Great Lakes Shipping

Marine Transport in the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Seaway Region

Lake freighters, or Lakers, are bulk carrier vessels that ply the Great Lakes. These vessels are traditionally called boats, although classified as ships. Lakers carry bulk cargoes of materials such as limestone, iron ore, grain, coal or salt from the mines and fields to the populous industrial areas down the lakes. The 63 commercial ports handled 173 million tons of cargo in 2006. Because of winter ice on the lakes, the navigation season is not usually year-round. The Soo Locks and Welland Canal close from mid-January to late March, when most boats are laid up for maintenance. Crewmembers spend these months ashore.

Depending on their application, lakers may also be referred to by their type, such as oreboats (primarily for iron ore), straight deckers (no self-unloading gear), bulkers (carry bulk cargo), sternenders (all cabins aft), self unloaders (with self unloading gear), longboats (due to their slender appearance), or lakeboats, among others.

In the mid-20th century, 300 lakers worked the Lakes, but by the early 21st century there were fewer than 140 active lakers.

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