ARCHIVED - Questions and Answers on Icebreaking Operations

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Q1 What icebreaking services does the Canadian Coast Guard provide?

The Canadian Coast Guard provides icebreaking services for commercial ships, ferries and fishing vessels in ice-covered Canadian waters, including: escorts, harbour breakouts, track maintenance through shore-fast ice, ice routing advice and ice information services. These services help:

  • Ensure safe navigation
  • Prevent the formation of ice jams and flooding.
  • Maintain open routes for maritime commerce.

Q2 How are this year’s icebreaking activities different than in recent years?

This year has seen much heavier and more widespread ice coverage in many parts of Canada.  In much of Eastern Canada, freeze-up arrived about one month earlier than normal.  Winter 2013-14 has been the heaviest season since 1993-94.

 The demand for Canadian Coast Guard icebreaking services is currently very high and represents a considerable increase over recent ‘light ice’ years.


Q3 How many icebreakers serve the Coast Guard?

The Canadian Coast Guard has a fleet of 16 icebreakers serving Eastern Canada and the Arctic: 2 heavy icebreakers, 4 medium icebreakers, 8 multi-purpose vessels and 2 hovercrafts.

In addition, there is one vessel with icebreaker capacity stationed on the Pacific Coast.


Q4 Where and when are icebreaking services available?

From about mid-December to May, 14 icebreakers and two hovercrafts operate along Canada’s east coast from Newfoundland to Montreal and in the Great Lakes.

During the summer, from late June to early November, six icebreakers operate in the Arctic, assisting shipping, delivering cargo to isolated communities, maintaining a sovereign presence and conducting essential science missions.

In addition, there is one vessel with icebreaker capacity stationed on the Pacific Coast.


Q5 How is the geographical distribution of icebreakers decided?

The Canadian Coast Guard holds pre-season meetings with its clients to discuss 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 Coast Guard and the marine industry can anticipate any potential areas of concern and plan accordingly.  This discussion allows for initial adjustments to the icebreaker deployment plan.


Q6 Do commercial ships take priority over fishing vessels?

The Canadian Coast Guard’s icebreaking services ensure that marine traffic can move safely through or around ice covered waters.     When a vessel requests icebreaker assistance, the CCG must consider the capability of the vessel to navigate safely along its intended route. This policy pertains to commercial ships, ferries, fishing vessels and pleasure craft.


Q7 Do some ships or ports take precedence over others?

There are a limited number of CCG icebreakers available, so all icebreaking activity is jointly co-ordinated by the Ice Operations Centres in Quebec, Maritimes, Newfoundland and Central & Arctic Regions to ensure the best utilization of icebreakers, to minimize the risks and reduce the impacts to marine shipping.

All requests for icebreaker assistance are assessed against the following established CCG priorities:

  1. all distress and emergency situations take precedence;
  2. service requests from ferry services provided in accordance with the Terms of Union will be given priority; other ferry services will receive priority as deemed appropriate by the CCG;
  3. 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;
  4. marine traffic and fishing vessels; and 5. fishing harbour breakouts.

Q8 How do I request an icebreaker?

It is important to clarify whether you require an icebreaker for a routine escort or whether you are in a distress or emergency situation. Contact the nearest Canadian Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre to make your request.


Q9 How long is the wait for an icebreaker?

Response time will depend upon the weather and ice conditions, the number of available icebreakers in the area, the amount of traffic needing assistance and other factors.


Q10 If an icebreaker is in the area, why won’t it respond to my request for an escort?

Icebreakers might be tasked to provide icebreaking services, but they may also be involved in search and rescue activities. All requests for escorts or harbour breakouts will be assessed and prioritized by the Ice Operations Centre and icebreakers will be tasked accordingly. As there are a limited number of icebreakers available, it is challenging for the CCG to respond to every request, so emergency situations have precedence.