USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10)

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Polar Star 2.jpg
USCGC Polar Star
United States
Name: USCGC Polar Star
Builder: Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company, Seattle, Washington
Commissioned: 1976
Recommissioned: December 2012
Refit: Vigor Industrial shipyard, Seattle, Washington (March 2010-December 2012)
Nickname(s): Building 10, Polar Spare, Brand X, Wide Ass Government Building, Red Tubs of Fun[1]
Status: In service
General characteristics [2]
Class and type: Polar-class icebreaker
  • 10,863 long tons (11,037 t) (standard)
  • 13,623 long tons (13,842 t) (full)
Length: 399 ft (122 m)
Beam: 83 ft 6 in (25.45 m)
Draft: 31 ft (9.4 m)[3]
Installed power:
  • 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
  • 3 knots (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph) in 6-foot (1.8 m) ice
  • 16,000 nautical miles (30,000 km; 18,000 mi) at 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
  • 28,275 nautical miles (52,365 km; 32,538 mi) at 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph)
  • 15 officers
  • 127 enlisted
  • 33 scientists
  • 12-person helicopter detachment
  • 2 × .50 caliber machine guns
  • Various small arms
Aircraft carried: 2 HH-65A Dolphin helicopters

USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) is a United States Coast Guard heavy icebreaker. Commissioned in 1976, the ship was built by Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company of Seattle, Washington along with sister ship, USCGC Polar Sea.[4]

Homeported in Seattle, Polar Star operates under the control of Pacific Area and coordinates her operations through the Ice Operations Section of the United States Coast Guard. After Polar Sea was deactivated in 2010, Polar Star became the US's only heavy icebreaker, the Coast Guard's other icebreaker, USCGC Healy, is classified as a medium icebreaker. Polar Star's current commanding officer is Captain William Woityra.[5][6]


Polar Star uses four different methods[example needed] of electronic navigation to overcome the difficulties of high-latitude operations, and a computerized propulsion control system to effectively manage six diesel-powered propulsion generators, three diesel-powered ship's service generators, three propulsion gas turbines, and other equipment vital to the smooth operation of the ship. The extensive use of automation and low maintenance materials has greatly reduced staffing requirements.[4]

Polar Star's three shafts are turned by either a diesel-electric or gas turbine prime mover. Each shaft is connected to a 16-foot (4.9 m) diameter, four-bladed, controllable-pitch propeller. The diesel-electric plant can produce 18,000 shaft horsepower (13 MW), and the gas turbine plant a total of 75,000 shaft horsepower (56 MW).[4]

Polar Star has sufficient hull strength to absorb the high-powered ice breaking common to her operations. The shell plating and associated internal support structure are fabricated from steel that has especially good low-temperature strength. The portion of the hull designed to break ice is 1.75 inches (44 mm) thick in the bow and stern sections, and 1.25 inches (32 mm) thick amidships. The hull strength is produced almost entirely from the internal support structure. Polar Star's hull shape is designed to maximize icebreaking by efficiently combining the forces of the ship's forward motion, the downward pull of gravity on the bow, and the upward push of the inherent buoyancy of the stern. The curved bow allows Polar Star to ride up on the ice, using the ship's weight to break the ice.[4]

The 13,000-ton (13,200-metric ton) Polar Star is able to break through ice up to 21 feet (6.4 m) thick by backing and ramming, and can steam continuously through 6 feet (1.8 m) of ice at 3 knots (5.6 km/h).[4]

Polar Star alongside her sister ship USCGC Polar Sea near McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

In the past, an installed heeling system could rock the ship to prevent getting stuck in the ice. The system consisted of three pairs of connected tanks on opposite sides of the ship. Pumps transferred a tank's contents of 35,000 US gallons (133 m3 (4,700 cu ft)) to an opposing tank in 50 seconds and generate 24,000 foot-tons (65 MN·m) of torque on the ship.[4] This system has since been removed due to maintenance issues.

The crew of 15 officers and 126 enlisted have access to four sizable lounges, a library, a gymnasium, and a small ship's store. The ship also has its own U.S. Post Office, satellite pay telephones, amateur radio equipment, a computer lounge (for Internet access, distance learning, et cetera), and movie library.

Polar Star can accommodate two HH-65 Dolphin helicopters during major deployments. They support scientific parties, do ice reconnaissance, cargo transfer, and search and rescue as required. The Aviation Detachment used to come from the Polar Operations Division (POPDIV) at the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama, but POPDIV has since been disbanded due to an overhaul on the HH-65 Dolphin airframe.


