Breaking up is easy...if you have the right vessel
March 20, 2016 12:47 AM   Subscribe

And it’s even easier with a bit of international cooperation: Time lapse video of USCGC Bristol Bay and CCGS Samuel Risley working together to break ice from Sarnia to Windsor, Ontario, in one day. Further inland, Amphibex icebreaking machines are used to break ice on the Red River in Manitoba to prevent flooding from ice jamming ahead of spring. That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to icebreaking...

Breaking ice on rivers is a start...

Red River icebreaker

Ride an Amphibex icebreaker

The Canadian Coast Guard uses hovercraft to break ice in other areas that larger icebreaking vessels can’t reach.

This is how they work:

In a low speed mode, the hovercraft causes an air cavity to form under the sheet as it rides onto it. This causes a section of the sheet to become unsupported and fail in bending under the action of its own weight. In a high speed mode, the motion of the craft over the sheet sets up large amplitude flexural gravity waves.

Two Canadian hovercraft, the CCGS Sipu Muin and CCGS Mamilossa, both based in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, perform extensive icebreaking duties:

Hovercraft takes aim at thick St. Lawrence ice

The Sipu Muin on the St-Francois river for an ice-breaking job

The Sipu Muin on the Restigouche River

Canada, of course, isn’t the only place with icy rivers...

Icebreaking on the Yellow River in Inner Mongolia

But the job gets bigger on the Great Lakes...

What Happens When a Ship This Size Gets Trapped in Ice?

Canadian Coast Guard reconnaisance footage of icebreaking from above on Lake Superior

CCGS Griffon on Lake Erie

And even bigger in coastal and Arctic waters…

Animation of ice in Canadian waters in the last 10 days

Current ice conditions from the Canadian Ice Service

Titans des mers : Brise glace géant (Titans of the sea: giant icebreaker), featuring the Canadian icebreaker CCGS Henry Larsen

The Henry Larsen in action

See and hear the Henry Larsen’s air bubbler system here

The planned CCGS John G Diefenbaker may join the Canadian icebreaker fleet by 2022.

Many countries use icebreakers...

Not any vessel can be an icebreaker, though. First you need an ice class designation.

U.S. Coast Guard 2013 Review of Major Icebreakers of the World

Wikipedia list of icebreakers

Discovery & Documentary - Icebreaker ships in action

So here are just a few of these icebreakers and their work, by country...

United States

The US has two polar class icebreakers, USCGC Polar Star and and USCGC Polar Sea. Only the Polar Star is currently operating. A third vessel, the USCGC Healy, is also polar capable.

Nation's only operating Polar icebreaker, CGC Healy, breaks ice for Nome bound tanker

Walking tour of USCGC Healy

USCG Mackinaw in March, 2002 icebreaking in the St. Marys River and Whitefish Bay

Aboard the USCG Bristol Bay

USCG Bristol Bay breaking ice.

This 1970s Coast Guard film entitled ICE (narrated by John Flynn) shows the icy gauntlet of the arctic, the Bering Sea, North Atlantic and Alaska.

History of the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreakers:
This is a documentary I made the is narrated by Captain Bruce Toney. It is meant to be an educational video on the history of the mission to Antarctica and the capabilities on our ships. Some of it is a bit goofy since I made it while underway and did not take it seriously enough to be a legitimate documentary. It does, however, provide a unique perspective of the boat from the crew perspective. All video and photos were taken by U.S. Coast Guard members.

The world’s first polar icebreaker, the Yermak, was Russian.

Russia now operates seven nuclear icebreakers, including the world’s largest, the 50 let Pobedy ("50 Years of Victory")

Voyage to North Pole on Nuclear Icebreaker '50 Years of Victory'

RTE documentary on the 50 let Pobedy

The largest icebreaker in the world

The Baltika: watch Ice trials on 19 March - 10 April 2015

Seven Seas of Ice: Russia's icebreakers traverse top of the world


The Finnish icebreaker Otso cutting sealanes across the Gulf of Bothnia near the arctic circle.

The Sisu and Urho are sister ships.

The Urho in action

The Sisu in action

1974 documentary of the Sisu operating in the Baltic

Walk in front of an icebreaker ship (1920s)


KV Svalbard

Video of KV Svalbard ramming a sea ice pressure ridge (with appropriate music playing on the bridge)


The Swedish icebreaker Oden was “built to clear a passage through the ice of the Gulf of Bothnia for cargo ships, it was later modified to serve as a research vessel.”

In 2006 the National Science Foundation hired the Swedish icebreaker Oden to create a channel through a 15-mile band of ice blockquoteing its Antarctic research base, McMurdo Station, from the sea.

The Ymer in action.

