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Ice Navigation in Canadian Waters
Chapter 1: Icebreaking and Shipping Support Services

Table of Content

Chapter 1: Icebreaking and Shipping Support Services

1.1 General

There are a variety of icebreaking and support services available to ships transiting Canadian ice-covered waters. Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Ice Operations Centres are in operation seasonally as ice conditions dictate. These Centres work in conjunction with Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) Centres to provide up-to-date ice information, to suggest routes for ships to follow through or around ice, and to co-ordinate icebreaker assistance to shipping.

Ice Operations Centres are in contact with icebreakers at all times and monitor progress of shipping within their area of responsibility. In addition, Environment Canada's Canadian Ice Service (CIS) has fully qualified Ice Service Specialists and ice reconnaissance aircraft who are involved with Ice Operations Centres on a full-time basis throughout the ice navigation season. The Coast Guard Icebreaking Superintendents have a complete and current picture of the prevailing ice conditions in their area and the anticipated trend of conditions and are therefore well equipped to provide reasoned advice on the best routes to pursue.

To obtain the maximum benefit from the service, it is essential that Masters report to the Canadian Coast Guard before their ships enter waters where ice may be encountered. These initial reports and subsequent position reports from ships will ensure a continuing watch on the ship's progress by the CCG Ice Operations Centres and, in the event icebreaker support becomes necessary, this can be provided with a minimum of delay. There are a limited number of icebreakers available to support shipping. Masters are encouraged to follow the recommended route with which they are provided. They may also assist and support this service by providing reports on the ice they encounter, either in plain language or in the simple code contained in section 4.16.3.

1.2 Communications

Communications play a key role in successful ice navigation. The Master relies upon the receipt of accurate ice information and advice upon which decisions can be based for their future course and progress. Effective icebreaker support and assistance to shipping also requires reliable communications. Detailed information on communications with Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers is provided in Section 4.6.1 of this manual.

The Eastern Canada Vessel Traffic Service System, known as ECAREG CANADA, and the Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services, known as NORDREG CANADA are mandatory vessel traffic services. These systems also provide the mariner with information pertaining to ice conditions, vessel routing, icebreaker assistance and other Coast Guard services. Vessels may contact ECAREG or NORDREG via the nearest MCTS Centre or refer to the latest edition of the annual publication Radio Aids to Marine Navigation.

Note :

Contact shall be made with ECAREG and NORDREG CANADA 24 hours before entering Canadian waters, to obtain a clearance. Contact must also be made with EGAREG or NORDREG CANADA 96 hours before entering Canadian waters, to meet Transport Canada Marine Security requirements (Pre-Arrival Information Report).

MCTS Centres accept messages without charge, such as:

  • messages pertaining to weather or ice conditions and forecasts;
  • messages concerning aids to navigation;
  • ECAREG and NORDREG messages;
  • messages reporting pollution;
  • radio-medical messages.

For additional information on MCTS message services, consult the latest edition of the annual publication Radio Aids to Marine Navigation.

Note :

In order to keep a current and accurate picture of the ice conditions it is highly recommended that vessels participating in the ECAREG or NORDREG traffic systems provide position, ice and weather information at 1200, 1600 and 2000 UTC, when ice is present.

1.3 Canadian Coast Guard Ice Operations Centres

The Canadian Coast Guard maintains Ice Operations Centres to service regions where ship operations are conducted in sea-ice conditions. Contact with all Ice Operations Centres can be made through ECAREG CANADA and NORDREG CANADA (for Arctic waters) or through any MCTS Centre. Any requests from ships for ice information, routing advice and icebreaker support that are received by ECAREG CANADA and NORDREG CANADA are passed to Canadian Coast Guard Ice Superintendents.

Ice Atlantic:

Telephone: (709) 772-2078
Toll free: 1 (800) 565-1633
Fax: (709) 772-6640 (Business hours only)

Info for St. Lawrence:

Information on Icebreaking Operations
Telephone: (514) 283-1746
Toll Free: 1 (855) 209-1976
Fax: (514) 283-1818

Information on ice conditions
Telephone: (514) 283-1752
Fax: (514) 283-1818

Info for Great Lakes:

Information on Icebreaking Operations
Telephone: (514) 283-1745
Toll Free: 1 (855) 209-1976
Fax: (514) 283-1818

Information on ice conditions
Telephone: (514) 283-1752
Fax: (514) 283-1818


Icebreaking web site

General Information


The CCG Ice Operations Centre operates in concert with the United States Coast Guard Ice Navigation Centre. Together they co-ordinate ice operations in the Great Lakes from upper Beauharnois Lock to Thunder Bay, including the main connecting navigable waterways, Georgian Bay, and the upper St. Lawrence River. The icebreaking season normally commences operation on December 1st each year and terminates when ice conditions permit unrestricted navigation. Ships operating in this zone may obtain the latest ice information by contacting the Ice Operations centre via any Canadian Coast Guard MCTS Centre.

