Shipping Companies Want Port Huron Float Shutdown
Ship owners in U.S. and Canada are voicing their negative opinion on the annual Port Huron Float Down that takes place this Sunday afternoon, August 16th. The event is unauthorized, though the U.S. Coast Guard closes the river for the event, forcing all commercial and recreational boats to make changes to their usual schedules. This year, Lt. Ben Chamberlain, a public affairs officer for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Detroit, announced the river will be closed from noon to 8 p.m. Each year, thousands of people join together to float seven miles from Lighthouse Beach in Port Huron, Michigan to Chrysler Beach in Marysville, Michigan. Depending on how the weather behaves, the float could take six hours or longer, creating massive delays and unnecessary costs for commercial groups.
In a joint statement released this past Monday, the Canadian Shipowners Association, representing 86 vessels and the U.S. Lake Carriers’ Association, representing 56 vessels, stated that the event puts people into harm’s way for no reason while hindering the operations of commercial ships and their partners “at the height of the shipping season.” The route the floaters take is close to the Canadian border where commercial shipping traffic works every day.
In the statement, Lake Carriers’ Association President James Weakley, said “…The Port Huron Float Down is neither carefully planned nor adequately supervised, and when coupled with the expected consumption of alcohol, this is an invitation to disaster. The fast-running and chilly waters of the St. Clair River between Port Huron and Marysville are a federal navigation channel, not a playground.”
Shippers aren’t the only ones put out by the annual event. First responders have to be at the ready as participants float in cold water plagued by rapid currents and crowded waterways. When people add alcohol to the mix, it can get dangerous. Last year, Brady Morton, a 19-year-old man, was part of a large group of friends. He left his raft for a swim and drowned. His body was found after a 4 day search.
Erik Kimball, who has been the event’s organizer in the past and also owns the Port Huron Float Down website, said that since the river is closed for the event, people can enjoy relative safety. He believes shippers should be used to the closure by now. “This is nothing new or unusual for them,” Kimball said. “The waterways are for everybody, not just commercial traffic.”
If the event was sanctioned, they would be issued a marine event permit and the Coast Guard would be better able to organize and control shipping traffic during the float down. But since it is unsanctioned, all boats are simply barred from the river. Chamberlain cited the differences between those with permits and those without. “At several events there will be a safety zone in place, but it won’t impede (commercial) traffic,” he said. But with the Float Down…“We don’t have an official point of contact for who is running the Float Down so coordination isn’t a possibility for us.”
Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the Canadian Shipowners Association said though shipping groups have always disapproved of the vent, Morton’s death compelled them to make an official statement. “As mariners we deal with life and death situations on the water frequently,” Lewis-Manning said. “This is just such an obvious risk to us.” He goes on to discuss the hindrance it puts on business. “Our members’ vessels cost thousands of dollars an hour to operate,” he
said. “While companies attempt to schedule around the Float Down, it is inevitable that ships will end up at anchor and the losses can quickly reach five digits.”
Still, he hopes that people will look at the event from the eyes of an outsider. “We hope that common sense will prevail in the long run and people will see this is not the best recreation activity.”