Come Aboard The USCG Icebreaker, Polar Star

I wrote a story recently about this year’s new mission for the USCG Polar Star to the Arctic, instead of to Antarctica. You may have seen pictures of the Polar Star, but this video gives you a more intimate look at her from inside.

This video was done in 2019, when the Polar Star had arrived at the American McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica. As you may remember, the Polar Star goes there annually to break up the ice leading into McMurdo Sound near the research station, in order for supplies to be able to be delivered to the station. You will see a little bit of what the American station looks like in this video as well.

When it is winter for us up here in the Northern Hemisphere, it is summer for Antarctica, or as close to something like summer as you can get down there. That is when the Polar Star goes down there to open the ice.

Photo: YouTube/PolarTREC

We have shown you videos in the past about life aboard some of our United States Navy ships and submarines. They are incredibly complex examples of modern marine design and warship capabilities, and many are still so new that you can almost “smell the leather” so to speak, but I think you will get a sense here of how old the Polar Star is and why the United States Coast Guard is looking for a budgetary “booster shot” to bring its fleet up to the standards and numbers that are needed today.

You will hear about the Polar Star‘s sister ship, the Polar Sea, which is currently in decommissioned status at the home base in Seattle and is being “cannibalized” for replacement parts for the Polar Star. The Polar Star itself had been previously decommissioned but was brought back into service a few years back, and the old lady is still up and running, but you can see that she is well past her prime.

She was built back in the late 70s, which makes her over 40 years old. She doesn’t have many more years left in her.

Photo: YouTube/PolarTREC

In the video, one of the Polar Star crewmen is leading the tour of the ship for some of the scientists and others who work at the McMurdo Research Station. He is asked about how many icebreakers the Coast Guard has. The fact is that it has only two active icebreakers at this time, the heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star, and the medium icebreaker, the USCGC Healey.

The Healey usually operates in the Arctic waters, and the Polar Star does the heavy icebreaking in Antarctica. But this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic and the desire for the virus not to spread to Antarctica, the Polar Star is presently on a mission in the Arctic up north instead of breaking ice in McMurdo Sound.

As one of the nations that have borders on the Arctic waters, The United States has an interest in maintaining the safety and openness of those Arctic waters for both commercial and security reasons. Because of this, the USCG is currently building a new heavy icebreaker with plans for one or two more. And there is a clear and real need for them.

Photo: YouTube/PolarTREC

When you see the inside of this old lady, the USCG Polar Star, you will see that she really is a dowager. When you see her bridge, I think you will get a sense of her almost antique technology, yet she still has the heart for the important job that she is called on to do for the Coast Guard and the nation.

You will hear the Coastie leading the tour in the video tell about the size of her crew and the fact that they have civilians aboard on the Antarctic mission, including engineers and naval architects who are engaged in the designing of the new icebreakers. They are there to see what works and what improvements they would want to make in the new icebreakers.

Photo: YouTube/PolarTREC

The Coasties who have been on these Antarctica icebreaking trips will tell you that the Polar Star is a demanding ship and that she needs a lot of attention, but they love her and that mission. They are shellbacks, one and all. They have looked up to the night sky out at sea to see the Big Dipper when they leave their Seattle homeport, and when they cross the equator and are sailing in the southern seas, they look up and see the Southern Cross in the night sky. They stop in ports in South America and in Australia and New Zealand. In other words, they see the world in a unique and purposeful way.

The Veterans Site has a deep respect for the United States Coast Guard and all who serve in the smallest of our armed services. They may be small, but their mission is as diverse and valuable to the nation as any of the other services. We salute all of our United States Coast Guard men and women and wish them fair winds in all their missions. Semper Paratus!

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