One purpose of the Ice Operations Centres is to maintain a current picture of ice conditions, acquired from information supplied by the Canadian Ice Service, as well as from ship and shore ice reports. This update is available on request 24 hours a day through MCTS Centres. The Ice Operations Centres also plan daily activities and tasks for icebreakers stationed in their area. These daily plans are based on the ice conditions and requests for icebreaker support.

The Ice Superintendents prepare detailed recommended ice routes for ships, which are updated on a daily basis or as required. All routing is provided in terms of waypoints and may also be available overlaid on an Ice Chart. Recommended ice routes for the main shipping lane through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and other ice information may be obtained from the CCG MARINFO Web Site. Figure 1 is an example of a recommended route.

The Canadian Coast Guard has established Levels of Service (LOS) for Icebreaking Operations. The LOS provides a description of the various services as well as service standard targets, such as the availability of icebreakers (where and when) and how long it may take an icebreaker to arrive on scene to provide assistance.

Map of a Recommended Ice Route in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Figure 1: Example of a Recommended Ice Route in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

1.4 Winter Navigation in Southern Canada

1.4.1 Reporting Requirements

The Eastern Canada Vessel Traffic Service System, known as ECAREG CANADA, is a mandatory vessel traffic services system providing the mariner with a single contact for Coast Guard services. The Eastern Canada Vessel Traffic Service Zone Regulations apply to every ship of 500 tonnes gross registered tonnage (GRT) or more. They are also mandatory for ships engaged in towing or pushing one or more vessels with combined tonnage of 500 GRT, or when either vessel is carrying a pollutant or dangerous goods, as defined in Canadian and international regulations.

The Eastern Canada Traffic Zone comprises all Canadian East Coast Waters south of Cape Chidley (60°00'N), the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the St. Lawrence River east of 66°00'W. Local vessel traffic service zones are excluded from the ECAREG CANADA Zone but will forward any requests for ice services to ECAREG CANADA and/or the Ice Operations Centre.

Vessels transiting the St. Lawrence River west of longitude 66°W may obtain ice information for the St. Lawrence River by contacting ECAREG CANADA via a MCTS Centre prior to crossing 66°W, or a MCTS Centre on the appropriate vessel traffic service's frequency if transit of the St. Lawrence River has commenced.

Inbound ships making their initial clearance request to ECAREG CANADA should include the following information in addition to that required by the Eastern Canada Traffic Zone Regulations:

  • draft, forward and aft;
  • displacement tonnage;
  • open water speed;
  • ice class, if applicable, and classification society;
  • number of propellers;
  • shaft horsepower; and
  • type of propulsion system.

A clearance issued by ECAREG CANADA authorizes a vessel to proceed subject to any conditions issued in the clearance. Routine reports are required when arriving at and departing a berth and exiting the ECAREG CANADA zone.

For details on the reporting requirements and information on the various services, refer to the latest edition of the annual publication Radio Aids to Marine Navigation.

1.4.2 Newfoundland and Labrador

All waters south and east of Cape Chidley, including all waters around Newfoundland and Labrador.


MCTS Centre: St. John's, Newfoundland

Call Sign: VON

Telephone:  (709) 772-3366

Fax:  (709) 772-5369


1.4.3 Maritime Provinces

All waters in the southern and western Gulf of St. Lawrence south of the main shipping corridor between Cabot Strait and the St. Lawrence River, the Port of Gaspé, Chaleur Bay, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island waters and the approaches to Sydney Harbour.


MCTS Centre: Halifax, Nova Scotia

Call Sign: VCS

Telephone:  (902) 426-4956

Fax:  (902) 426-4483


1.4.4 Gulf of St. Lawrence and St. Lawrence River

For the St. Lawrence River east of Montreal, including Saguenay River and the main shipping corridor between the St. Lawrence River and Cabot Strait:


MCTS Centre: Rivière-au-Renard

Call Sign: VCG

Telephone:  (418) 269-3843

Fax:  (418) 269-5514


1.4.5 St. Lawrence Seaway

The St. Lawrence Seaway extends from Montreal to Lake Erie. It includes the Welland Canal, often referred to as the Western Section, and in the east, the Montreal - Lake Ontario section, which extends from the St. Lambert Lock at Montreal (the up bound entrance of the Seaway), to Iroquois Lock and beyond to Lake Ontario.

