Marine Aids to Navigation in the Arctic

(from AMSA Report 2009)


The safe and effective use of northern waters by maritime shipping relies heavily on such safety systems as fixed and floating aids to navigation, long-range aids to navigation (shore-based electronic or satellite-based), as well as safety and navigation information broadcasts. While southern waters and well-used maritime routes are well served by established systems, northern waters are served by a patchwork of these systems. Ships navigating in the Arctic encounter unique situations. Ships usually use a combination of satellite positioning and traditional navigation techniques.

Of the eight circumpolar countries, six have coastlines. Of these, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Russian Federation maintain active aids to navigation (ATON) networks. More specifically: The Canadian Coast Guard maintains a number of seasonal fixed and floating aids throughout the Canadian Arctic. These are placed around the last week in June by icebreakers in Ungava Bay, Hudson Strait, Frobisher Bay and in the western Arctic by the third week in July. There is an active aids program along the Mackenzie River, serviced by two CCG shallow draft tenders. These aids are then picked up and the fixed aids deactivated as the icebreakers leave the Arctic, generally by the last week in October.

Norway maintains aids to navigation along its entire coast and at Svalbard along the coast and in fjords. Of note are a number of fixed and floating aids to navigation in Svalbard internal waters. It is expected that the requirement for aids to navigation in the Svalbard area will increase based on analyses of both the changing traffic patterns and the utilization of better risk analysis methodology.

Denmark has a permanent system of radio communication and radar beacons (RACON) along the west coast of Greenland from Uummannarsuaq/Kap Farvel to Qeqertarsuup Tunual/Diskobugten, as well as a system of coastal fixed aids, such as daymarks, from Uummannarsuaq/Kap Farvel to Upernavik.

Iceland maintains a number of fixed and floating aids to navigation in its internal waters including a Digital Global Positioning System and RACON beacons and has a permanent system of radio communication for radio monitoring of its fishing fleet.

The Russian Federation has an extensive system of fixed and floating aids to navigation mainly in the harbors of the NSR, which also includes some lighted and unlighted beacons and daymarks along the coast between ports.

The United States has no aids to navigation along the north coast of Alaska. The current U.S. short-range ATON footprint in the Arctic extends a short distance north of the Bering Strait where the largest zinc mine in the world (Cominco’s Red Dog mine) near Kivalina receives ore carriers. North of the Aleutians along the coast of the Bering Sea, the U.S. has some floating and fixed ATON near the Pribilof Islands and Bristol Bay for tug, barge and fishing vessel traffic. In the Aleutian chain, there are several areas where navigational aids are maintained for local traffic, as well as for the trans-Pacific shipping transiting this region.


    Arctic Council, 2009, Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), Arctic Council.©

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