“Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS, Updated August 30, 2022

USCG Polar Security Cutter [Image courtesy Halter Marine / Technology Associates, Inc.]

The Congressional Research Service has once again updated their look at the Polar Security Cutter (heavy icebreaker) program. (See the latest version here.) My last look at this evolving document was in regard to the Dec. 7, 2021 revision.

The one-page summary is reproduced below, but first I will point out what appears to have changed since the Dec. 7, 2021 edition.

On December 29, 2021, the Coast Guard exercised a $552.7 million fixed price incentive option to its contract with Halter Marine Inc. for the second PSC. (Summary and p.9)

On February 24, 2022, the Coast Guard announced that the first PSC will be named Polar Sentinel, and that the Coast Guard has candidate names in mind for the second and third…PSCs. (p.5)

The new icebreaker was supposed to have been based on a proven “parent” design. The nominal parent for the chosen design was the Polarstern II, but in fact it was a design that had never been tested. There is a footnote (p.8) that explains that this design, on which the Polar Security Cutter was supposedly based, may be built after all. This may mean that the Polar Security Cutter will become the parent design for its own parent design.

On February 14, 2020, the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, announced that “the [German] Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) today cancelled the Europe-wide call for tenders for the procurement of a new polar research vessel, Polarstern II, for legal reasons.” (Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, “Call for Fender Procedure for the Construction of a Successor to the Icebreaker Polarstern Has Been Cancelled.,” February 14, 2020.) On June 3, 2022, however, AWI stated that “Now that the federal budget for 2022 was approved by the German Bundestag on 3 June 2022, the construction procurement procedure for Polarstern II can begin. The AWI plans to promptly launch the Europe-wide procurement procedure so that the competitive bidding can start promptly as the first step. The handover of the completed ship is slated for 2027.” (Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, “Polarstern II: German Bundestag Greenlights the Construction of New Icebreaker,” June 3, 2022. See also Eurasia Review, “Polarstern II: German Bundestag Green-  Lights Construction Of New Icebreaker,” Eurasia Review, June 4, 2022.; Michael Wenger, “Germany’s ‘Pola[r]stern II’ Becomes Reality,” Polar Journal, June 6, 2022.)

It was noted that the PSC will recieve the 30mm Mk38 Mod4. (p.9)

Icebreaking Anchor Handling Vessel Aiviq

Purchase of an existing Icebreaker

“On May 3, 2022, the Coast Guard released a Request for Information (RFI) regarding commercially available polar icebreakers, with responses due by June 10, 2022.” (p.13)

“An April 28, 2022, press report states that the commercial ship that would be “the most likely” candidate to be purchased under the Coast Guard’s proposal is the Aiviq…” (p.14)

“At a May 12, 2022, hearing on the Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget, Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz testified that We can get a commercially available breaker fairly quick, bridge that [polar icebreaking] gap from a capacity standpoint. We had—the conversation [about how to bridge the gap] started as a lease conversation [i.e., a conversation about leasing an existing ship]. I—we—we shaped it [i.e., the conversation] to say, well, if we’re going to lease something, we could actually do this much cheaper, onboard it [i.e., purchase the ship rather than lease it], turning it into a Coast Guard ship. So, 125 [million dollars] to procure the vessel, hopefully, that’s what we’re thinking, [and] 25 million [addition dollars] for—for crewing. There’s probably a bill—125, 250 million [additional million dollars] to really outfit it over some outyear budget cycles [i.e., further modify and/or equip the ship over a period of some additional years]. That would be [i.e., doing that would produce] a medium icebreaker [that would be] in the Coast Guard inventory. There’s one domestically available ship that’s only 10 years old with very little use on it. We could—we could use that ship to shape our thinking about what the Arctic security requirements could look like.” (p.14/15)

Delayed Delivery (Original Expected Delivery was March 2024):

Another potential issue for Congress concerns the delay in the delivery date of the first PSC. The Coast Guard had earlier said the ship would be delivered in the first half of 2024. As noted earlier, the Coast Guard now expects it to be delivered in the spring of 2025.

