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Marking the St. Lawrence
year round
Marking the St. Lawrence year round The crew of CCGS Tracy must remove the ice from the lifting rings on this lighted summer buoy before it can be brought aboard. It will be replaced by a winter spar (on the deck).


In spring and fall, the Canadian Coast Guard is busy with buoy tending operations, laying and lifting the buoys on the St. Lawrence.

Dangerous operation

Because buoys are installed to mark the safe limits of channels and hazards to shipping, buoy tending is a dangerous operation. Operators have to be able to manoeuvre their vessel regardless of the conditions, ever alert to the dangers to which the crew are exposed. The crew's safety must always be a priority, particularly when the deck is icy, water is dripping from the buoys and the ship is in motion.

Specialized vessels

Twice a year, the Canadian Coast Guard undertakes operations to install, remove and check the positions of about 1,200 buoys marking channels and hazards from Beauharnois to Blanc-Sablon and from the Gaspé coast to the Magdalen Islands as well as on the Outaouais, Prairies, Richelieu and Saguenay rivers and in Deux Montagnes and Saint Louis lakes.

These buoy tending operations are carried out by five Canadian Coast Guard units: CCGS Martha L. Black, CCGS Tracy, CCGS Île Saint-Ours, ACV Sipu Muin and ACV Mamilossa. The crews have to keep in mind the limits imposed by weather and ice conditions, and be ever ready to deal with equipment breakdowns. Moreover, their territories are vast and the work must be completed within a very short time.

Each buoy tending unit has the specific capacities needed for its own operations. For instance, CCGS Tracy and the air cushion vehicles share characteristics like a shallow draft, a lower freeboard so buoys can be loaded and unloaded more easily and their stability at sea. As for CCGS Martha L. Black and CCGS Tracy their decks were specially designed to facilitate manoeuvres and they have higher capacity booms.

A buoy for every season

Winter conditions in Quebec make it necessary to change buoys seasonally. Winter spar buoys are long, unlit devices specially designed to withstand ice impact and return rapidly to the surface when submerged by ice.

As for summer buoys, they have more sophisticated structures and systems. On the St. Lawrence waterway, most buoys bear lights and integrated radar reflectors. In some sectors, they may also be equipped with sound aids - bells or whistles in fishing areas, and radar responder beacons (RACON) in areas where there is commercial shipping.

Buoy tending information on the Web

You can now find out when buoys will be changed in spring and fall. Just go to the Canadian Coast Guard site, which will take you to the Seasonal buoy tending operations page. The information is updated daily. You can also check out the Summary of buoy tending operations, where the status of seasonal buoy tending operations is provided for each work sector.

Did you know.

There are more buoys on the waterway in summer (363) than in winter (252). Winter spars are set in strategic places where the danger and need for markers are greatest. Also, some sectors and water bodies are closed to navigation in the winter.

Ghislaine Gendron, Danielle Fortin and Claude Lapierre, Canadian Coast Guard
Nathalie Letendre, Communications