The upward angle of Polar Star's bow is designed so that the hull rides up onto the ice surface during icebreaking operations. Subsequently the ship's weight and forward motion combine to fracture the ice.

Polar Star has a variety of missions while operating in polar regions. During Antarctic deployments, the primary missions include breaking a channel through the sea ice to resupply the McMurdo Research Station in the Ross Sea. Resupply ships use the channel to bring food, fuel, and other goods to make it through another winter. In addition to these duties, Polar Star also serves as a scientific research platform with five laboratories and accommodations for up to 20 scientists. The "J"-shaped cranes and work areas near the stern and port side of ship give scientists the capability to do at-sea studies in the fields of geology, volcanology, oceanography, sea-ice physics, and other disciplines.[4]

The crew consists of personnel trained in navigation, engineering, welding, machinery repair, electronics, boat handling, firefighting, damage control, underwater diving, medicine, and other special skills.

Reserve status, overhaul and reactivation[edit]

Under a 2006 law, since the vessels were designated primarily as research vessels, the National Science Foundation pays for and runs the United States' ice breaking vessels, using Coast Guard crews. On 30 June 2006, the USCG placed Polar Star in "Commission-Special" status in Seattle. This caretaker status required a reduced crew of 44 to keep the ship ready for a possible return to the ice. In 2009, the NSF announced that they would end funding for maintaining Polar Star.[7]

A 26 February 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service estimated a US$400 million cost for a 25-year service life extension refit for Polar Star, a US$56 million cost for an 8 to 10-year service life extension refit or US$8.2 million cost for a single season service life extension refit.[7]

In March 2010, United States Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen announced that Polar Star would receive a $62 million overhaul, to be complete by December 2012.[8] On 14 December 2012, The United States Coast Guard announced the reactivation of Polar Star. The overhaul of Polar Star took four years and was completed by Seattle's Vigor Industrial shipyard (formerly Todd Pacific shipyard), cost US$57 million. The 34-year-old ship would undergo testing in 2013 before once again plying the frozen Arctic regions. Polar Star was back in operation in late 2013, and assigned to Antarctic operations as part of Operation Deep Freeze in early 2014.[9]

The icebreaker was dispatched from Sydney on January 4, 2014 to attempt a rescue of the Russian research ship Akademik Shokalskiy and Chinese icebreaking research vessel Xuě Lóng trapped at that time in Antarctic ice, the former since 24 December 2013.[10] However, on 8 January 2014 the Australian Maritime Safety Authority confirmed that Polar Star had been released to scheduled duties as both vessels had broken free and were proceeding to open water.[11]

In February 2015 Polar Star was involved in the rescue of the Australian fishing vessel Antarctic Chieftain, towing the ship and 27 crew to safety, through ocean ice and snow nearly 20 feet (6.1 m) deep in the Southern Ocean.[12]

In February 2017, fire crews from Polar Star were made available to help the New Zealand Fire Service and NZDF Fire Crews in fighting against the Christchurch Port Hills Fires in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Polar Star is the only ship in the United States' fleet large enough to break the heavy sea ice to access McMurdo, the U.S. research station in Antarctica.[13] However, as of 2017, this 40-year-old vessel is sometimes referred to as a "rust bucket" by members of her crew, signalling a need for further overhaul or replacement.[14] Some spare parts have become so hard to find that crew members are reportedly sourcing them from eBay.[15]

During the 2017-2018 Antarctic season Polar Star suffered serious technical problems. On January 11, 2018 one of the cutter's three main gas turbines failed; although these are used to provide the power required for breaking up multiyear ice, local conditions allowed the ship to continue with only two turbines. Five days later a shaft seal failed, flooding the engine room; the crew were able to effect repairs and pump out the flooded space. The supply mission to McMurdo was successfully completed.[16]

On February 10, 2019 the crew of Polar Star battled a nighttime blaze for almost two hours before it was extinguished. The fire erupted in Polar Star's garbage incinerator room about 650 miles (1,050 km) north of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. No one was injured.[17]

On 4 December 2020 the Polar Star departed Seattle for a three-month mission in the Artic. This was the first Artic mission of the boat since 1982. The Polar Star's typical yearly mission to resupply McMurdo Station in the Antarctic was cancelled due to COVID-19 in On Christmas day the Polar Start reached 72 degrees north. This is the furthest north any US government surface vessel has reached. The mission included travel in heavy ice in total darkness and joint exercises with Russian aircraft at the US Russian maritime boundary in the Bering Sea. After 78 days at sea the Polar Star returned to Seattle on 20 February 2021.[18]


  1. ^ [1] Archived 2011-08-25 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2012-01-15
  2. ^ Baker 1998, p. 1119.
  3. ^ Moore 1985, p. 772.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "USCGC Polar Star - History". Archived from the original on 2010-03-08. Retrieved 2009-09-17.
  5. ^ McAvoy, Audrey (December 16, 2016). "U.S. ice-busting ship preps for trip to Antarctica". The Toronto Star. Archived from the original on December 17, 2016. Retrieved December 18, 2016. Coast Guard Capt. Michael Davanzo, the Polar Star's commanding officer, told reporters Monday that the agency needs additional icebreakers partly in case something goes wrong.
  6. ^ Masaschi, Matthew (June 12, 2020). "Photo release: Command of Nation's Only Heavy Icebreaker Changes Hands". U.S. Coast Guard Newsroom. Cmdr. (Capt. Select) William Woityra addresses the department heads and select crewmembers in attendance for the modified change-of-command ceremony held aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) while the cutter is in Vallejo, California, dry dock facility undergoing maintenance, June 12, 2020. Woityra relieved Capt. Gregory Stanclik as commanding officer of the Polar Star during a scaled-back ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic presided over by Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander Pacific Area.
  7. ^ a b Ewing, Philip (2008-03-25). "CG Steps Up Bid to Rescue Icebreaker Funding". Navy Times. Gannett Government Media. Archived from the original on 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2008-03-01. And it laid out a set of options for the Coast Guard's Arctic capability, which included:...25-year service life extensions for the older ships, at a cost of about $400 million per ship.
  8. ^ Tibbits, George (2010-03-10). "Allen: Polar Star to be Reactivated by 2013". Navy Times. Gannett Government Media. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2012-12-16. Retrieved 2012-12-15. After a $62 million overhaul, the Coast Guard will have its third icebeaker back in service in 2013, filling a critical need as the fleet takes on new responsibilities, the commandant of the service said Wednesday.
  9. ^ Alan Boyle (2013-12-30). "How icebreakers work — and why they sometimes don't work". NBC News. Archived from the original on 2013-12-30. Retrieved 2013-12-31.
  10. ^ "U.S. breaker to help Russian, Chinese ships stuck in Antarctic ice". Reuters. 4 January 2014. Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 2014-01-05. and "U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star to assist vessels in Antarctica". United States Coast Guard Pacific Area. 4 January 2014. Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
  11. ^ "Antarctic rescue operations complete". Australian Maritime Safety Authority. 8 January 2014. Archived from the original on 12 January 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-02-16. Retrieved 2015-02-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Read, Richard (2019-08-02). "Meet the neglected 43-year-old stepchild of the U.S. military-industrial complex". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  14. ^ Gillis, Justin; Corum, Jonathan (2017-07-17). "Where Else Does the U.S. Have an Infrastructure Problem? Antarctica". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2017-07-17. Retrieved 2017-07-17.
  15. ^ Dan Lamothe (4 September 2017). "In a changing Arctic, a lone Coast Guard icebreaker maneuvers through ice and geopolitics". Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 23 December 2017. The Healy was commissioned in 1999, but the other working polar icebreaker, the USCGC Polar Star, is more than 40 years old.
  16. ^ "Polar Star beats engineering challenges to complete mission". MarineLog. February 7, 2018. Archived from the original on 9 February 2018. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  17. ^ Prine, Carl (2019-02-28). "Coast Guard's last heavy icebreaker caught on fire during South Pole mission". Navy Times. Retrieved 2021-02-21.
  18. ^ Bernton, Hal (2020-02-21). "Seattle-based Coast Guard icebreaker returns home after first mission in nearly 40 years to wintertime Arctic". the Seattle Times. Seattle, Washington. Retrieved 2020-02-21.


  • Baker, A. D. (1998). The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World 1998–1999. Annapolis, Maryland, USA: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-111-4.
  • Moore, John (1985). Jane's Fighting Ships 1985–86. London: Jane's Yearbooks. ISBN 0-7106-0814-4.

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