Crippled Icebreaker Healy To Get Complex Rebuild; Huge Engine Heads To Panama

The service should know in the coming days where the repair work on the USCGC Healy will take place, but the effort promises to be mammoth, involving cutting the ship open to remove its 106-ton engine, and floating a new engine by barge from Baltimore through the Panama Canal to the West Coast.

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My nephew is an engineer in USCG and is quite close in the know regarding the problems in the system. Getting parts to make repairs is a giant logistical nightmare. He is now ashore rather close to your neighborhood Kennebec.

Why don’t they just call these guys? It’s not like those are rare engines or there is a lack of NOS spares given the current state of shipbreaking.

OK, my mistake, I was going by the headline word “engine” and was not aware the issue was with the propulsion motor.

This makes one wonder why the USCG bought French motors instead of American or at least license built. It’s not like GE doesn’t make or has never made a large propulsion motor.

This is what we get when the USCG looks at shipbuilding the way Carnival Cruise Lines does, build it cheap but unlike Carnival the CG expects the things to last forever.

From Wikipedia:

I’ll bet there are a lot of good “running takeouts” available fresh out of a cruise ship in the breaker’s yards right now.

Why not bring the old boats up to at least 2010 standards?

Yes, a serious juxtaposition by the uninformed media on “motor” and “engine” going on here. The US Naval Institute reported in late August 2020 that the starboard propulsion motor had a fire. The Healy has, as noted by Bugge above, 4 x Sulzer 12ZA40S diesel engines. Each has a generator, providing power to the propulsion motors (and other ship electrical loads). Those engines are fine and in fact have relatively low hours on them, and if maintained properly could go for many tens of thousands more running hours.

In the article the CG spokesman uses the term “motor”

as Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey, a Coast Guard spokesman said, “the sensitivity of the motor requires extensive protection in order to make the VIP barge transit around and through the Panama Canal.”

The logistics of the Healy work, from the barge trip onward, promise to be immense.

“The cutter will need to replace the starboard propulsion motor, which presents unique challenges,” Brickey said. “When the cutter was originally built, it was basically built around these motors.”

If memory serves, we had lots of issues with variable pitch props on the polar sea and star as well. Was on deep freeze 80 on the glacier. Polar sea was disabled in the Ross sea for most of the break out of mcmurdo

Sure cg was looking to back to diesel electric as a more proven design

There is a lot of good information here, including a drawing of the motor:

When USCGC Polar Star and USCGC Polar Sea were built, no-one had ever attempted to use geared controllable pitch propellers on icebreakers, let alone at power levels comparable to Soviet nuclear-powered icebreakers with twice the displacement. The new USCG icebreakers were essentially built around their unique combined diesel-electric or gas turbine (CODLOG) propulsion system which, unfortunately over time, has turned out to be a kind of an engineering nightmare. The persisting issues with the CPPs are one of the reasons why USCGC Polar Star spends the time between deployments at dry dock.

Geared CPPs became more common (but still somewhat rare) in icebreakers in the late 1970s (the Canadian offshore icebreaker Kigoriak) and the early 1980s (more Canadian icebreakers, the Soviet Mudyug class, the German Polarstern etc.). However, the power-per-shaft of the Polars was not exceeded until the construction of the SA-15 -type Arctic freighters which had fairly impressive 18.4 ft KaMeWa propellers with 7.7 ft hubs.


There are many reasons why diesel-electric propulsion has been preferred in icebreakers since the age of steam: it’s simple, robust and provides excellent low-end torque. USCGC Healy may be a generation or two behind icebreakers built today, but the AC/AC cycloconverter plant is still fairly modern compared to the preceding direct current systems. However, it’s understandable that finding spares to a 20-year-old vessel has become more difficult over time as equipment manufacturer support has all but ended. I have to admit I was quite delighted when I found out that the USCG had, in its wisdom, purchased a complete spare propulsion motor when the icebreaker was built. The Russians were not as smart: their new nuclear-powered icebreaker has to wait until August 2021 until they can replace the starboard(!) propulsion motor that failed during sea trials. After all, a propulsion motor is one of those components you don’t expect to fail during the lifetime of the ship (and only a few have ever been damaged beyond repair anyway) and that’s why there are typically no spares nor provisions to replace it.

The new PSC will feature ABB propulsion package. I wonder if the USCG will purchase a spare Azipod unit especially if all three planned vessels will be built.

edit: Today diesel-mechanical propulsion is only used in icebreaking offshore vessels such as Edison Chouest’s Aiviq while “real icebreakers” have electrically-driven propellers. Fixed-pitch propellers with bolted blades are dominating; CPPs have been used in a handful of polar research vessels.


Thanks for all that. I always thought the main reason diesel electric was used on breakers was the need for multiple changes from forward to reverse for long periods in thick ice operations

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From Arctic Today: