Ice Breakers of the Niagara River
Power Companies have been generating hydro-electric power
from water drawn from the upper Niagara River since the 1880’s. Since that time,
ice floes in the Niagara River during the winter season have been reeked havoc
when ice floes often became ice jams blocking or severely reducing the water
flow into the power company water intakes.
Lake Erie has an average depth of approximately 60 feet
(18.2m) Lake Erie will during most winters freeze completely over creating
10,000 square miles (25,900 sq. km) of ice. The Niagara River is only 23 square
miles (60 sq. km) and could not handle such a large volume of ice.
With or without an ice boom, only 2% of all ice from Lake
Erie enters the Niagara River. The remainder (98%) of the ice pack melts in Lake
Since 1964, an ice boom has been stretched across the
mouth of the Niagara River at Lake Erie. It has reduced the amount of ice
flowing Lake Erie from into the Niagara River. Most of the ice floes will end up
going over the falls to the river below. Each year an ice-bridge will form as a
result of the volume of ice.
Prior to the deployment of the ice-boom, there was nothing
in place to stop the floe of ice from Lake Erie into the Niagara River. Much of
the ice flowed over the Horseshoe and American Falls causing major ice build-ups
of ice bridges in the plunge pool below the falls. Many ice bridges exceeded
forty to sixty feet in thickness resulting in extensive shoreline damage and
often power reductions for the power stations located at the base of the Niagara
The Ontario Power Generating Station located at the base
of the gorge near the Horseshoe Falls occasionally had to scale back power
production and one at least one occasion was flooded with ice causing major
damage that resulted in a complete shutdown.
Before 1962, there were no ice breakers in operation along
the upper Niagara River to break up ice jams near power station water intakes.
Often the power companies relied upon small tugs that were working on nearby
dredging projects. Many of these tug were so small and so light in weight that
they were ineffective if they were even available. More often than not power
companies resorted to the use of explosives to attempt to break up ice jams
along the river. The results were varied. For the most part they too were
useless against the large size of an ice jam.
American and Canadian Government icebreakers were too
large to enter the shallow waters of the Niagara River near the power station
water intakes. Most commercial icebreakers had a draft that exceeded 3.35 metres
(11 feet). An icebreaker required to operate in the upper Niagara Rivers needed
a much shallower draft.
Tug Sought to Break River Jam
seems to be in sight today to break up a massive ice jam in the upper Niagara
River which threatens shore homes and is strangling power production. William H.
Latham, resident engineer for the State Power Authority said today several
efforts have been made to get tugs to break up the ice but none have proved
being used for dredging work along the upper river shore is in the neighborhood
of the jam but it is "just too small to do anything" said Mr. Latham. The US
Coast Guard in Buffalo has been asked about sending an icebreaker. A Coast Guard
spokesman said there was not enough water in the upper river to operate a
breaker. More than 12 feet depth is required and the controlled depth in the jam
area is 11 feet or less, he said. Mr. Latham said the SPA had tried to get
bigger tugs to the scene to break up the ice. "All tugs are tied up, up river"
large tug the SPA tried to get here was busy trying to secure a floating derrick
which broke away from its mooring at the new south Grand Island bridge in the
best we can hope for is that the wind will change direction and blow the ice
back" he said.
December 16, 1962
Hydro Craft to Break up Ice Arrives
first of two icebreakers which will battle ice jams on both sides of the upper
Niagara River has arrived.
Ontario Hydro Electric Power Commission (HEPC) on Saturday received delivery of
a 30 ton icebreaker and the State Power Authority (SPA) is slated to get a near
twin shortly. Built by the Toronto Drydock Company Limited, Hydro's 42 foot
vessel went through the Welland Canal Friday on its trip from Toronto. It
arrived at the Hydro's Chippewa dock Saturday.
official said Saturday that it icebreaker, which will be called "Breaker" has
exactly the same hull but has some interior differences. The SPA's breaker was
also built by the Toronto Drydock Company Limited.
Hydro's icebreaker, has been christened "Niagara Queen". It has two diesel
engines. Each engine is capable of a speed of 5 knots. The vessel has a
detachable Amsterdam plough for splitting ice collections and will have three
crew members consisting of a captain, an engine room operator and a deckhand.
"Niagara Queen" will undergo tests in the Niagara River soon, Hydro officials
said, and should be in service by mid-January. Acquisition of an ice breaker by
the SBA is the third step taken to prevent ice jams that played havoc with power
production last year after the ice clogged SPA intakes.
spots in the Niagara River in the vicinity of the SPA intakes were dredged out
so as to remove anchor points for ice. And recently an old barge was sunk
between the two sections of the SBA's diversion dike in the upper Niagara River.