Status of FY2023 Budget: 

This is the current state of the FY2023 budget according to the CRS report:

  • Polar Security Cutter (PSC)            Request $167.2M; HAC 257.2; SAC 257.2
  • Commercially Available Icebreaker Request $125.0M; HAC 125.0; SAC 125.0
  • Great Lakes Icebreaker                  Request 0;              HAC 0;        SAC 0

HAC=House Appropriations Committee/SAC=Senate Appropriations Committee

The “increase of $90,000,000 above the request for the remaining cost of long lead
time materials and the start of construction of a third PSC.” (Support from both HAC and SAC)

(Note, there was $350M included in the FY2022 budget for a Great Lakes Icebreaker.)

Regarding the procurement of a commercially available icebreaker, the House Appropriations committee wants the Coast Guard to also consider icebreakers that were not made in the US. (Note this has not yet made it into law.)

“The Committee notes that both 14 U.S.C. 1151 and 10 U.S.C. 8679 include waiver provisions for vessels not constructed in the United States. In order to conduct a full and open competition, the Coast Guard shall expand its source selection criteria to include commercially available polar icebreaking vessels that may require such a waiver. The Coast Guard is directed to brief the Committee not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act on an updated procurement plan.


The Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program is a program to acquire three  new PSCs (i.e., heavy polar icebreakers), to be followed years from now by the acquisition of up to three new Arctic Security Cutters (ASCs) (i.e., medium polar icebreakers). The procurement of the first two PSCs is fully funded; the Coast Guard says the first PSC is to be delivered to the Coast Guard in the spring of 2025.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $167.2 million in continued procurement funding for the PSC program, which would be used for, among other things, program management and production activities associated with the PSC program’s Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) contract, long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third PSC, and government-furnished equipment (GFE), logistics, and cyber-security planning costs.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget also requests $125.0 million in procurement funding for the purchase of an existing commercially available polar icebreaker that would be used to augment the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaking capacity until the new PSCs enter service. Under the Coast Guard’s proposal, the Coast Guard would conduct a full and open competition for the purchase, the commercially available icebreaker that the Coast Guard selects for acquisition would be modified for Coast Guard operations following its acquisition, and the ship would enter service 18 to 24 months after being acquired.

The Navy and Coast Guard in 2020 estimated the total procurement costs of the three PSCs in then-year dollars as $1,038 million (i.e., about $1.0 billion) for the first ship, $794 million for the second ship, and $841 million for the third ship, for a combined estimated cost of $2,673 million (i.e., about $2.7 billion). Within those figures, the shipbuilder’s portion of the total procurement cost is $746 million for the first ship, $544 million for the second ship, and $535 million for the third ship, for a combined estimated shipbuilder’s cost of $1,825 million (i.e., about $1.8 billion).

On April 23, 2019, the Coast Guard-Navy Integrated Program Office for the PSC  program awarded a $745.9 million fixed-price, incentive-firm contract for the detail  design and construction (DD&C) of the first PSC to Halter Marine Inc. (formerly VT  Halter Marine) of Pascagoula, MS, a shipyard owned by Singapore Technologies (ST)  Engineering. Halter Marine was the leader of one of three industry teams that competed for the DD&C contract. On December 29, 2021, the Coast Guard exercised a $552.7 million fixed price incentive option to its contract with Halter Marine Inc. for the second PSC.

The DD&C contract includes options for building the second and third PSCs. If both of these options are exercised, the total value of the contract would increase to $1,942.8 million (i.e., about $1.9 billion). The figures of $745.9 million and $1,942.8 million cover only the shipbuilder’s portion of the PSCs’ total procurement cost; they do not include the cost of government-furnished equipment (or GFE, meaning equipment for the ships that the government purchases and then provides to the shipbuilder for incorporation into the ship), post-delivery costs, costs for Navy-specific equipment, or government program-management costs.

The operational U.S. polar icebreaking fleet currently consists of one heavy polar icebreaker, Polar Star, and one medium polar icebreaker, Healy. In addition to Polar Star, the Coast Guard has a second heavy polar icebreaker, Polar Sea. Polar Sea, however, suffered an engine casualty in June 2010 and has been nonoperational since then. Polar Star and Polar Sea entered service in 1976 and 1978, respectively, and are now well beyond their originally intended 30-year service lives. The Coast Guard plans to extend the service life of Polar Star until the delivery of at least the second PSC. The Coast Guard is using Polar Sea as a source of spare parts for keeping Polar Star operational.

