Market Matters Blog

Opening Day Arrived for Great Lakes Shipping Season

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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The Lee A. Tregurtha was the first ship of the 2023 navigation season to pass under the aerial bridge and through the Port of Duluth canal, coming out of hibernation after it wintered in Duluth-Superior. (Photo courtesy of Schauer Photo Images)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, Soo Project Office opened the Poe Lock at 12:01 a.m., March 25, marking the 2023 Great Lakes shipping season start. Navigation through the St. Lawrence Seaway itself began March 22 with the opening of the Montreal-Lake Ontario section, which includes the St. Lawrence River and Welland Canal.

The navigation season opening and closing is fixed by federal regulation and driven in part by the feasibility of vessels operating in typical Great Lakes ice conditions, according to the Corps.

The Poe Lock closed Jan. 16 to undergo critical repairs and maintenance during the 10-week long winter shutdown, noted the Corps. "Maintenance crews performed a variety of critical tasks on the Poe Lock, including Gate 1 anchorage component repairs such as replacing concrete, Gate 1 lifting lugs and turning feet, underfloor drain system inspection, Gate 1 structural inspection for future replacement, Gate 3 inspection for structural repairs, gate jacking pedestal inspections, valve repairs, Gate 3 seal repairs and culvert intake grate repairs. The (miter) gates are the large gates at each end of the lock chamber. The gates open and close allowing ships to enter and leave the lock and prevent water from entering or exiting the lock while boats are lifted or lowered."

"Crews also performed a wide range of other maintenance tasks including fender timber replacements, electrical and mechanical systems inspections, and preventative maintenance on both the Poe and MacArthur Locks and floating plant maintenance," Maintenance Branch Chief Nick Pettit said. The Corps stated the MacArthur Lock, located south of the Poe, is scheduled to open April 24.


The Port of Duluth-Superior, located at the westernmost tip of Lake Superior, is North America's farthest-inland freshwater seaport. Twenty privately owned bulk cargo docks and an award-winning general cargo terminal populate the working waterfront, along with a marine fueling depot, a shipyard with dry docks, multiple tug and barge services, plus an intermodal cargo terminal, stated the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

The Twin Ports had five ships spending the winter there. "Winter layup is an especially busy time for skilled tradespeople throughout the Twin Ports and the Great Lakes, who perform millions of dollars in crucial maintenance work on the U.S.-flag lakers," said Jayson Hron, director of Communication and Marketing, Duluth Seaway Port Authority in an email to DTN.

"Engine work comprises a large portion of the winter work program. Some vessels have power plants capable of generating nearly 20,000 horsepower, and over the course of the season, a vessel can travel more than 70,000 miles. Beyond engine maintenance, other winter work can include installation of new navigation equipment (e.g., state-of-the-art radar systems), steel replacement, hull inspections, upgrades to living quarters and galleys, etc.," said Hron.

One of the winter guests at the Twin Ports, the laker Lee A Tregurtha, was the first to leave Duluth on March 23. The ship left the Twin Ports empty and headed to Marquette, Michigan. for a load of iron ore (…). Boatnerd news reported that, "Just before the Tregurtha departed, U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spar launched from Park Point for icebreaking duties."

The American Mariner, who also wintered in the Twin Ports, was the second ship to head out after loading iron ore at the CN Duluth dock, noted Hron.

As of March 25, NOAA reported that Great Lakes total ice cover was at 5.2%. Last year on the same date, ice coverage was 21%.

Now the wait is on for the first saltie (ocean going ship) to reach the Twin Ports to officially open the grain shipping season. The Resko was the first saltie to reach Duluth in 2022, arriving on April 13. The earliest arrival of a saltie on record was the Federal Hunter on March 30, 2013, while the ice-delayed arrival of the Diana on May 7, 2014, was the latest arrival in history at the Twin Ports.

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