2. Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Icebreaking Services

The CCG is responsible for the provision of icebreaking and ice management services in support of the safe, economical and efficient movement of ships in Canadian waters. The CCG has published levels of service standards that describe what icebreaking services can be provided, where and when they are available, and how quickly they will try to respond to a request for assistance.

Icebreaking services include:

  • providing recommended ice routes so that ships can navigate safely through or around ice covered waters, thereby reducing the need for direct icebreaker assistance;
  • providing ice charts, ice advisories, bulletins, and other ice information to marine shipping;
  • undertaking helicopter ice reconnaissance to survey ice conditions;
  • escorting ships and organizing convoys to travel through ice-infested waters;
  • maintaining shipping channels and tracks in shore-fast ice;
  • providing flood control services and preventing ice jams on the St. Lawrence River;
  • breaking out approaches and clearing ice from wharf faces of port terminals and facilities where commercial icebreakers are not available;
  • breaking out harbours and waterways to facilitate acceleration of ice clearance at the end of the ice season;
  • transporting dry cargo and fuel aboard CCG icebreakers from late June until mid-November in the Arctic when commercial carriers are not available or capable; and
  • supporting a Canadian presence in the Arctic to respond to specific sovereignty challenges identified by the Canadian Government.

To deliver the icebreaking program, the CCG shares a fleet of 18 icebreakers with other core programs. Of these 18 icebreakers, 2 of them are heavy icebreakers, 4 are medium icebreakers, 10 are multi-purpose vessels and 2 are air cushion vehicles, that may be utilized to support the delivery of the services in southern Canada during the winter months. Six of these icebreakers are dedicated to providing icebreaking services in northern Canada during the summer months.

All icebreaking activities are jointly coordinated by Ice Operations Centres in the Quebec, Maritimes, Newfoundland & Labrador, and Central & Arctic Regions. In the Great Lakes area, the CCG and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) work closely together to provide a high-quality service to marine shipping. Inter-regional cooperation within the CCG is a fundamental principle of service delivery in order to ensure maximum benefit and the most efficient use of limited icebreaking resources. The zonal agreement was updated in November 2010 and now includes all waters from Lake Superior to the East Coast of Newfoundland. This zonal commitment facilitates the seamless movement of icebreakers from one area to another regardless of regional boundaries as resources permit. The zonal agreement also includes a mechanism for decision-making when issues or conflicts arise.

All requests for icebreaker assistance are sent to the Regional Ice Operations Centres, which assess all the demands against established CCG priorities:

  1. all distress and emergency situations take precedence;
    1. ferry services provided in accordance with the Newfoundland Terms of Union;
    2. other ferry services;
  2. ships with vulnerable cargoes (i.e. the potential for pollution, dangerous goods, perishable) and vessels transporting cargo which is vital to the survival of communities;
  3. marine traffic and fishing vessels; and
  4. fishing harbour breakouts.

The CCG employs a multi-year integrated Fleet/Program planning process where all program requirements (internal and external to the department) are analyzed and planned in advance of the upcoming year. This plan is updated annually and includes the vessel program schedules and maintenance periods; however it is dependent on program priority setting, risk assessments, and operating funds. Subsequent to the development of the CCG's Integrated Fleet Operational Plan, the Icebreaking Program issues an Eastern Canada Icebreaking Operational Plan each November, valid for the upcoming season and is available on the marinfo website. When specific icebreaker availability dates cannot be met, a risk mitigation strategy is developed.

The risk methodology applied by the Icebreaking Program is based mostly on the CAN/CSA-Q850-97 standardFootnote 1. Essentially, it uses historical data and the professional judgement and knowledge of the regional superintendents to reduce the impacts of two risks: delay of vessels and flood damage caused by ice jams. The methodology takes into consideration the following elements:

  • Marine traffic.
  • Ice conditions (historical data).
  • Demands.
  • Priorities and;
  • Deployment of icebreakers.

The CCG Icebreaking Program and clients participate in pre-season meetings, so that the marine industry can inform CCG of their traffic expectations and service requirements as well as to comment on vessel schedules. The Canadian Ice Service also presents the forecasted ice conditions for the season so that CCG and the marine industry can anticipate any potential areas of concern and plan accordingly. This discussion allows, among other things, to make initial adjustments to the icebreaker deployment plan.

During the season, weekly interregional conference calls are made to analyze risk scenarios and to adjust the deployment of icebreakers when required. If a demand requires the collaboration of another region, the regions concerned work together and take the appropriate action to provide the service. All decisions are made with respect to the five priorities established by the CCG and in accordance as well with the requirements of other CCG or government programs/priorities.

Whether a risk cannot be managed as expected, the CCG communicates all information available to the clients and keeps them informed of the strategy in place as long as the situation is not back to normal.

Over the years, this risk methodology has proved its efficiency with regard to mitigating impacts of ice conditions on ships movement in Canadian ice waters. However, and as for any risk methodology, some residual risks remain and these are addressed on a case by case basis.

Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker at sea

The CCG has established policies and practices that have an impact on the Icebreaking Program. Icebreaking Directives, for example, clarify the support to sealing vessels. Fishing harbours will not be broken out if fishing vessels are unable to navigate safely and independently outside the harbour. Fishing vessels will not be escorted into heavy ice conditions; they will only be escorted safely out of hazardous ice into safer conditions. Consistent with these policies, the CCG continues to encourage the marine transportation industry to use vessels that are designed and equipped for navigation in ice, and not to rely solely on the CCG for icebreaker support. Ice capable vessels are better able to navigate independently in more difficult ice conditions and can therefore improve transit times and reduce delays when navigating in ice.

The 1995 federal budget called for cost recovery within the CCG, based on the principle that those who benefit directly from services provided at public expense should pay a fair share of the associated cost. As a result, the CCG implemented Marine Services Fees that included fees for the beneficiaries of aids to navigation and icebreaking services. This cost recovery initiative was implemented in two stages: the first was the implementation of the Marine Navigation Services Fee (MNSF) in 1996; and the second was the implementation of the Icebreaking Services Fee (ISF) in 1998. The Icebreaking Services Fee was implemented on December 21, 1998 (for the 1998-99 winter ice season) for commercial vessels to recover a portion of the full costs for the provision of icebreaking services, including route assistance (channel maintenance and ship escorts), ice routing advice and information services, as well as harbour and wharf breakouts where they are not provided by commercial operators. Government policy dictates that any revenue shortfall is to be absorbed internally resulting in an annual revenue shortfall for the CCG. For example, the revenue target for icebreaking services for 2009/10 was $13.8M; however the actual revenue collected was $4.978M. The difference between these two amounts was funded internally and exacerbates the funding challenges currently being faced by the CCG.


Footnote 1

CAN/CSA-Q850-97, Risk Management: Guideline for Decision-Makers. 1997 (reaffirmed without change in 2009), 46 p.

Return to footnote 1 referrer