It is hoped that sealing the gap in the dike will speed the floe of water and
ice in front of the intakes and down the ice escape channel. The barge sealing
the dike fingers will be raised in the spring so as not to interfere with
boating in the river.
the height of the ice jam in the upper river which developed in mid-January,
Ontario Hydro and the SPA used boats to help smash ice jams. And both power
producers spent many weeks blasting mounds of ice that choked the river.
January 3, 1963
SPA Craft Hacks Ice
State Power Authorities little red icebreaker, dwarfed by acres and acres of ice
in the upper Niagara River, continued to make slow but steady progress today in
sweeping ice away from SPA intakes.
foot long, 30 ton craft, called the “Breaker”, was out for the fourth day today
after a cold snap brought the season's first accumulation of ice in the River.
The icebreaker is manned by a captain, engine room operator and deckhand.
breaker berths in the former Dean Adams intake near the International Paper
Company. Ontario Hydro's icebreaker the Niagara Queen also is docked there. It
is not in action today.
Niagara Queen is virtually the same as the Breaker. Both craft were built by the
Toronto Dry Dock Company Limited arrived here in the middle of December 1962.
January 17, 1963
Crane to Rescue Icebreaker Caught in Ice Jam
crane lifted a 40 ton icebreaker from an ice jam Thursday as massive flows
hurled over Niagara Falls continue to pose a threat to Ontario's power
generating station. The crane lifted the icebreaker Niagara Queen from its trap
in the upper Niagara River and deposited it on a flatbed truck. The vessel was
re-floated downstream to battle ice build up at the stations intakes. The
station below the falls operated on a 15 percent output after being forced out
of action entirely Wednesday when ice sealed the intakes.
January 6, 1964
Icebreaker Stuck on Floe for Four Hours
State Power Authorities icebreaker got caught on a mammoth ice floe Sunday
afternoon. Nearly 4 hours later, the 40 ton boat managed to shake itself free.
The "Breaker", as it is called rode up on a cake of ice and just couldn't get
off, SPA resident engineer William H. Latham explained today. It's stern was up
two feet, he said, and its propellers were out of the water. The boat was not
completely out of control, Mr. Latham added and managed to do some maneuvering
in the water around the Buckhorn Island dike.
the time that someone considered ending the predicament by lashing a cable from
the boat to a ground-based bulldozer, the Breaker finally shook itself loose.
Latham said the icebreaker has been having quite a time with the current ice
conditions because there is a lot of ice and, with air temperatures above
freezing the ice field has been shifting.
icebreaker's function is to break up any ice field in front of the SPA's twin
intakes and keep the floes moving. Mr. Latham said it was "hard to say" what the
effect the dredging operation of the past two years have had on the ice and
SPA Removes "Plug" From Island Dike
"plug" in the State Power Authority diversion dike off Buckhorn Island State
Park is being pulled. The plug is a barge that is sunk between a gap in the dike
later in the fall each year to increase the velocity of the flow of water on the
American side of the river. The aided velocity aids in moving ice down on the
ice escape channel and over the cataracts. Each spring the barge is removed for
the convenience of boaters who ply between the East and West branches of the
Latham, SPA resident engineer said the barge will be removed in several days and
will be hauled by the SPA's icebreaker to the old Adams Power Plant intake for
storage during the summer. Before the barge can be floated, rock placed on its
deck has to be removed and the water has to be pumped out.
icebreaker, when it completes its last duty of the season by moving the barge,
will be trucked to the SPA's pump generating plant.
Niagara Queen Runs Aground In Fog
icebreaker with a three man crew was free today after being a ground in the fog
for eight hours on shoals in the Niagara River about a mile upriver from the
Horseshoe Falls. The ship, the Niagara Queen is owned by the Ontario Hydro
Electric Power Commission.
was breaking ice in the upper river when it ran aground late Sunday night in
heavy fog near Goat island. The fog delayed the start of the rescue operation
Breaker, a similar ship operated by the New York State Power Commission, aided
in towing the Niagara Queen off the shoals after a line connecting the two
vessels was dropped from a helicopter operated by the commission.
On any given day or night during the winter season. the
ice breakers of the Niagara River may be working at breaking ice formations in
the river that may hinder the flow of water into the hydro water intakes along
the American and Canadian shoreline. The New York State Power Authority (NYSPA)
owns and operates two ice cutting ships while Ontario Power Generation owns and
operates one cutter.
The intakes for both the Robert Moses Power Generating
Station and the Sir Adam Beck Power Stations are located approximately one mile
upriver from the Horseshoe Falls in an area referred to as the “Grass Island
Pool”. This pool (area) of river is located from the International Water Control
Dam to the Navy Island and is maintained to provide a sufficient flow of water
for diversion for hydro production.
