Icebreaker Escort

When ice conditions prevent or significantly impede a ship’s operations, it may be desirable or necessary to be escorted by a vessel of greater capability. The effectiveness of an icebreaker escort depends on various conditions. Icebreaker escorts can ease the ice conditions along the route under the right conditions; however, when the escort’s broken track is too narrow, the ice is under pressure, or various other circumstances, the effectiveness can be severely limited. When working with an escort, it is important to consider:

  • The width of the broken track in comparison with the following ship’s beam
  • The pressure conditions and possibility of the track closing rapidly
  • The size, thickness, and strength of the ice pieces left in the track

The masters of both vessels must work closely together. The icebreaker’s master will decide if it is safe to break a track, and the master of the escorted ship must continue to evaluate the conditions in order to decide whether it is safe to follow, and at what speed.


Prior to an icebreaker escort, the vessel requesting assistance may be required to send a brief message to the icebreaker containing general information needed to determine the capabilities of the vessel to be escorted. The content of this message may be found in Section 2.7.2 of the publication Ice Navigation in Canadian Waters.

The Canadian Coast Guard has a number of icebreakers available for Arctic operations. Between June and early November, six icebreakers operate in the Arctic. Icebreaker operations include route assistance, flood control, harbour breakouts, and Northern re-supply. Vessels not participating in NORDREG will receive lower priority in requesting icebreaker assistance than those vessels making daily position reports.