• The science capabilities of existing icebreakers (the Polars) should be improved.

Polar Icebreaker Requirements, Presidential Report to the Congress (October 1990). Required by the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-448), this report updated the 1984 Polar Icebreaker Requirements Study. Agency requirements for polar icebreaker support were reviewed quantitatively, and various acquisition alternatives were discussed. The report contained a one-sentence conclusion: “Based on this analysis, the Administration has concluded that in addition to the Coast Guard’s two existing polar icebreakers and the National Science Foundation’s ice-capable research vessel, the U.S. currently requires one additional Coast Guard polar icebreaker.” The 1990 report cleared the way for funding of USCGC HEALY.

Revised Memorandum of Agreement Between the Department of the Navy and the Department of the Treasury on the Operation of Icebreakers (1965). Although dated, this agreement has never been cancelled and provides basic authority for Coast Guard icebreakers to support peacetime, wartime and contingency operations in high latitudes. In addition, it states that the Coast Guard will provide icebreaking services to meet the reasonable demands of commerce in United States ports, harbors, and inland waterways.

Memorandum of Agreement Between the United States Coast Guard and the National Science Foundation Regarding Polar Icebreaker Support and Reimbursement (August 9, 2005). This agreement is the latest of a series (the last dated May 25, 1999) addressing the use of USCG polar icebreakers in support of NSF Arctic and Antarctic programs. This latest agreement was necessitated by the transfer of all icebreaker budget funds from the Coast Guard to NSF. Provisions include an annual scheduling process that, in addition to NSF requirements, considers “all national priorities” and the needs of other government agencies. The need for icebreakers to conduct “traditional USCG missions” such as search and rescue and enforcement of laws and treaties is noted and is to be funded from the “program base.” In a reversal of past practice, NSF is required to reimburse the Coast Guard for actual icebreaker costs.

Memorandum of Agreement between United States Coast Guard, United States Navy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (July 21, 2005). This agreement establishes procedures for the jointly operated National Ice Center and commits the participating agencies to provide “the highest quality strategic and tactical ice services tailored to meet the operational requirements of U.S. national interests.” The Coast Guard provides staff, on-scene observations, and other oceanographic support as inputs to the National Ice Center and uses ice information for icebreaker planning and operations. Ice services include polar and subpolar areas as well as ice coverage in the continental U.S.

Memorandum of Agreement Between the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation for Operational and Logistics Support of the National Science Foundation’s Polar Programs (effective April 1, 1999). This agreement provides detailed arrangements for DoD support to the National Science Foundation, especially to the Antarctic Program. It notes that the Coast Guard will provide icebreaker support and indicates that Coast Guard icebreakers supporting logistics operations in McMurdo Sound will be under the tactical control (TACON) of the Commander, Operation Deep Freeze.

Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Memorandum dated 14 June 1990. Documenting a review by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, the memo states “the requirement for two polar icebreakers to conduct resupply operations in support of air bases in Greenland remains valid,” but beyond this, “no significant military missions have been identified.” While the memo states the Department’s wartime requirements can be met by two polar icebreakers, a handwritten note indicates “other non-DoD Polar Icebreaking requirements justify a fleet of four polar capable icebreakers.” The memo states classified requirements documentation is available.


The U.S. Coast Guard has no internal directives or policy documents that specifically address polar icebreaking operations. However, general guidance is included in operation orders issued for each polar deployment. The following policy guidance is typically included to authorize or direct the commanding officer of the icebreaker to take action as appropriate.

  • Sampling of the continental shelf of any foreign nation, or trenches contained within the shelf, is prohibited without specific permission from the nation involved.

  • Foreign nations must be notified of marine research which will occur within their exclusive economic zones (EEZ). The EEZ is composed of those waters within 200 nautical miles of the nation’s coastal boundaries, or as defined by international agreement. The responsibility of requesting Department of State notification rests with the project sponsor.

  • The icebreaker’s aircraft are authorized to carry personnel and materials as necessary, including foreign nationals.

  • Depending on the areas of operations, the icebreaker may be authorized to participate in civic action projects in foreign ports, exchange personnel and exercise with foreign services and agencies for training and familiarity, host diplomatic events in concert with State Department requests, and collect information of interest.

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