Ship canal not meant for swimming, pier not meant for jumping

Published May 16, 2014

DETROIT – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District would like to reiterate the dangers of jumping off Corps piers, breakwaters and harbors and caution against anyone thinking about jumping into the icy waters. 

Yesterday afternoon a Corps employee stopped a college aged student from jumping off the Duluth piers into the freezing water of the Duluth Ship Canal, in Duluth, Minn. She said, she was taking the ‘Cold Water Challenge for Cancer,’ a social media challenge to raise breast cancer awareness. 

 The Corps employee from the Duluth Vessel Yard was working on the concrete replacement project on the visitor center ramp when he happened to look up and see her on top of the wall, ready to jump.  

He may have saved her life when he called out to her and convinced her not to jump by explaining the "mammalian diving reflex" or what is also called the "gasp reflex," when the shock of the cold water causes the person jumping to take water into their lungs. According to scientists, because of the reflex, humans “drown” when the automatic reflex to breathe forces us to inhale water into our lungs; suffocation, unconsciousness, and death follow.  

In addition to the dangers of the cold water it is often against local ordinances to jump from the piers at Corps projects or swim in the federal navigational channel. Many projects have hidden dangers including underwater cables, large rocks, strong currents, and undertows that have killed many unsuspecting divers and swimmers. The water depth at the location of the preempted jump is approximately 30 feet where strong currents both inbound and outbound are often present.  

The Corps emphasizes that the construction of piers, breakwaters and harbors is to tame wave action and provide shelter for vessels. Recreational use is not advised or intended. 


Lynn Rose

Release no. 14-007