Watching ships pass under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge in Canal Park is one of the most iconic and must-see things to do when visiting Duluth, Minnesota. View the Duluth ship schedule to see when boats, from all around the world, are estimated to arrive or depart from Duluth’s Lake Superior Harbor. Get your camera ready and be prepared for the horns!
There are 2 distinct types of ships that visit the port on a regular basis. 90% of the vessel traffic is comprised of “Lakers;” bulk carriers specially built to sail the Great Lakes. The largest U.S. Lakers are over 1,000 feet long, with a carrying capacity of nearly 70,000 short tons. These ships are predominantly black or “hull red” (the natural color of iron ore) in color. The majority of Lakers are now self-unloaders with a long boom mounted above their decks. The average lifespan of lakers is 40-50 years. These ships remain on the Great Lakes because they are too large to fit through the St. Lawrence Sea Way.
The second type of ship is known as “Salties.” Salties are often much more colorful and can often be seen in hues of green, blue, and red. They typically have a series of cranes rising above their decks and have sharply cut away or rake bows, in comparison to the vertical bows of lakers. The maximum size of salties is 740 feet. Salties have a deeper draft and lower buoyancy in the Great Lakes fresh water, thus they only accept partial loads until they’re through the St. Lawrence Sea Way and back out in salt water. These ships have shorter lifespans than Lakers due to the corrosive nature of the ocean’s salt water.
The sailing schedules of the ships are dictated not only by the weather but also by the economy and demand for the goods they carry. The Duluth shipping season typically runs late March through January.
Want a good feel for what the experience is like when a ship passes under the Lift Bridge? Check out this video from Andrew Kruger for all the sights and sounds of the event. It definitely doesn’t match the real thing, but it’s a good preview.
Want to see one of these magnificent ships up close and personal? The William A. Irvin is permanently docked in the Duluth harbor and is available for boat tours. Back in her heyday, the Irvin was the flagship of the US Steel Great Lakes fleet from 1938 until 1975. She spent her days carrying both iron ore and coal, as well US Steel guests and dignitaries, throughout the Great Lakes ports. Learn more about the Irvin’s history and don’t forget to visit her floating gift shop when you’re in town.
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