USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10)

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USCGC Polar Star.
Career (United States) 100x35px
Name: USCGC Polar Star
Builder: Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company, Seattle, Washington
Commissioned: 1976
Out of service: Taken to caretaker status, 30 June 2006, reactivated, 11 March 2010
General characteristics
Displacement: 13,194 long tons (13,406 t)
Length: 399 ft (122 m)
Beam: 83 ft 6 in (25.45 m)
Ice class: 6 ft (1.8 m) at 3 kn (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph) continuous
21 ft (6.4 m) backing and ramming
Propulsion: diesel electric or gas turbine
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Range: 28,275 nmi (52,365 km; 32,538 mi)
Complement: 141
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 her sister ship, Polar Sea (WAGB-11).[1]

Homeported in Seattle, Polar Star and Polar Sea operate under the control of Pacific Area and coordinate their operations through the Ice Operations Section of the United States Coast Guard.


Polar Star is an outstanding Polar icebreaker with exceptional hull design, power, strength and weight. The design, which was the result of three years of research and testing, incorporates a number of innovative features that affect nearly every aspect of operations. Equipment on board is highly sophisticated. 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. The extensive use of automation and low maintenance materials have greatly reduced staffing requirements.[2]

Polar Star's three shafts are turned by either a diesel-electric or gas turbine power plant. 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).[2]

Polar Star has sufficient hull strength to absorb the high-powered ice ramming 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 design to ram ice is 1-3/4 inches (45 mm) thick in the bow and stern sections, and 1-1/4 inches (32 mm) thick amidships. The hull strength is produced almost entirely from the massive 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; then the bow is levered through the ice like a giant sledgehammer.[2]

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 ram her way through ice up to 21 feet (6 m) thick and steam continuously through 6 feet (1.8 m) of ice at 3 knots (6 km/h).[2]

USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) alongside her sister ship Polar Sea (WAGB-11) near McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Polar Star has other unique engineering features designed to aid in icebreaking. At one point, 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) to an opposing tank in 50 seconds and generate 24,000 foot-tons (65 MN·m) of torque on the ship. This system has since been removed due to maintenance issues, but needless to say that kind of force goes a long way in rocking Polar Star loose from any tight spots.[2]

Duty on an icebreaker is long and strenuous, especially when it involves being away from homeport for up to eight months out of the year. Careful consideration has been given to meet the needs of Polar Star's crew of 15 officers and 126 enlisted. The ship has four sizable lounges, a library, a gymnasium, and a small ship's store. It 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. Bright colors and modern decor differ sharply from traditional military shipboard drabness.

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 at Coast Guard Aviation Training Center, Mobile, Alabama, but POPDIV has since been disbanded due to an overhaul on the HH-65 Dolphin airframe.


File:Uscgc polar star.jpg
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 crush 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, vulcanology, oceanography, sea-ice physics and other disciplines.[2]

Operations in the remote, hazardous and unforgiving polar regions make it necessary for the crew of Polar Star to be highly self sufficient. The crew consists of personnel trained in navigation, engineering, welding, machinery repair, electronics, boat handling, firefighting, damage control, diving, medicine, and nearly every other kind of special skill that could possibly be needed.

Reserve status and Reactivation

On June 30, 2006, Polar Star was placed in a "Commission-Special" status in Seattle, WA. This caretaker status requires the reduced crew of 34 to keep the ship ready for a possible return to the ice, but with the mounting maintenance issues onboard, a decision to finance a major renovation or decommission the ship needs to be made. The current commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen, has made it one of his top three priorities to find a resolution to the current state of the Polar Icebreaking program.[2]

The Navy Times reports that a refit reactivating the Polar Star for a further 25 years of duty would cost $400 million USD.[3] A refit sufficient to reactivate the Polar Star for eight to ten years necessary to build a replacement would cost $56 million USD. A refit sufficient to reactivate the Polar Star for a single season would cost $8.2 million USD.

The Navy Times explained that the National Science Foundation had been contributing much of the cost of maintaining the vessels, because their primary responsibility was scientific.[3] But that, starting in 2009, the National Science Foundation would no longer be contributing to the Polar Star's upkeep, putting the vessel's future in question.

The United States Coast Guard plans to reactivate the Polar Star by 2013, after being refitted by Todd Pacific Shipyards.[4]


This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

External links

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