Safety is the most important concern amongst the crews of
both icebreakers. Even now these modern vessels will from time to time come
across ice thicknesses that are beyond their capacity. They are two icebreakers
in two countries working as one for the common purpose of keeping the Grass
Island pool near the intakes of both countries free of restricting ice jams.
New York State Power Authority – Robert Moses Power
The William H. Latham is a 77 ton – 625 horsepower
icebreaker owned and operated by the New York State Power Authority on the
Niagara River. It is named after William H. Latham, a senior engineer with the
Power Authority who died in 1987.
The “Breaker”, is a modified tugboat that assists the
Latham. It remains operational to this date although it is the first generation
of icebreakers employed on the Niagara River.
Randy D. Crissman was project manager for the design and
construction of the icebreaker William H. Latham, and also manager of a
multi-year evaluation of measures for reducing ice jamming in the upper Niagara
River, a project that resulted in a new design for an ice boom at the entrance
to the river.
On October 22nd 2014, the New York Power Authority
announced it is spending $4.9 million to buy two
new tugboats. NYPA is replacing the two boats
that they use for installing and removing the ice boom between Buffalo and Fort
The Power Authority is
buying the new tugboats to replace two others in
its four-vessel fleet that are used to keep the
Niagara River water intake clear of ice during
the winter. The tugs also are used to install
and remove the 8,800-foot-long ice boom where
Lake Erie flows into the Niagara River.
The Power Authority will
share the cost of the new tugboats with Ontario
Power Generation, which also uses the vessels to
keep the Sir Adam Beck Pump Generating Station
clear of ice.
One of the tugboats that
is being replaced is more than 50 years old,
while the other has been in service for more
than 30 years.
WHITE PLAINS—The New York Power Authority (NYPA)
Board of Trustees has taken action for the acquisition of two new
tugboats to support the operation of the Niagara Hydroelectric Power
Plant. The new boats will replace two of the plant’s existing
vessels—the Daniel Joncaire and the Breaker—part
of a fleet of four vessels that play an integral role in the winter
operation of NYPA’s Niagara plant and the Sir Adam Beck Pump
Generating Station, owned by Ontario Power Generation (OPG).
At their Oct. 15 meeting, the trustees
awarded a more than $4.9 million contract to Great Lakes Shipyard of
Cleveland, Ohio, to fabricate the new boats, the Daniel
Joncaire II, scheduled for delivery in 2015, and the
Breaker II, scheduled for delivery in 2017. (The costs
of the tugboat replacement project will be equally shared with OPG.)
The NYPA board’s action followed its award
last year to Bristol Harbor Group of Rhode Island to engineer and
design the two new tugboats.
“The tugboats play an essential role in
keeping the Niagara River water intake structures of the
hydroelectric plants clear of ice blockages during the winter,” said
Harry Francois, NYPA Western New York regional manager.
“This helps to ensure continued flow of water for clean, low-cost
hydropower generation for Western New York businesses and other
customers. So we look forward to christening the new boats, which
are highly visible symbols of the power generating process.”
Every winter, the Power Authority works
with Ontario Power Generation to prevent ice on the upper Niagara
River from impeding power production and causing flooding of
shoreline property. The boats are used to install and remove an
8,800-foot-long floating ice boom, consisting of steel pontoons
linked together and anchored to the river bottom at Lake Erie's
outlet to the Niagara River.
The boom accelerates the formation of the
natural ice arch that forms most winters near the head of the upper
Niagara River and also stabilizes the arch once it has formed. The
boom prevents the buildup of ice, yet allows water to continue
The tugboats are also used for in-service
maintenance, inspection and repairs of the ice boom and to patrol
the river and break up ice, as needed.
The decision to replace the Daniel
Joncaire and the Breaker—more than
30-years-old and more than 50-years-old, respectively—stemmed from a
NYPA 2012 study to evaluate the condition of the boats. The study
determined that the boats had exceeded their service lives as towing
vessels. Several options for refurbishment were evaluated, but based
on the cost and the extensive modifications required, NYPA
determined that the boats should be replaced. The contract award to
Bristol Harbor stemmed from a competitive-bid process.
The new boats will feature heavy stems for
light ice-breaking and will be built to comply with the latest codes
and standards of the American Bureau of Shipping, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Note: OPG doesn’t need to clear ice at the Pump
Generating Station and if they did they wouldn’t use NYPA vessels for that
purpose. The costs of operating the International Niagara Control Works and the
ice boom are jointly funded between OPG and NYPA with costs shared 50/50. The
responsibility of sourcing, operating and maintaining the new tugs and the
remainder of their fleet rest with the NYPA.