The work icebreakers and their crews do can point out consequences of climate change:

Melting Beats Coast Guard to Kennebec River Ice

The crew of the KV Svalbard made a disturbing discovery in the Arctic this year:
At this time of year, sea ice usually closes in around Svalbard’s northern and eastern coasts. But not this year. The sturdy 340-foot-long, 6,375-ton KV Svalbard had no ice to break, reports Oddvar Larsen, the ship’s First Engineer.
NOAA animation of the Arctic's oldest ice each week since 1990

But back to international cooperation for a second. Meetups are easier when there’s an icebreaker or two to help everyone feel at ease...

USCGC Healy and Oden meet at the North Pole.

50 let Pobedy leaving Oden after working together for 14 days

Where are some of these icebreakers right now? You can find out...

This page provides the position and description of activities for the Canadian Coast Guard units assigned to Icebreaking Services

Marine traffic data for the vessels featured in this post:

CCGS Samuel Risley

CCGS Sipu Muin

CCGS Mamilossa

CCGS Griffon

CCGS Henry Larsen

USCG Mackinaw

USCG Bristol Bay

USCGC Polar Star



50 let Pobedy




KV Svalbard



Previously: "Some days we traveled backwards to travel forwards."
posted by mandolin conspiracy (19 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Hard as it is to believe, you forgot about my personal favorite sort of icebreaker.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:06 AM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Breaking news!
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:09 AM on March 20, 2016

I was just coming in to make a thread about that sebastien when I saw your comment.
Boaty McBoatface!
posted by taff at 3:38 AM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

What a wonderful FPP!

OK Send To Kindle, do your duty...
posted by sidereal at 3:44 AM on March 20, 2016

Holy shit this is awesome. I've been stuck working March Madness for days, now I finally have something to watch!
posted by nevercalm at 5:03 AM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also, if you were curious like I was: "Sipu Muin" means "bear river" in Mi'kmaq, and she has sister ships
  • CCGS Mamilossa — Abenaki for it walks from the shore onto the water fair winds".
  • CCGS Moytel — "to help each other" in Halq’emélem
  • CCGS Penac — "fair winds" in the Saanich
  • CCGS Siyay — ???
/I really like the sound of Algonquian languages.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:45 AM on March 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nice post!

My wife apparently loves ice breaking. She served two years on USCGC Healy and then transferred to the Mackinaw so she could continue breaking ice. Consequently, I've taken tours of both ships.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 8:58 AM on March 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Also, if you were curious like I was: "Sipu Muin" means "bear river" in Mi'kmaq, and she has sister ships

Yeah, I hadn't included the Siyay and Moytel since they seem to be primarily used for search and rescue. I could be quite wrong, though.

Found info about the name of the Siyay on this Coast Guard page...

Biographical Information: Salish word for “friend.”
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:15 AM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

The best icebreaker I heard recently was "So I downloaded a new voice onto my GPS, Bonnie Tyler. It has some problems though. It keeps telling me to turn around, and every now and then it falls apart."
posted by hippybear at 10:37 AM on March 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

My favourite Icebreaker is the Amundsen. Just because I've seen it docked with a sister ship in Quebec City.

Oh, and because this:
posted by Yowser at 11:29 AM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and of course, the Amundsen is on $50 bills now. Derp!
posted by Yowser at 11:54 AM on March 20, 2016

On the Rideau River in Ottawa they use dynamite, which is always fun to watch.
posted by Flashman at 12:09 PM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had no idea there was such a thing as ice breaking hovercraft. That is the coolest thing I will learn today, and probably all week.
posted by TedW at 3:23 PM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not an icebreaker, but if we're talking about human dinguses what stop ice jams don't forget the Niagara River ice boom. Which is a pontoony thing that goes across Lake Erie at the entrance of the Niagara River for to stop ice clogging up turbine intakes and otherwise causing icy problems.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:38 PM on March 20, 2016

I could watch these videos all day. Great post, mandolin!
posted by endotoxin at 4:18 PM on March 20, 2016

How about a giant yellow mechanical spider that sits in the river and crushes ice? It's the Amphibex!
posted by benito.strauss at 5:36 PM on March 20, 2016

I liked the use of dynamite, but I found myself wondering why not use artillery guns? Park a few of those babies further up the river on the ice, and start dropping rounds on the ice you wanna break. Probably not a good idea if you have varying crosswinds, though.

Maybe a few aircraft plopping JDAMS on the ice, too. I say we "amp it up" a little.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:36 PM on March 20, 2016

Holy cow! What a post.

Hovercrafts, who knew? Now this I'd like to see in action. Wheeee.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:16 PM on March 20, 2016

Oh yeah--and Lynn White has the coolest job EVAR!.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:22 PM on March 20, 2016

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