Coast Guard Ship Plays ‘World’s Largest Claw Game’ to Get Sunken Buoy out of Lake Michigan

Coast Guard Cutter Alder approaches the Portage Lake Lift Bridge
The Coast Guard Cutter Alder approaches the Portage Lake Lift Bridge in Houghton, Mich., Dec. 16, 2016. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

For U.S. Coast Guard crews working on the Great Lakes, even “games” are work.

For evidence, see the crew of the USCG Cutter Alder, which took on the challenge of playing “the world’s largest claw game” to retrieve a sunken buoy from Lake Michigan.

Icy buoys like the one in question are designed to go under heavy ice flows to avoid it being dragged off station. Occasionally, ice will damage the buoy to the point where it fills with water and sinks to the bottom.

When this happens it’s on Coast Guard crews to use a massive grappling hook to recover the buoy, chain and concrete sinker.

“When working buoys after any ice season there inevitably comes a point where the crew hears this pipe over the loudspeakers: Now fish call, fish call, down, down all grapples up, up all buoy. Now fish call,” Alder personnel wrote on Facebook. “The crew knows they have their work cut out for them and eagerly rise to the challenge.”

According to the post, crews locate the buoy by dragging a grapple across the lakebed until the line tightens. Crews slowly reel in their 10,000-pound catch made of concrete, steel and water, knowing the chain could slip at any moment. The final step is to bring the sunken buoy safely onboard.

“After 30 minutes of playing the world’s largest claw game we have our prize catch, and as responsible buoy fishermen we released a fully functioning and floating buoy immediately afterwards,” the Facebook post reads.

With a homeport in Duluth, Minnesota, the USCGC Alder’s primary missions are aids to navigation, ice breaking, law enforcement, and search and rescue. It is primarily responsible for Lake Superior and upper Lake Michigan but operates throughout the Great Lakes.

This article is written by Brandon Champion from, Walker, Mich. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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