Navigating a cruise vessel in arctic waters requires special skills in order to avoid dangerous situations. This is a central element of the new Polar Code courses, which one of our instructors experienced first-hand on his recent cruise trip to Greenland.

23 October 2018

“When sailing in remote, arctic waters you must by all means avoid accidents. Help is often far away in terms of both distance and time. The ice pilots have the knowledge and experience needed to navigate the cruise vessel safely in polar waters,” tells one of our polar code instructors Thue Rabjerg. He has just returned from a cruise ship journey travelling from Iceland to Nuuk in Greenland with Greenland Pilot Service.

How theory is used in practice

During Thue Rabjerg’s stay on the German cruise vessel AidaCara, he experienced how theory is used in practice when the vessel sailed from Iceland towards the east coast of Greenland.
“On my trip I observed how the Greenland pilots put theory into practice in the form of advice and skillful navigation in the arctic waters. I saw how the two pilots from Greenland Pilot Service cooperated with the crew in real-life situations and used their 20 years of experience to ensure the cruise vessel sailed safely in the Greenland waters. It was interesting to see how they detected ice, sailed through ice-infested waters and adjusted their navigation to the local weather conditions,” says Thue Rabjerg who enjoyed his journey with the professional and well-organised crew on the German vessel.

Avoid ice by all means

The trip became increasingly interesting when the cruise vessel approached Prins Christianssund on the east coast of Greenland.

”Here, the cold East Greenland Current met us, and the first icebergs turned up. I observed how the pilots spotted icebergs on the radar, and how they used searchlight for navigation in the darkness,” tells Thue Rabjerg.

He points out that for safety reasons the majority of large cruise vessels are not allowed to sail though ice but must sail around it.

Navigation in ice-infected waters

The ice pilots have many years of local experience, and they use their knowledge of the local weather and the movements of the ice to navigate the cruise vessels in these remote and special waters.

The Danish Meteorological Institute provides ice information and forecasts about the ice movements which is an important navigation tool for the pilots.

“If you don’t have a thorough knowledge about the ice, it can be very dangerous to sail the waters around Greenland. ‘Old ice’ that has tumbled around in the waters for a long time is rounded and can be dark which makes it very difficult to spot. Icebergs should also be treated with great respect. Only 1/8 of an iceberg is visible above the surface, and it may take only a small push of water to make them tumble,” explains Thue Rabjerg who looks forward to bringing his experiences from this trip into the training courses.

The view from the cruise vessel when sailing in Greenland waters.