The navigation season on the waterway extends from late March to late December. The St. Lawrence Seaway issues Seaway Notices to advise mariners of exact opening and closing dates of the navigation season and restrictions such as speed and draft and procedures for transiting the Seaway during the opening and closing. Seaway Authorities may increase or decrease the restrictions as ice and other conditions dictate. These changes will be announced as early as is practical, but in no case later than 24 hours before they go into effect. Mariners should consult the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System web site for complete regulations governing the St. Lawrence Seaway.

1.5 Arctic Waters including Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait

1.5.1 Reporting Requirements

There are several Canadian authorities involved in marine shipping in the Canadian Arctic, namely, the federal government, the Government of the Northwest Territories (Yellowknife), the Government of Nunavut (Iqaluit), the Government of Yukon (Whitehorse) and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Québec. Specifically, ships should contact the following relevant government organizations prior to an Arctic voyage:

  1. Transport Canada, Prairie and Northern Region - Marine will have all the up-to-date information relating to marine regulations applicable to ships operating in the region and is responsible for all vessel approval. The ship should have a general vessel itinerary that determines whether it falls within legal entry limits for the various Shipping Safety Control Zones.
  2. The Canadian Coast Guard, Central & Arctic Region should be provided with an itinerary early in the planning process. The Coast Guard will use this information in combination with other submissions in the spring to plan the deployment of their icebreaking resources for the upcoming season.
  3. Customs and Immigration regulations need to be contacted by any cruise ship operators as the issuing of a coasting trade licence is necessary for ships carrying passengers from one port to another in Canada. The Canada Border Services Agency coordinates this activity with Transport Canada. Organizers are also requested to provide details of their planned itineraries to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
  4. After obtaining approval and arranging matters with the Canada Border Services Agency and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Transport Canada Security should be contacted to discuss security matters relating to the Marine Transportation Security Act.

1.5.2 Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services System

Map of Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone

Figure 2: Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone

The Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone Regulations apply to every ship of 300 tonnes gross tonnage or more; to vessels engaged in towing or pushing another vessel if the combined tonnage of 500 tonnes or more; to vessel that are carrying as cargo, a pollutant or dangerous goods or towing or pushing a vessel that is carrying pollutant or dangerous goods.

NORDREG CANADA is a mandatory vessel traffic services system that also provides the mariner with information pertaining to ice conditions, vessel routing, icebreaker assistance and other government services. Mariners may obtain ice information and access shipping support services by sending a free message to NORDREG CANADA.

The Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services (NORDREG) Zone (Figure 2) consists of:

  1. the shipping safety control zones prescribed by the Shipping Safety Control Zones Order,
  2. the waters of Ungava Bay, Hudson Bay and Kugmallit Bay that are not in a shipping safety control zone,
  3. the waters of James Bay,
  4. the waters of the Koksoak River from Ungava Bay to Kuujjuaq,
  5. the waters of Feuilles Bay from Ungava Bay to Tasiujaq,
  6. the waters of Chesterfield Inlet that are not within a shipping safety control zone, and the waters of Baker Lake, and
  7. the waters of the Moose River from James Bay to Moosonee.

The NORDREG CANADA office is located in the MCTS Centre in Iqaluit, Baffin Island, Nunavut and is supported by a CCG Ice Operations Centre. MCTS Iqaluit is seasonally operational from mid-June to the end of November each year. The actual dates are advertised by Notices to Shippingand NAVAREA Warnings. Outside of MCTS Iqaluit's operational season, MCTS Prescott assumes the responsibility for NORDREG on behalf of the MCTS Iqaluit.

For NORDREG reporting requirements and information of various services, refer to the latest edition of the national publication Radio Aids to Marine Navigation.


MCTS Centre: Iqaluit, Nunavut

Call Sign: VFF

Operational: Approximately mid-June to late November:


Telex (telefax): 063-15529

Telegraphic address: NORDREG CDA

Telephone:  (867) 979-5724

Fax:  (867) 979-4236

From late November to mid-June:

MCTS Centre: Prescott, Ontario

Call Sign: VBR

Telephone:  (613) 925-4471

Fax:  (613) 925-4519

1.6 Canadian Ice Service - Environment Canada

Throughout the year, ice information services for Canadian navigable waters are provided by Environment Canada's Ice and Iceberg Charts. The Canadian Ice Service (CIS) maintains a central operating facility in Ottawa for assimilating all ice data and is responsible for satellite image analysis, ice charts and ice forecasts and warnings for Canada's navigable waters.

