Lay Up Season Draws to a Close at Hamilton Port

Great Lakes Shipping to Resume Next Week

March 19, 2021

HAMILTON, ON – During the winter months, shipping activity across the Great Lakes/St Lawrence Seaway takes a pause and the cargo vessels (known as “Lakers”) that normally transit these waterways are laid up, while they wait for the Seaway to reopen.

In between seasons, ships undergo routine maintenance and upgrades while a crew of skeleton staff and shipkeepers make sure nothing goes amiss on the boat. Docked vessels can also be used as storage (kind of like a floating warehouse) for port tenants who need to maintain a steady supply of raw materials like ore, grain or canola for further production in the off-season. This year, at the Port of Hamilton, we had almost ten vessels laid up at various piers, and our ship repair partner, Heddle Marine, has seen even more at their dry docks for major repairs and re-assemblies.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens during lay up season, while marine transportation goes on a brief hiatus, check out what some of our tenants and shipping partners have been up to over the past few months below…

Algoma Central Corporation

Algoma is a St Catharines-based shipping company that moves a variety of bulk cargos around the Great Lakes marine network. Whether it’s shipping iron ore between US and Canadian ports like Hamilton, or moving grain up the Seaway or locally for further processing, Algoma is a key part of Great Lakes shipping and the Hamilton-Niagara Trade Corridor. The company has 5 vessels currently laid up in Hamilton.

A couple of weeks ago, we got to climb aboard the Algoma Harvester with Algoma’s Manager of Environmental Operations, Dalia, over at Eastport for a front row seat to witness its layup upgrades. As you can see, the Harvester’s hull was cut in order to install a 3 tonne BOTU-M (Bleed of Treatment Unit Membrane) on deck 3 near the ship’s engine room.

The BOTU-M is a modern, sophisticated piece of their scrubber technology which treat’s the exhaust scrubber’s waste water. The waste water, which has captured the SOx produced by the ship’s engines, is processed through  porous tubes separating substances, such as PAH’s,  nitrates, nitrites and heavy metals. This produces a clean and safe water for discharge. As computer and water treatment technology evolves, Algoma made the decision to update its equipment to ensure sustainability and reliability for years to come.

Over at Pier 10, we also met the crew aboard the Algoma Conveyor, which was unloading canola seed into a storage facility for future use. Meanwhile, Francois, Chief Engineer, was overseeing various repairs to the ship over the off-season.


According to Ocean Group’s Director of Towing Operations, Ed O’Connor, the tugs that normally guide cargo vessels into docking position at the Port of Hamilton have their own winter routine. “Like the cargo vessels, the tugs have their own 4-5-year inspection and repair cycles to undergo.” said Ed. ” “This winter, we had the Ocean A. Gauthier over at Heddle for inspection, cleaning and painting of her hull and propellers.”

While shipping season necessitates a 24-hour schedule for the crew, the winter gives Ocean’s Hamilton team a bit more breathing room and a more typical 8-hour workday. “As the season approaches, we bring the entire navigational crew back for a complete refamiliarization education and updated health and safety training. We also run drills to make sure the team is up to date on the latest best practices and ready for the season ahead.”


Heddle Shipyards is a massive drydock and shipyard operation, located at the base of Hillyard St in Hamilton. For this port partner, the close of the Seaway signals the start of their busiest season, in which vessels, tugs and barges head into drydock for maintenance, repairs, and massive structural repairs. Heddle employs between 125-150 staff at their Hamilton yard, including mechanics, welders, pipe fitters, etc., and this team saw 10 different vessels in for repair this winter. The company also owns and operates shipyards in Port Weller and Thunder Bay. Heddle is looking to advance into Canada’s national ship building program, which would bring new employment and economic development opportunities to Ontario.

What is Heddle looking forward to in 2021? “2021 will be an exciting year,” said Ted Kirkpatrick, Director of Business Development and Government Relations. “Fabrication of modules and other ship components for Seaspan is starting to ramp up and there are a number of large Coast Guard refits Heddle will be building.”

If you want to learn first-hand about ship repair, check out the free, online introduction to ship repair program on now at City School by Mohawk:

This 6-week program will form the precursor to a hands-on/in-person, 12-week program later this spring/summer. Heddle is planning on donating a tug that is set to be scrapped for use by students at the Mobile School. If you’re looking to get into the trades, this may be the opportunity for you!

HOPA Ports

With the reopening of the Seaway this week, Great Lakes shipping activity will resume, now entering year two of operation during the pandemic. 2020 has brought many industries into focus, including all modes of transportation which form the backbone of goods movement, logistics and the essential supply chains we rely on. At ports across the Great Lakes, even when ships are laid up for the winter, the marine sector sustains well-paying, skilled jobs by involving equipment suppliers, repair businesses, shipyards, manufacturing, and many other port tenants.

As we look ahead to 2021, we hope that the marine industry stays top-of-mind as a partner in Canada’s economic and sustainable recovery. The businesses that operate at our port properties support key industries including steel-making, agri-food, manufacturing and construction. By investing in and optimizing marine infrastructure, we can help make use of the waterways to bring about greater modal balance and a reduction of Greenhouse Gases.

While steelmaking and petroleum products dipped last year, grain exports were especially high at the Port of Hamilton. Ontario-grown grain was shipped by the boatloads up the Seaway and overseas for further processing or animal feed. It seems as though everyone was carb-loading, including our European trading partners in the UK and Italy!

On the other side of Lake Ontario, Port of Oshawa posted its best season ever, with tonnages exceeding 672,000 MT for the first time, driven by fertilizer, grain, steel and cement cargo. The Port of Oshawa is a strategic gateway to the Greater Toronto regional market and as construction activity resumes, the Port of Oshawa will make an important contribution by efficiently delivering the materials needed for infrastructure, residential and civil construction projects.