Exploring the World’s Most Powerful Icebreaker – The Jet Engine-Powered US Coast Guard Cutter “Polar Star”

Exploring the World’s Most Powerful Icebreaker – The Jet Engine-Powered US Coast Guard Cutter “Polar Star”


After an excellent season working at WAIS Divide, my team and I returned to McMurdo to wrap up a bit of administrative items, finalizing this season’s shipping, and pack everything up for redeployment to New Zealand. Luckily, during those few days at McMurdo the US Coast Guard Cutter “Polar Star” came into port, cutting the way for the resupply and refueling ships to come.

From US Coast Guard:


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 her sister ship, POLAR SEA (WAGB-11).POLAR STAR is one of the largest ships in the US Coast Guard and one of the world’s most powerful non-nuclear ships. The POLAR STAR is home ported in Seattle, Washington.

A few snippets from Wikipedia:

Polar Star uses four different methods 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.

Polar Star’s three shafts are turned by either a diesel-electric or gas turbine power plant.[disambiguation needed] 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).

With such a sturdy hull and high power to back it up, 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 (6 km/h).

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, vulcanology, oceanography, sea-ice physics, and other disciplines.

Here’s a compilation of time lapse videos I made of the Polar Star cutting its channel to allow the “Ocean Giant” cargo ship in.

I was fortunate enough to be able to take a few tours of the ship:



One response to “Exploring the World’s Most Powerful Icebreaker – The Jet Engine-Powered US Coast Guard Cutter “Polar Star””

  1. Shannon L

    Wow… so this brings back memories. I was stationed on her from 92-95′. Two north trips to the Arctic for science platform for the MSG (mostly for drilling ice cores) and two south trips to Antarctica (breaking the ice to supply ships such the “Greenwave”) I’ve heard she’s gone thru two major overhauls since I’ve been on her. Glad to hear she’s still in service pounding away at the ice! Lots of memories for sure ?