“Polar Star arrives at homeport after completion of dock work and sea trials during second phase of service life extension project” –CG-9

Photo: Official USCG Polar Star Facebook

The Acquisitons Directorate (CG-9) reports that USCGC Polar Star has returned to Seattle, after at least 146 days away from homeport (April 8 to Sept. 1) following the second phase of a five phase Service Life Extension program at Mare Island Dry Dock, Vallejo, California.

Now that is a long time. I know steps have been taken to mitigate the hardship this time away from homeport has caused, but knowing the ship will be spending months every year in Vallejo, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to change the ships homeport? It might also have allowed the ship to make an Arctic Summer cruise.

After all that is going into remaking this ship, I wonder if perhaps we will keep it around, even after the second Polar Security Cutter is delivered?

Polar Star arrives at homeport after completion of dock work and sea trials during second phase of service life extension project

Sept. 1, 2022 —

Polar Star

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star sits moored in San Francisco following completion of dock trials on Aug. 12, 2022, for the second phase of its service life extension project completed by Mare Island Dry Dock. U.S Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star has completed sea trials for the second phase of its service life extension project (SLEP), as part of the In-Service Vessel Sustainment Program, and returned to its homeport of Seattle. The remaining contracted production work will be completed by Sept. 30 at the homeport, as well as final testing of the newly installed machinery control systems.

Polar Star commenced the second phase of SLEP work items and recurring maintenance on April 8. Service life extension program work is taking place over a five-year, annually phased production schedule that runs through 2025, and each phase is coordinated to support operational commitments, such as the annual Operation Deep Freeze deployment to Antarctica, and to take advantage of planned maintenance availabilities. During the second phase, all of the galley equipment was recapitalized, reflecting the modern upgrades of commissary equipment available on extended voyage seagoing ships.

In addition, Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division and Coast Guard Yard installed two machinery control systems. The Coast Guard Machinery Control System (CGMCS) recapitalizes the Main Propulsion Control and Monitoring System that was installed during Polar Star’s reactivation in 2013. The CGMCS increases system reliability and operator familiarity, as this newly installed propulsion control system is standard across much of the service’s surface fleet. The new Propulsion Power Distribution System replaced the analog diesel electric propulsion suite that was installed when Polar Star entered service in 1976. The new system features improved reliability as compared to the legacy system and reduces maintenance requirements that previously took approximately 45 days and 1,600 maintenance-hours to complete.

The Polar Star crew will conduct integrated operational testing of both new systems prior to departing for Operation Deep Freeze in 2023. The cutter regularly completes Operation Deep Freeze deployments to resupply McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

Polar Star is the Coast Guard’s only active heavy icebreaker. The 399-foot cutter supports nine of the 11 Coast Guard statutory missions. The Coast Guard is investing in a new fleet of polar security cutters (PSC) that will sustain the service’s capabilities to meet mission needs in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The first PSC is on contract for delivery in 2025.

For more information: In-Service Vessel Sustainment Program page and Polar Security Cutter Program page



The Modern War Institute at West Point published an article that suggests that NOAA ships can help provide presence in the Arctic and that this will contribute to the defense of the Homeland.

Looks like NOAA has about 16 active ships. None are very large and I don’t think any of them are ice rated.

Certainly, NOAA has business in the Arctic, understanding the oceans is an essential part of readiness for conflict, but I don’t see them as any sort of deterrant. On the other hand I don’t see Russia’s large number of icebreakers as adding significant additional threat to US or Canadian security. They simply need a lot of icebreakers to support their economic operations in the Arctic.

Which Arctic are we talking about?

For most of the world, the Arctic is the region North of the Arctic Circle. For some reason the US defines the Arctic as including the Bering Sea and the Aleutians. That does include some pretty cold territory but really, it is not the Arctic, and there is no reason the US Navy should not be operating surface ships there, but they don’t.

I am talking about the Arctic North of the Arctic circle.

What are the military threats to North America that might come across the Arctic Ocean?

While the Russian Arctic build-up threatens Norway, maybe Iceland, and perhaps Greenland, let’s consider only North America.

Much of the Russian build up in the Arctic is defensive, and this is understandable. They have a lot of assets in the Arctic. Much of their national income comes from the Russian Arctic.