New York State Power Authority Orders New
An icebreaking tugboat has been ordered in the United
States to operate in Lake Erie and a major New York state river. The New
York State Power Authority (NYSPA) has ordered a 17 metre (55.7 feet)
long tug from Rhode Island-based shipbuilder Blount Boats. This tug will
have a beam (width) of 5.6 metres (18.3 feet). This shallow draft,
double screw propelled, diesel-powered tugboat will operate in the upper
Niagara River. This tug will be powered by two Caterpillar series C-9
engines, each generating 280 kW of power at 1,800 rpm. The tug was
designed by the Bristol Harbor Group.
primary main role for this NYSPA tug will be to help install, remove and
maintain the Lake Erie ice boom and will break ice during the winter
months and assist marine construction projects. This prevents ice from
Lake Erie entering the Niagara River, preventing river blockages,
flooding and jamming of hydro-electric plant.
Tugs have installed and removed this ice boom each
year since 1964.
Blount Boats is scheduled to deliver this tug in
Fourth Quarter of 2019 when it will replace the existing vessel in the
NYSPA fleet assigned to this task.
Ontario Power Generation – Sir Adam Beck Power Group
The icebreaker Niagara Queen II was commissioned in 1992
for Ontario Hydro (Ontario Power Generation) for work in the upper Niagara
River. It replaced the original Niagara Queen, a smaller vessel which operated
from 1962 to 1993.
Niagara Queen II was built by Hike Metals and Shipbuilding
of Wheatley, Ontario. It was commissioned in 1992. It is 26.8 metres (88 feet)
long, 5.5 metres (18 feet) wide, draft 1.9 metres (6.23 feet), speed 10 knots
and weighs 85 tonnes. Powered by a 1,280 kv diesel generator
The Canadian boat and its three-person crew work in
conjunction with a similar vessel, the William H. Latham, operated by the New
York State Power Authority.
Niagara Queen II being returned to service following repairs
2014, the Niagara Queen 2 was taken out of the water for dry-dock repairs
costing OPG approximately $500,000. On December 3rd 2014 the Niagara Queen was
returned to service after being hoisted back into the water following repairs.
January 2014 - Polar Vortex
The harsh cold from this past winter resulted in extensive ice coverage
over the Great Lakes, making it the
second highest ice cover on record for
the lakes. Since its peak coverage of 92.19
percent on March 6, 2014, the ice has
been melting slowly but still remains to
some extent on each of the five lakes.
The winter of 2014 ushering in frigid
arctic air and dumping record-breaking
snow and ice on much of the nation. This
season, ice coverage on the Great Lakes
has exceeded all other measurements
since 1979. During a typical winter, 30
to 40 percent of the Great Lakes are
covered by ice.
Usually arctic air swept over the Great Lakes creates lake-effect snow but modifies the air, making it warmer. This typically makes regions from Ohio through the Northeast a little warmer than it otherwise would be.
However, this winter 80 to 90 percent of the Great Lakes are covered in ice. As of Thursday, March 6, 2014, the total Great Lakes basin was 92.19 percent covered, ranking the Great Lakes ice coverage this winter second in the overall rankings, according to Physical Scientist with the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. "The arctic air masses don't get warmed up as much because of all the snow and ice," Anderson said. "There has not been much of a thaw so the ice keeps building up."
The last time in recent history the ice coverage was even close to this winter's percentage was the winter of 1993-1994. That winter ice coverage was measured at 90.7 percent.
According to data obtained from GLERL, from 1973 to 2011, the Great Lakes collectively had an average annual maximum ice coverage of 56 percent. During this period, the highest annual maximum ice percentage was recorded in 1979, where the ice coverage reached 94 percent. The lowest maximum was recorded in the winter of 2002 of only 9.5 percent.
For the same period of interest, Lake Erie had an average maximum ice coverage of 88 percent. The highest percentage, 100 percent, was recorded during the winters of 1978, 1979 and 1996. The lowest percentages were recorded during the winter of 1998, with an ice coverage percentage of 5.4 percent. From Lake Erie's data in particular, it is clear that most winters a large percentage of Lake Erie freezes. This is more than likely connected to Lake Erie being one of the shallowest Great Lakes. Its maximum depth is 210 feet. Lake Michigan, on the other hand, has a maximum depth of 925 feet, and only has an average maximum ice coverage of 40.8 percent. The shallower the lake, the more annual ice coverage.
FALLS THUNDER ALLEY NAVIGATOR
Date last updated:
October 21, 2018
The preceding locations and facts
about them are but a few of many famous sites & attractions to be found in Niagara
Falls. The best of it is FREE to see...so think of Niagara Falls when planning your next
vacation. If you have questions of a current or historical nature about the Niagara Falls
area or suggestions feel free to e-mail Rick at
THANK YOU FOR VISITING THE
A History of Ice Breaking on the Niagara River