High Arctic Haulers·Video

The awesome power of Arctic icebreakers

Arctic icebreaker ships can break through the thickest ice patches in the most remote parts of the globe. When cargo ships get stuck, it’s the Coast Guard to the rescue.

When cargo ships get stuck in ice, it’s the Coast Guard to the rescue.

The Arctic icebreakers of the Coast Guard fleet

3 years ago
Duration 1:48
Arctic icebreakers are designed to break up thick patches of ice and open up frozen waterways.

"Without the coast guard in front of us, we would not be able to proceed," says Simon Charest, First Mate, Sedna Desgagnés.

During the summer, massive cargo ships bring necessities to isolated Arctic communities. At this time of year, the open sea is a precarious and dangerous place, with frequent storms, high winds, and melting icebergs that shed small, dangerous chunks of ice that choke the waterways and threaten to tear holes in the hulls of these ill-equipped vessels. "We're basically a big box, with a small engine, to carry stuff." laments the Sedna Desgagnés captain, Michel Duplain.

We're basically a big box, with a small engine, to carry stuff.- Michel Duplain,  Captain, Sedna Desgagnés 

When the ice renders it impossible for ships to pass, Arctic icebreakers must be called in to create a path for them. Operated by the Canadian Coast Guard, icebreakers are engineered to cut through ice.

Canadian Coast guard surrounded by ice (CBC | High Arctic Haulers)

The bow of the vessel is shaped like the back of a spoon, allowing it to slide up onto solid or compacted ice and then shatter it from above with its massive weight. Some ships also have bubbler systems that shoot compressed air from the hull, effectively pushing the loose chunks of ice away from the hull, creating a larger path that the following cargo ships can safely pass through.