There is absolutely no chance the Russians are going to attempt to land an army in the North American Arctic as an overland invasion. It would be too difficult to move and virtually impossibe to resupply. They would be under constant attack by US and Canadian Aircraft. As a Canadian Officer once noted, if Russia landed troops in the Canadian Arctic they would need to be rescued. The most we are likely to see from the Russian Army is Special Forces assaults on sensor and associated communication  systems in the Arctic.

The largest portion of the Russian Naval fleet (30-35%) is based in the Arctic, but not because it is intended to operate exclusively in the Arctic. Much of it is based there because they don’t have better choices. The Northern Fleet has their only relatively unrestricted access to the Atlantic. Even Northern Fleet units have to transit the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) Gap (or the English Channel) to make it into the Atlantic Sea Lanes, The Baltic Fleet is surrounded by potential adversaries and would have to exit through the Danish Straits. The Black Sea Fleet is bottled up behind the Turkish straits and even after exit would have to cross the Mediterranean and through the Straits of Gibralter.

Russian Submarines do operate under the ice and may launch missiles or conduct commando raids in the Arctic.

The serious threats that could come across the Arctic Ocean will be in the air or in space–aircraft and ballistic and cruise missiles including the new hypersonics.

Coast Guard icebreakers could have a role in facilitating deployment and continuing support of sensor systems in the Arctic.

Gray Zone threats to Sovereignty

The more probable near term threats to the US come in the form of Gray Zone Ops that are intended to reshape the World’s view of normal. We have seen this with China’s Nine Dash Line and their attempts to recast rights associated with the Exclusive Economic Zone.

It appears Russia is trying to do the same. We have seen it in the Black Sea, and we are likely to see it in the Arctic.

The extent of Russia’s continental shelf is as yet undecided, but their claims are expansive.

Looks like China intends to do some resource extraction and fishing in the Arctic and they have not been particularly respectful of the rights of others.

The US Coast Guard will need to do fisheries protection inside the US Arctic EEZ and the Canadian CG inside theirs. There are probably going to be opportunities for cooperation and synergy between the two coast guards in the high North.

With the increase in traffic as ice melts, NOAA probably needs to do a lot of oceanographic research and survey work in the Arctic, but they are probably going to need to either build their own icebreakers or ride Coast Guard icebreakers to do it.


Bairdmaritime provides a review of Australia’s new icebreaking research and supply vessel.

Looking for more information, I found a very extensive description here (click on the menu tab on the upper right). This is a big, powerful, very versitile ship, but I wonder about the choice of propulsion and hope our resident icebreaker expert, Tups, will comment.

First, at 25,500 tons, it is much larger than either Healy (16,000) or Polar Star (13,623 tons). It is way longer as well at 160.3 m (526 ft), compared to Healy (420 ft / 128 meters) and Polar Star (399 ft / 122 meters). She is even larger than the Polar Security Cutter PSC (22,900 tons and 460 ft / 140 meters in length).

A good part of the ship’s size is due to the fact that this ship is more than an icebreaker. While a typical US support mission to Antarctic would envolve three ships, an icebreaker, a supply ship, and a tanker, this ship is a combined icebreaker, dry cargo ship, tanker, and research vessel. The crew is small, 32, but there are accommodations for an additional 117 expeditioners plus 1200 tonnes of cargo and 1.9 million litres of fuel.

Aviation facilities are generous. The hangar can accommodate four small AS350 B3 helicopters or two Sikorsky S-92 that are larger than the H-60s.

It has a large number of boats including a pair of barges. Each barge has two 448 kilowatt (600 horsepower) engines and a water jet propulsion system that provides greater manoeuvrability than propellers. The barges carry general cargo from ship to shore in Antarctica.

On the cargo hatch covers near the bow of RSV Nuyina are two 16.3 metre-long, 6.2 metre-wide barges, each capable of carrying more than 45 tonnes of cargo.

The aluminium barges can operate in calm seas and up to 50 knots of wind, at a speed of eight knots.


What I found most surprising was the choice of propulsion systems. This is a seriously powerful icebreaker, but unlike most modern icebreakers, it does not use steerable podded diesel electric systems (such as Azipods). Instead all power goes through two shafts to controlable pitch propellers. Both the sources reported power comes from two V16 diesel engines (19,200 kW each) geared diesels and 4 diesel generators (7,400 kW each) powered by diesel generators. From the https://www.antarctica.gov.au/ site which Bairdmaritime seems to have copied.

