USCG Ice breakers


Russia has four nuclear-powered icebreakers and one cargo ship in service. One new nuclear-powered icebreaker has been launched but it’s still at least two years from becoming operational. Two more are under construction but they will directly replace some existing vessels.

Curiously, Russia also has only three non-nuclear icebreakers that are more powerful than the medium icebreaker USCGC Healy and they are from the 1970s. One is under construction but won’t be ready until 2018.

As for size, bigger icebreaker requires bigger engines and even more fuel to have the same icebreaking capability and endurance. That’s why it often pays off to reduce size, particularly beam.


So the horsepower available from the standard “off the shelf” US submarine nuclear power plant would probably be the practical limiting factor for size of the size of a US nuclear powered icebreaker. Unless the icebreaker has more than one of those nuclear power plants.

I assume that the more mass and power the icebreaker has, the greater the thickness of ice it can steam through, or the larger the pressure ridges it can break by backing and running up onto them.

If it is anticipated that the icebreaker will escort or tow ships through the ice, I assume that it should have at least as much beam as the ships to be assisted.

Once the beam is chosen, it would seem to me that increasing its length would increase its mass and capability without requiring substantially more horsepower.


Russian icebreakers have either one or two reactors. The new ones, which will be the largest, heaviest and most powerful icebreakers ever built, will have a thermal output of 2 x 200 MW and propulsion motors rated at 3 x 20 MW. That’s good for about 9’ of solid ice.

While weight (=momentum) helps in certain icebreaking operations, modern icebreakers are no longer the kind of “brute force hammers” they used to be. Operational experience has shown that in a heavy ridge field, it’s better to turn the vessel around and proceed in astern direction. This way, the 980’ by 165’ icebreaking LNG tanker they tested last winter in the Arctic could overtake an Arktika-class nuclear-powered icebreaker which was smaller by beam and displacement, and had slightly more propulsion power, but could only operate in the traditional “ramming and backing” mode.

Your note about the beam of the icebreaker is of course correct. However, the USCG does not provide “active escort” in the same way as the Russian icebreakers do, so it’s not as critical. However, obviously you can’t make the icebreaker paper-thin; it will still have a much smaller length-to-beam ratio than a typical open water vessel (“short and stubby”). It’s also correct that increasing length does not have a significant impact on straight-line icebreaking performance, but it does reduce the maneuverability of the vessel in ice.


The new Norwegian Polar Research vessel Kronprins Haakon has started sea trials off Italy:


Here is an article in Barents Observer today:


An article in Arctic News but originating from Alaska Journal of Commerce may be enlightening:


I always find it funny how they take into account both commercial and state-owned icebreakers from Russia, but only consider the USCG assets on their side. Aiviq may not be the best icebreaker out there, but there are a few Russian ones which are not much better either.


The Chinese are active in the Arctic this year, as last:


Take the existing Mackinaw used as a heavy icebreaker in the Great Lakes and expand it a little. The Mackinaw cost about $100 million to build, a tenth the cost of the heavy icebreaker ideas being tossed around. It is already surprisingly close to the capabilities of the old Wind class. Lengthen it just enough to fit a hanger and flight deck for two helos, then add one more shaft with the same drive train used on the two existing shafts effectively increasing power 50% to match what the old Wind Class had and otherwise leave it alone. Keep their aids to navigation tender capability and use them as buoy tenders in the summer and icebreakers in the winter. Replace buoy tenders now in Alaskan service one for one with these. Don’t go crazy building a fleet of expensive to operate single purpose polar class icebreakers.


One Nimitz or Ford class reactor would have more than adequate power. And unlike the crappy Russian nuclear plants, a US reactor does not overheat in tropical waters. The Russians cannot send their big nuclear icebreakers to the Antarctic because tropical waters would overheat their reactor plants.


How are you going to carry out the McMurdo break-in with your supersized buoy tender? The USCG is looking for a heavy polar icebreaker because they have missions that cannot be completed reliably and safely with a smaller vessel. Also, if the USCG wanted to base their future icebreaker on an existing design, why not use USCGC Healy?

As for the Russian icebreaker reactors, designing the cooling system for Arctic operations does not make them “crappy”. It’s the same as saying American aircraft carriers are shitty because they can’t sail to the North Pole due to inadequate structural strengthening and open water optimized hull form.



From Arctic Home today:

Another from Barents Observer:


I hope the client approves that the brand new shipyard, which has yet to deliver its first newbuilding, uses the project to “gain experience about icebreakers”. Its worst competitor, Arctech, has quite a head start…

Pics here:


A novel idea; save a few billion dollars by building quality icebreakers at a foreign yard with the right knowhow and capabilities to do so quickly and efficiently:

Such crazy ideas will have to be killed in the bud, otherwise it could spread and become the norm for other things too. We are proud of our IPhones!!!


Meanwhile the Rooskies keep building for Sakhalin


Both Americans and Russians rely on Finnish icebreaker technology: USCGC Healy and USCGC Mackinaw included significant technology transfer from the Finnish maritime industry and the most advanced Russian icebreakers were either designed or built in Finland.


Not a heavy icebreaker but at least a vessel suitable for Arctic and Antarctic operations will become available for long term charter (or sale?) next year when her present BB charter terminates:

She has already been used to escort the first large cruise ship through the North West Passage.


Indeed. Thank God they didn’t run into any ice - it would have taken a while to get a real icebreaker to help them.

edit: That ship classified by DNV GL as “ICE-05 Icebreaker”, but with about 5 megawatts of propulsion power on a diesel-mechanical powertrain and single ducted CPP is not something I’d take into anything that would hold my weight…


Chapter 89: