone or coal have been modified to carry grain, salt or even fertilizer. Others carry cement and petroleum products.

Handling:
Highly-skilled crews routinely operate their vessels in confined waterways (sometimes just 10 feet wider than the ship itself), without the help of tugs. Ship operators worldwide send their officers to the Great Lakes to learn how to best handle large tonnage.

Safety:
Safety on the Great Lakes is proactive rather than reactive; the last major vessel lost on the Great Lakes was more than 20 years ago. Groundings and collisions are rare, especially compared with the number worldwide. Great Lakes tankers are required to have double hulls and are usually escorted in winter by icebreakers as a precaution, even though there has never been a major spill on the Great Lakes.

Longevity:
Thanks to a career spent primarily in freshwater, the average life expectancy of a laker is 40-50 years, compared to about half that for saltwater vessels. Downtime during winter lay-up allows ample opportunity for maintenance, another key factor in a laker's long lifespan and enviable safety record.


Now that you have had an introduction, become an expert. The information above comes from the book Know Your Ships . This annual publication is often reffered to as the "Boatwatcher's Bible" and was the inspiration for this web site.
Click here for an online look at the book

  Here's a numerical breakdown of the Great Lakes navigation system

1,600 miles: Length of the navigation system, extending from Duluth, Minnesota, to Ogdensburg, New York; the system spans lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario.

63: Commercial ports on the Great Lakes.

173 million: Tons of cargo carried by lakers in 2006.

44,000: Jobs directly related to Great Lakes maritime transport.

54,000: Mining industry jobs that depend on Great Lakes shipping.

138,000: Steel industry jobs with ties to Great Lakes freighters.

$3.6 billion: Savings realized annually by industries that use Great Lakes freighters instead of trucks or trains to move cargo.

607 miles: Distance a Great Lakes freighter can carry one ton of cargo on one gallon of fuel.

70,000: Tons of cargo that can be carried by a 1,000-foot-long freighter; it would take 3,000 semis to carry that much cargo.

Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers