The strait and neighbouring waters are usually hazardous for navigation and shipping. During August, however, it is usually navigable by icebreakers. Prior to 1948, only five vessels were recorded as having successfully navigated north of Kane Basin. In 2009 the ship Arctic Sunrise made the first known June transit into the Arctic Ocean.
Hans Island, a tiny island lying within the strait, is claimed by both Denmark (on behalf of Greenland) and Canada.
Thule People reached the Nares Strait in the early 13th century, where they hunted with and traded with Vikings. Archeological remains of Thule Culture and Viking presence are found on Ruin Island.