RSV Nuyina can cruise efficiently in open water, operate silently (in ‘Silent R’ mode) during scientific operations, or continuously break ice up to 1.65 metres thick.

RSV Nuyina has a diesel-electric propulsion system that provides different levels of power depending on the task.

In icebreaking mode RSV Nuyina uses its full propulsion system – two V16 diesel engines (19,200 kW each), and 4 electric motors (7,400 kW each) powered by diesel generators.

In its 12–14 knot cruising mode, the ship relies on the electric motors.

There are two engine rooms to provide an enhanced level of safety and redundancy. Each room houses a V16 diesel engine and two diesel generators.

That seemed like an awful lot of power for the modest maximum and cruising speed reported. The descrtiption sounded like a total of 68,000 KW total (about 92,000 HP) but that seemed unlikely.

Wikipedia indicates they max total power is a still very respectable 26,600 KW or 35,657 HP (confirmed here). This would make her slightly more powerful than Healy (2 × 11.2 MW (15,000 hp).

Something did not sound right.

Looking up the MAN 16V32/44CR engines reportely installed I found that they were rated at 9600 KW not 19,200 each, rather that would be the total for the two. Given a total output in the icebreaking mode, of 26,600 KW, 19,200 of which comes from the two main diesels, that means the electric motors would provide an additional 7400 KW total, or probably 3700 KW each which be enough for a 12 knot cruise. That makes sense.


Robert Allan designed Icebreaking Tug Selene

A recent article from Baird Maritime reminded me once again, of a type of vessel I think the Coast Guard should seriously consider, a replacement for the 65 foot icebreaking tugs. Reportedly the Coast Guard hoped to decommission the 65 foot tugs, but Congress would not allow it. Their breaking ice dams for flood prevention and domestic icebreaking was considered too important.

This particular design seems to offer some additional advantages I have not seen in previous designs. Designed to operate in the Baltic in ice up to 0.8 meters thick (that is 0.3 meters more than the 140 WTGBs), it is substantially larger than the 65 footers at 31.5 meters or about 103 feet. The report indicates seaworthiness was a major consideration.

The Congressional contingent from the Great Lakes area have repeatedly expressed concerns about Great Lakes Icebreaking (and here). They want another icebreaker comparable to the Mackinaw, but a few more icebreaking tugs might actually be a better response.

In addition to icebreaking, these could provide a ready response to pollution incidents (this one can transport a standard 20 foot container). Given fire monitors these vessels could function as fireboats.

Of course this tug isn’t the only option, nor is it the only icebreaking tug design out there. I had intended to talk about this earlier, so I have some old news to reference.

When you look at these options keep in mind what we have now.

  • The nine 140 foot WTGBs entered service August 1979 to August 1988 so they are 33 to almost 43 years old and have only 2500 HP, speed 14.7 knots. We have done life extension work on them, but maybe its time to look for their replacements too.
  • The eleven 65 foot WYTLs entered service July 1961 to May 1967 so they are 55 to almost 61 years old and have only 400 to 475 HP, speed 10 knots.

In addition to the tug above, Robert Allen has designed a number of tugs including an icebreaking/buoy tending tug built in the US for the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Check out this Marine Log report.

Gulf Island Fabrication to Build TundRA 3600 for Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation

MarineLink reported that MedMarine (a Turkish shipbuilder) is building some icebreaking tugs for Danish company, Svitzer. (They also have an office in Florida.) The design designated “TundRA 3000″ is by Canadian designer Robert Allan Ltd.

Photo: Med Marine

Photo: Med Marine

TundRA 3000 design has following design particulars:

  • Length overall: 30m
  • Beam of hull: 12.6m
  • Extreme beam (including fenders): 13.2m
  • Depth moulded: 5.7m
  • Maximum draft: 5.6m
  • Gross tonnage: <500GT
  • Minimum bollard pull: 60ton
  • Power: Approx 3900 kW (5300 HP)

Breaking ice on the Kennebec River. USCG Photo

At the small end we have this 56 foot long icebreaking tug with 750 HP, almost twice that of our 65 foot tugs.

