Icebreaking in Canada
The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaking program makes sure that marine traffic moves safely through or around ice-covered waters.
From December to May, icebreakers and hovercrafts operate along Canada’s east coast from Newfoundland to Montréal and in the Great Lakes. From June to November, icebreakers provide services in the Arctic.
Canadian Coast Guard ice operations centres task our fleet of icebreakers and guide the movement of marine traffic through ice. With the support of the program, most Canadian ports are open for business year-round.
Our staff and fleet operate out of multiple regions to deliver vital services in different sectors.
The program provides route assistance services, such as:
- freeing vessels beset in ice
- maintaining shipping routes
- escorting ships through ice-covered waters
- organizing convoys (escorts of 2 or more ships) to maximize services in favourable conditions
Ice routing and information services
We provide general routes to shipping and specific routes can be requested.
Our harbour breakout services include:
- clearing ice from:
- wharf faces of port terminals
- facilities in commercial and fishing harbours
- breaking out approaches
- end-of-season ice clearance
- assisting shipping within ports and at marine facilities in emergencies
The program provides flood control services by:
- helping ice flow during spring break-up
- breaking out river entrances to allow for ice and water flow
- anticipating flood risks by monitoring ice conditions and water levels
- protecting flood-prone areas by preventing ice jams and excessive ice buildup
We resupply northern settlements and government sites with fuel and dry cargo when commercial carriers aren’t available.
Our icebreakers help to maintain sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic by supporting the Canadian Coast Guard’s programs, such as:
- Search and Rescue
- Environmental Response
- Marine Communications and Traffic Services
We also support our mandate by providing the following services:
- weather and ice information
- resupplying northern communities
- breaking out community approaches
- recommending ice routes across the Arctic
- platforms for scientific and hydrographic programs
- escorting ships and organizing convoys through ice
- reinforcing services to and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples
We hold pre-season meetings with clients to discuss their needs and our traffic expectations. These clients include:
- fishing vessels
- port operators
- Arctic residents
- the general public
- commercial vessels
Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Ice Service forecasts seasonal ice conditions for us and the marine industry. We use this to anticipate any potential areas of concern and plan accordingly.
Our icebreaking program provides high-quality services by following these procedures:
- developing and improving public standards for services by consulting with clients
- continually improving the delivery of services to meet standards
- accounting for performance against our standards
- monitoring client satisfaction with services
- providing accessible complaint and correction options when service standards aren’t being met
Requesting an icebreaker
Contact your nearest MCTS station to make your official request. You must tell us if you need a routine escort or if you’re in a distress or emergency situation.
Response time will depend on:
- the weather
- ice conditions
- the priority level of your request
- the amount of traffic needing assistance
- the number of available icebreakers in the area
- the suitability of available icebreakers to your request
When you request icebreaking services, we must determine if your vessel can navigate safely along its intended route. This policy pertains to:
- pleasure crafts
- fishing vessels
- commercial ships
All requests for icebreaker assistance are assessed against established priorities and service standards.
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