Safety First In The Polar Regions

Travelling through some of the harshest conditions on the planet, in order to reach some of the most isolated landscapes the Earth has to offer, brings about an obvious need for top of the range safety features. And whilst the itineraries, the comfort of the ships and the land-based excursions on offer may determine which expedition you choose; it is important to know that the vessels you will be sailing on are equipped with the latest technology to keep you out of danger.

Each expedition operator that we work with at Fred.\ takes safety very seriously and therefore they deploy many different things to give passengers peace of mind. Here are just a few of the state of the art features that can be found on these fantastic expedition ships.

Ice-Strengthened Hulls

50 Years of Victory

The waters at both tips of the globe are extremely icy and so, although most trips will occur during the summer months when the ice is at its most sparse, the ships need to ensure they can make light work of these conditions. To achieve this, the hull must be strengthened in some way, which usually involves the implementation of a double hull with either an air gap or water ballast in between each layer of metal.

As well as ice-strengthened ships there are also some vessels that are designated as icebreakers. These are usually only used for research and to guide other ships through the waters surrounding the poles, but ships such as ‘50 Years of Victory’ often spend limited periods acting as passenger vessels. Unlike ice-strengthened ships, which sail through the ice, icebreakers are built to ride on top of it and break it with their tonnage. This allows them to travel in extremely icy conditions such as those found at the North Pole.

Ships that operate in polar waters are given an ice-class rating which determines which conditions they can sail in and at what times of year they can operate. In the Arctic class system, the ratings range from A5 to D0, whilst the Finnish-Swedish system ranks vessels from 1A down to 3C. Most of the ships we offer expeditions on will have their ice-class detailed in the ship’s specifications section. Incidentally, ’50 Years of Victory’ uses the Russian ice-class system in which it has a rating of LLU, the highest there is.

Active Stabilisers

Stabilisers are more of a feature designed to improve the comfort of a ship rather than its safety, but explorers will be glad to know they are there all the same. These stabilisers often come in the form of retractable fins that are positioned on both sides of the ship. Fluid is then pumped around these at relevant intervals and speeds to counteract the motion of the vessel and reduce the amount of up and down movement felt on deck. Modern systems can even do this when the ship is at rest; helping to reduce the occurrence of seasick throughout the entire time spent on board.

Radar and Sonar


Ships have used radar and sonar systems for many years to help them plot a safe route through the water, but some of our expedition ships (most notably Lindblad’s National Geographic Explorer) employ state of the art technology of this kind to help them in icy waters.

Forward facing sonar will scan for rocks and other obstacles that may occur in the shallower waters that these ships often visit and will then relay this information back to the captain on the bridge. He can then chart the safest route possible and will be warned in advance of any possible hazards. In a similar way, ice radar systems are used to map the waters around the boat. This means that the pack-ice found at both poles can be easily navigated.

With the open bridge policy that many of the ships have, you may even get to see equipment like this in action.

Ice Lights

The waters in the Polar Regions become even more difficult to traverse during heavy weather or at night, but that’s when xenon-powered ice lights can be used to great effect. These are mounted on a ship’s mast and will reflect blue light off any ice that lies ahead. Ice lights are much more effective than the naked eye and are even more reliable than radar systems in rough waters when high waves may prevent certain things from being picked up.

Experienced Expedition leaders

Expedition Leader

On board each trip, there will be a number of experienced and qualified expedition leaders who are not only there to make your adventure a more enriching one, but a safer one too. They will hold safety briefings before you embark on any land-based excursions and will be with you every step of the way when taking part in activities such as kayaking, camping and polar diving. They will show you how to be responsible in these parts as well as answering any questions you have about this brave new world that’s revealing itself before your eyes.

After recent high-profile incidents in the media, involving distressing incidents with wildlife, many operators have significantly improved their safety and security systems or abandoned their Arctic camping activities altogether. Camping is still widely available when travelling to the Antarctic, though.

As you can see, there are many ways in which expedition operators ensure their guests are kept safe during their adventures. If you would like to see some of these features in action or experience the icy waters that they enable ships to travel through, simply call us on the number above or send an online enquiry.

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