Ice forecasts and ice charts are issued daily for areas of known marine activity and where ice is a navigational hazard. They are distributed to the Coast Guard Ice Operations Centres and are also broadcast by radio and radio facsimile via MCTS Centres. Particulars of these broadcasts are contained in the CCG publication, Radio Aids to Marine Navigation, Part 2. The MCTS Centres will also provide ice information on request, including pre-departure ice information. Information for longer term planning, extended period ice forecasts, and ice consultation services are available directly from the CIS, Ottawa. Ice information may also be obtained from the CCG internet site MARINFO, including those for the St. Lawrence River.


Canadian Ice Service
373 Sussex Drive
Lasalle Academy, Block “E"
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H3
Telephone: 1 (877) 789-7733
Fax: (613) 947-9160

Dash-7 Ice Reconnaissance and Oil Pollution Surveillance Aircraft (Courtesy of CIS)

Figure 3: Dash-7 Ice Reconnaissance and Oil Pollution Surveillance Aircraft (Courtesy of CIS)

The Canadian Ice Service assigns Ice Services Specialists (ISS) on the larger Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers. The ISS are responsible for receiving airborne radar and satellite imagery and carrying out tactical ice reconnaissance on helicopters for the icebreaker and in Ice Operations Centres.

Transport Canada, in close partnership with CIS, keeps a watchful eye over ships transiting waters under Canadian jurisdiction through its National Aerial Surveillance Program. There are two aircraft equipped for ice reconnaissance and oil pollution surveillance missions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, East Newfoundland waters, the Great Lakes and the Canadian Arctic. The aircraft, a Dash 7 and a Dash-8, are owned and operated by Transport Canada and staffed with CIS personnel. The aircraft fly combined visual and radar reconnaissance missions. The aircraft are equipped with radar remote sensing systems that are able to penetrate cloud cover to obtain a view of the surface below.

Ice reconnaissance missions are conducted for strategic, tactical and climatological uses. Most flights are tactical in nature to support detailed routing of Coast Guard icebreakers and merchant ships. Customized ice reconnaissance services are available, subject to normal programme constraints, on a cost-recovery basis. Imagery from the RADARSAT satellite provides information about the ice conditions throughout the year. The aircraft are also used to ground truth flights of satellite imagery to accurately interpret the imagery.

1.7 Environment Canada Storm Prediction Centres

Marine weather forecasts and warnings are issued for Canadian marine areas by Environment Canada from regional Storm Prediction Centres. Meteorologists at these Centres provide 24-hour services in the form of forecasts and consultation. Storm Prediction Centres providing forecasts and warnings are:

Prairie and Arctic Storm Prediction Centre, northern waters in include: inland waters, Mackenzie River, Great Slave Lake and Lake Athabasca otherwise all waters North and including area south 60N for western sections of Hudson Bay, Ungava Bay and south western and central Hudson Bay (not including James bay and eastern Hudson Bay). Additional marine forecasts also provided for Manitoba lakes Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis.

Ontario Storm Prediction Centre, Thunder Bay, for the Great Lakes

Centre Metéorologique du Quebec, for the St. Lawrence River, James Bay, and eastern sections of Hudson Bay

Maritimes Storm Prediction Centre, for the Gulf of St. Lawrence and waters off Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island

Newfoundland Storm Prediction Centre, for Newfoundland Waters and Labrador Sea

Note :

Information on marine weather including contact information can be found on the Environment Canada web page.

1.7.1 Weather Forecasts for Marine Areas

Marine forecasts are generally prepared for distinct marine areas four times daily. The forecasts are valid for two days with a third day outlook and provide information about wind, visibility, freezing spray, and temperature. A marine synopsis (or summary) is given with the forecast, including the movement of weather systems and warnings in effect. Special marine bulletins are issued when certain weather criteria are met. These are broadcast by MCTS Centres according to schedules as published in the latest edition of the annual publication Radio Aids to Marine Navigation, Part 2.

For example, most of the Storm Prediction Centres provide four scheduled forecasts each day for their area of responsibility. The Prairie and Arctic Storm Prediction Centre provides twice daily scheduled forecasts for the Arctic and Hudson Bay waters.

1.7.2 Weather Charts for Marine Areas

Weather information is also transmitted in facsimile chart form over high and low radio frequencies. Products include an analysis chart of existing weather conditions as well as prognosis charts. Mariners should consult the latest edition of the annual publication Radio Aids to Marine Navigation, Part 5 for details of Environment Canada's programs, including the list of charts and their transmission times.

