The Polar Code
Navigating through ice-infested waters

The Polar Code

Although an entire section in the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Polar Code is dedicated to training, with the simple goal of ensuring ‘ships operating in polar waters are appropriately manned by adequately qualified, trained and experienced personnel’, there is currently no additional international certification for mariners who navigate through ice-infested waters. As a consequence, the industry is moving to fill the void. 

The safe operation of a vessel trading in an ice regime throughout seasonal changes requires skill and technical proficiency in excess of that required during normal operating conditions. Therefore, it is important that suitable training is offered to crewmembers to complement their existing experience. For vessels trading in the Arctic, the IMO recommends that at least one qualified Ice Navigator is carried, and local regulations (e.g. for the North West Passage) may mandate such carriage.

The Ice Navigator may be a suitably qualified member of the ship’s crew or a supernumerary. When an Ice Navigator is carried on-board as a member of the ship’s crew, it is recommended that they are either the Master or the Chief Officer. In essence, polar areas are protected, picturesque and dangerous. They demand a different standard of navigation. The Northern Sea Route itself needs a pilot on-board, whereas North West passage regulations require an Ice Navigator to be part of the bridge team.

To be qualified, the Ice Navigator also needs practical experience in ice. In polar areas, aids to navigation are not so common and Search and Rescue facilities are more spaced apart. This causes time delays to vessels needing assistance. Areas off the main routes are also very poorly - or sometimes - not surveyed at all. Adding to this both traditional and gyro compasses are influenced and GPS coverage is poorer, so navigators need to be extremely careful. The specific qualifications of an Ice Navigator should include documentary evidence of having completed ‘on-the-job’ training, as appropriate, and may include simulator training.

The IMO recommends that the Ice Navigator has documented evidence of satisfactorily completing a qualified training programme in ice navigation. Seagull Maritime’s new distance course on Ice Navigation is classed as part of this documentary evidence, as our modules cover the underpinning knowledge on ice navigation. Our applicable e-learning modules are entitled Navigation in cold environments and Passage planning in cold environments, both of which form a part of the essential skillset of an Ice Navigator.

For the crew on-board a vessel operating in the polar regions, we also recommend Seagull’s modules on

For further information on any of these, please contact your dedicated Seagull Account Manager or send us a general enquiry on

Download Seagull Maritime’s Quick Guide to Polar Code from below link!

Documents to download

Polar Code.pdf 840.98 KB 198 download(s)

Thomas Aas

Thomas Aas

Supervisor Marketing & Sales, Seagull Maritime

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Full biography

Full biography

Thomas holds a bachelor in communication from University of Western Sydney Australia. After spending 7 years in the communication and media industry focusing on visual communication and photography he went back to life as student again. This time he studied international shipping & logistics, before he started working at Seagull Maritime within the sales & marketing department.

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