How an Icebreaker Breaks Ice


From: Captain William Rall, U.S. Coast Guard


68° 18’ 132” N, 166° 58’ 487” W, June 22 Healy continues to keep the scientists and crew busy with science stations around the clock. The sun appears to rotate around us each 24 hours, dipping near the horizon about 3:00 a.m. This morning a science party went on ice a few miles from the village of Cape Hope. There was an open water lead along the shore where we could see a few venturing out in their boat, and also going onto the ice, although on different floes that would be too shallow for us to get near. We did trade “good morning good morning” greetings on the radio with someone in town.


72° 06’ 2” N, 160° 41’ 8” W, June 26 — A couple days ago Healy was challenged by the ice conditions. About 75 nautical miles northwest of Barrow, and only two miles into the ice edge, we ran into numerous, and sometimes continuous, old rubble piles, which look like boulders lying around on the ice every which way. The rubble is from pressure ridges that form when ice floes get pushed against each other due to wind and currents. There were plenty of both ridges and rubble, and with less than a mile of visibility, it makes for slow going since we cannot pick out the best path in advance. The floe we have spent the last couple days in is a vast floe, miles and miles across, made up of a bunch of smaller flows that mixed up through the long Arctic winter. This resulted in pressure ridges and rubble piles over 30 feet thick, and quite a few areas where two floes got stacked up and are well over 10 feet thick.


Since the floe is so large, there is really nowhere for the ice to go except in our track-line behind us. In pressure ridge and rubble areas, we back and “ram” into the ice, and may only move 30 or 40 yards with each back and “ram.”  The “ram” part of this is not how it sounds. The Healy’s bow is sloped such that we ride up on the ice with the help of momentum, and then our 16,000 ton weight crushes the ice downward and along the sides of the ship. The power we use would propel the ship to at least 16 knots in open water, but in the ice our speed rarely exceeds 6 or 7 knots. The rest of this energy goes into the ship riding up on the ice and crushing it downward.


The officers of the deck, or OODs, assigned to drive in the ice are all smiles when we are challenged with these ice conditions. No other way to describe it than just fun driving a ship into something on purpose!



All photos by Haley Smith Kingsland




Coast Guard ensign Nicholas Custer, a student engineer, gets ready for a run into the sea ice in Aloft Con, an elevated steering room at the highest point of the ship used only for ice breaking. “We had one run that in 45 seconds went farther than we went yesterday in seven hours!” Nick was proud to say.




After ramming up onto the sea ice, the Healy slowly backs away.




The Healy continues to back into its track-line.




From Aloft Con, Nick propels the Healy forward in order to give the ship momentum for another run. OODs operate the propellers “all ahead” at top speed when going forward into the sea ice. This view of their wake is from the faintail at the stern.


6 thoughts on “How an Icebreaker Breaks Ice”

  1. To break breaking broke broken…

    It’s an action then implies an effort and Work. A force. But energy is really in relation to force or more in relation to energy?

    Strengh the propulsion jet is the order of machines.

    Energy is free, doesn’t suppose a disciplinary conductism.

    Energy is not probable, is.

    Neither inertia.

    Energy apparently has to be with perfection or synchronization harmonization more than a gesture or a consequence …

    Energy is a talent? A skill?

    Energy is not to be consequent with the rest, it’s not representative, not a representation of truth whatever.

    It’s ignition, it’s liberation, provokes a reaction?

    Is. But not generates, not transforms, not regenerates; it is the impulse that is not an impulse, it’s the form of being here more the absence of reality, but energy is reality?

    Or the impression of reality?

  2. No aloftcam. Very infrequent postings AGAIN by the PAO on the Healy. Thank goodness for this blog. It is the ONLY thing that family members of the USCG crew have. Hopefully, you can also make some references about the crew, and maybe include some of their pictures, in your postings.

  3. In response to comment number 3, here is the link to the aloftcom.
    It was out of commission for awhile but is back on now. I also have a family member on the Healy and know how you feel though…It is hard with such minimal contact. You can send emails to their military email and sometimes you will get one back…I am very appreciative of this great blog with all the photos and info, I am learning everyday, and I am proud of the work being done by the Coast Guard crew and the researchers.

  4. I’m happy this blog has enabled you to follow the voyage of your loved ones! We’re about to post photos of a fun day of “ice liberty” with both Coast Guard and science party members. Also, over the next three weeks we plan to feature profiles of Coast Guard members who work very hard to keep the mission running so smoothly. Again, thanks for reading. Best, Haley Kingsland

  5. FYI … The red in the ice photos is not algae but paint scraped off the hull of the ship! – Haley Kingsland

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