The Prairie and Arctic Storm Prediction Centre provides weather charts for Arctic areas for broadcast by MCTS Iqaluit and repeater stations during the active shipping season. Numerous charts are transmitted by the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, including sea condition charts, throughout the year.


Map of METAREAS and NAVAREAS in the Canadian Arctic

Figure 4: METAREAS and NAVAREAS in the Canadian Arctic

The Canadian Coast Guard has assumed the responsibility of NAVAREA coordination for NAVAREAs XVII and XVIII as part of the World-Wide Navigational Warning Service (Figure 4). The service was declared to be in "Full Operational Condition" as of June 1, 2011. Mariners should consult the annual edition of Radio Aids to Marine Navigation for additional information.

During the navigation season meteorological warnings and forecasts for sections of METAREAS XVII and XVIII south of 75 degrees latitude will be broadcast via Inmarsat-C EGC SafetyNET:
Metarea Satellite Region Broadcast (UTC)
XVII (POR) 0300, 1500
XVIII (AOR-W) 0300, 1500
Navarea warnings for NAVAREAS XVII and XVIII south of 75 degrees latitude will be broadcast via Inmarsat-C EGC SafetyNET:
NAVAREA Satellite Region Broadcast (UTC)
XVII (POR) 1130, 2330
XVIII (AOR-W) 1100, 2300
In addition, during the navigation season meteorological warnings and forecasts and Navarea warnings for sections of NAVAREAS and METAREAS XVII and XVIII north of 70 degrees latitude will also be broadcast via High Frequency Narrow Band Direct Printing (HF-NBDP):
Frequency MCTS Centre Broadcast (UTC)
8416.5 kHz MCTS Iqaluit 0330, 1530

1.9 Navtex Service

NAVTEX Service is available from various transmitting sites using the frequency 518 kHz (English) and 490 kHz (French) for the broadcast of the navigational warnings, meteorological warnings, ice bulletins and forecasts, Search and Rescue Information. Additional information on the NAVTEX Service is available in the latest edition of the annual publication Radio Aids to Marine Navigation.

NAVTEX Service is available from the following transmitting sites:
Site Position
St. John's 47° 30'N 52° 40'W
Labrador 53° 42'N 57° 02'W
Sydney 46° 10'N 60° 00'W
Yarmouth 43° 45'N 66° 07'W
Sept-Iles 50° 15'N 66° 10'W
Thunder Bay 48° 25'N 89° 20'W
Wiarton 44° 20'N 81° 10'W
Iqaluit 63° 43'N 68° 33'W
Tofino 48° 55'N 125° 32'W
Prince Rupert 54° 17'N 130° 25'W
Kodiak Alaska 57°46'N 152°34'W
Kook Island (Nuuk) 64°04'N 052°01'W
Upernavik (Disko Island) 72° 50'N 56° 09'W
Simiutaq (Cape Farewell area) 60° 41'N 46° 36'W
Tiksi, SA, Russian Federation 71°38'N 128°50'E

1.10 Winter Aids to Navigation in Canadian Waters

During the winter months Masters are cautioned that most of the conventional buoys are lifted and are replaced in critical areas by unlit winter spar buoys: throughout the southwest and east coasts of Newfoundland, Cape Breton Island area, Gulf of St. Lawrence, and St. Lawrence River. It should be noted that there is a possibility that these winter spar buoys may be

  1. under the ice,
  2. off position,
  3. of a dull or misleading colour, or
  4. missing from the charted position; thus, caution should be exercised accordingly when navigating in areas where they are used.

Similarly, the charted or listed characteristics of these lights should not be relied upon. The current edition of Notices to Mariners should be consulted for details.


Mariners are cautioned not to rely solely on buoys or other aids to navigation for navigation purposes.

Example of winter buoys (Courtesy of the Canadian Ice Service)
Example of winter buoys (Courtesy of the Canadian Ice Service)

Figures 5 and 6: Examples of winter buoys (Photos courtesy of the Canadian Ice Service)

1.11 Icebreaking Service Fee

Map of Icebreaking Service Fee Zones

Figure 7: Icebreaking Service Fee Zones

On December 21, 1998, commercial ships became subject to the Icebreaking Services Fee (ISF). The ISF recovers a portion of the cost of providing Coast Guard ice route assistance, ice routing and information services, and marine facility and port maintenance services in support of commercial shipping. All commercial ships arriving at or departing from Canadian ports located in the ice zone during the ice season are subject to a transit fee. Details regarding the application of the ISF and explanations of the ice zone and ice season are available on the CCG web site or by calling 1 (800) 563-6295.

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