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Polar training

MI develops ice navigation course for ships operating in polar regions

Teaching and Learning

By Leslie Earle

Navigating the icy waters of our polar regions is a challenge that is becoming more frequent as vessels make their way through areas such as the Northwest Passage.

To ensure those at the helm are equipped with the important skills to prepare for and safely sail through these regions, representatives from the Marine Institute’s (MI) Centre for Marine Simulation (CMS) led the development of new ice navigation training that is about to become a new standard under the Polar Code.

The Polar Code working group.
The Polar Code working group.
Photo: Submitted

The International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code) is an international framework of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The code aims to provide for safe ship operation and the protection of polar waters.

Operational standards

“The Polar Code provides requirements for ship design, construction and equipment, operations and training, search and rescue, and environmental protection on the poles,” said Capt. Chris Hearn, director, CMS, and a master mariner who was part of the course development team.

“This new ice navigation training expands on existing requirements and ensures that everyone entering polar waters has the same training and is operating under the same standard.”

International working group

Experts from 10 countries and two non-government organizations/industry groups formed the working group on the project, with Transport Canada leading the international working group.

“Transport Canada tasked CMS to act as the course developer, using the centre’s existing Fundamentals of Ice Navigation Training program as the basis for the development work,” said Capt. Hearn.

“The Master Mariners of Canada were also involved, through the participation of Capt. Tony Patterson, of the N.L. Division, who co-ordinated the working group.”


The new training is broken down into two components: basic and advanced. Masters, chief mates and navigational officers are required to complete the new training. The course is dependent on the type of ship and anticipated ice conditions.

In developing the course framework, the team considered the latest technology and best industry practices, as well as factors such as the types of ships, cargos and challenges of operations in polar regions.

The basic course takes 34 hours to complete and covers topics such as the monitoring of ice conditions while in transit, speed adjustment during an ice transit, manoeuvering in ice, preparing for escort and the impacts of ice accretion on vessels.

The advanced course is 30 hours in length and covers topics such as preparing a passage plan, managing speed on entry into ice, how to interpret radar images of ice, docking and undocking in ice and operating with an icebreaker, to name a few.

Standardized learning

“Building on our own ice navigation simulation training experiences, we are so pleased to have been part of this very important work,” Capt. Hearn said.

“Working with an international team to develop coursework that will ensure mariners from around the world receive standardized training for safe operation in the Arctic and Antarctic has been very rewarding.”

The Polar Code came into force on Jan. 1, 2017. The new training requirements go into effect July 2018.

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