My point is not that any particular design is the answer, but that there are much better and more effective designs out there compared to vessels we are currently using. Crew size and operating costs are likely to the same or perhaps less. There is new technology that is more economical, offers better maneuverability, and lower emissions. Additionally they could be more generally useful than the tugs we have. They might have buoy tending capabilities, fire fighting monitors, or provide ready oil pollution incidence response.


CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent alongside USCGC Healy

Baird Maritime reports Quebec shipbuilder Chantier Davie Canada has been awarded a contract to complete a service life extension program on Canada’s largest, most powerful, and oldest icebreaker, CCGS Louis S St-Laurent.

This ship entered service in 1969, about six and a half years earlier than Polar Star. Reportedly the modifications will be conducted in three phases in 2022,2024, and 2027.

The Canadian Coast Guard rates the ship a heavy icebreaker, but by current USCG standards, she is a medium icebreaker. Her size, power (27,000 HP), diesel electric propulsion, and large lab spaces, make her more similar to Healy than to the Polar Star.

The ship has already been extensively modified. In a major refit 1987-1992 the hull was lengthened about 24 feet. A new bow was fitted and her original steam turbines were replaced with diesels. A bubbler system was added and a new hangar forward of the flight deck replaced the previous below deck hangar and elevator system.

The ship has a crew of only 46 but accommodations for 216.

In 2008, a program was initiated to replace the St-Laurent with a 2017 expected in service date for the new icebreaker. After a series of delays and false starts new Polar Icebreakers are not now expected until 2030 (at least).

I wonder if perhaps the Canadian Coast Guard will attempt to keep the St-Laurent in service until their second polar icebreaker is completed, much as the USCG intends to keep Polar Star in service until the second Polar Security Cutter is delivered.

Polar Security Cutter Command and Control

Photo of a model of Halter Marine’s Polar Security Cutter seen at Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exhibition have surfaced. Photo credit Chris Cavas.

I just received my February/March issue of “The Bulletin,” the Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association magazine. It has a good article on the Polar Security Cutter, “The Future is Upon Us,” pages 48-54, by LCdr David Radin, class of 2009.

Unfortunately there are a lot of readers who might be interested in this that don’t have access to the magazine.

Most of it was information I had seen elsewhere, but there was a short paragraph headed “Modern C2” that had some information that was new to me, so I am reproducing it below.

“To meet the modern mission demands, PSC  will be equipped with a highly capable Command and Control (C2) suite for full fleet integration. Additionally, PSC will feature the capability for oceanographic operations, a unique capability for the Coast Guard. This capability far exceeds POLAR STAR’s and comes in the form of a robust sonar suite, over 2000 square feet of reconfigurable science space and room for up to nine 20-foot portable scientific vans, an impressive load-out for science focused missions. This capability is critical for the United States to assert  and enforce legal authority over the increasingly accessible northern edge of the exclusive economic zone.”

These are very large ships with relatively small crews (accommodations for 136 permanent crew and up to 50 additional persons). It looks like we are building in flexibility for the future. That should prove a wise decision.

“Lack of Coast Guard Icebreakers Disrupts Shipping on Great Lakes, Says Task Force” –gCaptain

Launch of USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30) on April 2, 2005. Photo by Peter J. Markham.

gCaptain brings us a report on Coast Guard icebreaking on the Great Lakes, based on information provided by the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, a Great Lakes shipping special interest group.

Should this be a Coast Guard function? There are really two elements here, one commercial and one safety.

The commercial aspect is facilitating commerce. Some might say that shippers and ports should pay for their icebreaking. On the other hand, the Federal Government facilitates commerce in a number of ways including, building roads, air traffic control, dredging ports and waterways, and maintaining navigation systems.

The safety aspect is preventing flooding. This is disaster response before the disaster and certainly something DHS should be interested in.

Great Lakes shipping interest are fixated on the idea of a second Great Lakes Icebreaker in the mold of USCGC Mackinaw.

If we accept that Great Lakes icebreaking is a Coast Guard function, but we don’t want to build a dedicated Great Lakes Icebreaker in spite of an apparent desire on the part of members of Congress to appropriate for that purpose, we have to either convince Congress that devoting additional assets would not be cost effective, that additional money is better spent elsewhere, or offer an alternate plan for Great Lakes icebreaking.

