Operations in Ice

Ice breaking and Ice Management

The terms are confusing. Ice-breaking, as we all understand, is the breaking of sea ice with an ice-breaker. Initially, Ice Management was ice-breaking. On a higher level, with a more systematic approach, the term Ice Management is correct and can mean anything from ice-breaking to a system for warning of hazardous ice closing in on the operation. Ice Management is often talked about in Arctic offshore, unfortunately still with the full spectrum of interpretations.

We define Ice Management as “Creating predictable operating conditions in areas where ice may be present.”

Over the years, Arctic Marine Solutions’ personnel have been involved in ice-breaking and Ice Management in bench-marking operations, and this is where we have built our experience and learned our lessons.


When planning for an exploration drilling campaign where ice may occur, there is a fundamental choice of strategy that has to be made, FIGHT or FLIGHT.

This means either leave or stay if ice is threatening.

If stay (FIGHT) is chosen then one needs Ice Management.

If leaving (FLIGHT) is the option, then one needs to plan for being able to leave at all times. It also entails extreme surveillance requirements.

6 steps to safe operation in ice

Building a safe and predictable operation in ice consist of six logical steps. The 6-step approach consists of the following;

  1. PRE-STUDY (area operating condition)

The first step is to perform a careful pre-study of the operating conditions in the area. This shall be based on the conditions relevant for the Ice Management work. Ice Management is different from all other Arctic navigation as A to B navigation always tries to use the easiest route. Ice Management has to be able to handle all ice that may be threatening to the operation and cannot avoid any heavy ice. This pre-study typically consists of ice-types, coverage, thickness and drift speed as well as any other factors that may affect the operation.


Then follows a calculation of what minimum capacity is required to perform Ice Management during the maximum conditions that can be expected. Different icebreakers have different capability and a calculation must be made on what capacity (km2 / hour) is required as a minimum. This establishes the baseline of absolute minimum capacity required.

By calculating capacity a “base-line” is also established on which regulators can base their evaluation of safety on. Without a baseline capacity, there is no foundation for a discussion about “required safe capacity”.

  1. REDUNDANCY (additional margin added)

An operation based on absolute minimum is sensitive, as only a slight reduction in efficiency will push the operation below the acceptable safety/efficiency line. Therefor an additional margin, “redundancy”, is added to create a margin in the operation. Further margin is likely added by vessels having to perform other duties than Ice Management. The capacity under point 2 plus the margin in 3 becomes the operational capacity.


Having the theoretical required capacity, the next step is to transfer this into measurable performance criteria. This deals with ice flow size in certain areas, time-lines and other measurable indicators like the capacity utilization against the available capacity. These are the criteria upon which the Ice Management team manages the physical operation.


During the operation the Ice Management works on site in order to have a clear and first hand view on the progress of the operation. Leading the operation from the “front” gives the ability to lead the operation through various operative scenarios as well as the ability to quickly respond to changes in ice conditions.


The Ice Management on site maintains control of the situation by being able to measure the progress of the operation against the performance criteria set under point 4 above in relation to the available capacity calculated under points 2 and 3. Being able to have command and control of the operation through the measurement of capacity used it is possible to maintain control of the operation at all times. There are set procedures for how to safely shutdown the operation in various situations. Even if capacity has been underestimated under the theoretical calculation (point 2) it is still possible to safely shut down the operation.

The above 6-step method relies on calculating and setting measurable parameters. The command and control of the operation is then measured against these set criteria. This ability to control the operation relies on clearly measurable parameters and not “subjective estimates by looking out the window”.

As long as the operation is inside the pre-agreed parameters the operation is safe. When approaching the limits of the set parameters the operation can be safely stopped through pre-agreed procedures.

Following the above method there shall never be a situation during operation for which there is no controlled plan.

Ice Management

Ice Management is a systematic approach to the work of creating the predictable operating conditions required for an operation to take place in an area where ice may be present.

This involves information gathering, forecasting and the direction of icebreaking activities. All this has to be coordinated by an efficient system for command and control.

Apart from purpose built Ice Management vessels, there are a lot of specific technologies involved in the ice-drift forecasting as well as the command and control of the operation.

To set up an Ice Management operations requires significant time for planning and the acquisition of resources.

Related documents

Ice Defense Basics presentation [PDF, 0.5 MB]