Alternatives might be to make the proposed medium icebreakers capable of operating in and out of the Great Lakes so that they could be used there when conditions warranted or perhaps a new fleet of small but more powerful icebreaking tugs to replace the 65 foot WYTLs would fill the bill.

Each of the alternatives offers a different mix of advantages and costs. This is another area where perhaps the Coast Guard needs to invest a bit more in analysis.

Thanks to Bruce for bringing this to my attention.

65 Foot Tugs

The Coast Guard Cutter Bridle breaks ice on the Penobscot River in Maine March 17, 2015. Operation renewable energy for Northeast Winters. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Marc Moore)

Below is a news release about a routine operation that occurs every year. Keeping harbors open for delivery of heating oil and breaking up ice dams to prevent flooding is seasonal. It is routine, but it is also important.

What I wanted to point out is, that these useful little ships are getting very old and there is no replacement in sight. Replacement with something more capable would be easy and inexpensive.

The Coast Guard commissioned 15 of these 65 foot harbor tugs between 1961 and 1967, during the same period we were also building 378s, 210s, and 82s. Four have been decommissioned, but eleven continue to serve. All are based in the NE, from Baltimore North.

These little vessels are easy to overlook, but they still do important work. They are 54 to 61 years old. They have at most 500 HP. It is pass time to replace them with something better. Here is an example of a 56 foot, 750 HP potential replacement, and with only a little effort, we could probably do better that.

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 1st District Northeast

 Coast Guard to break ice along Penobscot, Connecticut, and Hudson Rivers in support of Operation RENEW 

IMMEDIATE OPPORTUNITY AVAILABLE: The Coast Guard Cutters Bridle, Shackle, and Tackle, are scheduled to break ice along the Bangor, Maine, waterfront on the Penobscot River, Thursday, at 26 Front Street, Bangor, Maine. News media must RSVP with D1PublicAffairs@uscg.mil if interested in getting underway for icebreaking operations.

BOSTON — The Coast Guard ice breaking season is underway as winter’s cold temperatures are impacting ports, waterways, and harbors in the Northeast. 

Operation Reliable Energy for Northeast Winters (RENEW) is the Coast Guard’s region-wide effort to ensure Northeast communities have the security, supplies, energy, and emergency resources they need throughout the winter. 

Of the heating oil used in the country, more than 85 percent is consumed in the Northeast, and 90 percent of that is delivered on a Coast Guard maintained waterway by ship. 

The Coast Guard’s domestic icebreaking operations are intended to facilitate navigation within reasonable demands of commerce and minimize waterways closures during the winter, while enabling commercial vessels to transit through ice-covered critical channels. 

Coast Guard crews are also replacing aids to navigation with special ice buoys designed to ride underneath ice and remain on location.  

A coordinated effort with the maritime industry ensures the vital ports of the Northeast remain open year-round. 

COVID-19: The following safety protocols must be followed by all personnel who intend to come aboard any unit for icebreaking:

  • Masks must be worn throughout the event by all attendees
  • Visitors must provide a negative COVID-19 test that is less than 48 hours old (at home test/rapid test/PCR test)
  • Visitors must also provide proof of full vaccination status

“JUST IN: No Room to Accelerate Icebreaker Program, Coast Guard Chief Says” –National Defense

Photo of a model of Halter Marine’s Polar Security Cutter seen at Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exhibition have surfaced. Photo credit Chris Cavas.

National Defense reports,

“The commandant of the Coast Guard dashed hopes Jan. 12 that a much needed new icebreaker will be delivered any sooner than 2025.”

The projected delivery has already slipped a year to May 2025, but the Commandant’s remarks did not sound confident that there will be no further delays.

“The goal right now would be to continue to work with the Navy integrated project office, continue to work with the shipbuilder, finish up the complex detail design [work] and start cutting steel here in ’22,” Schultz said. “If we stay on that track line … I am guardedly optimistic we will take delivery of that ship in ‘25 and be off to the races.”

We are putting a lot on the crew of Polar Sea. They have been having extended yard periods away from home port every year. So far, they have met repeated challenges to keep the old girl running, but we cannot really expect our luck to hold.