[Show/Hide Left Column]

Technical Requirements for Navigation on NSR

(by Karl Magnus Eger)


Russia regulates shipping along the NSR on the basis of UNCLOS III, Article 234 and domestic legislation. Regulations adopted in 1990 and 1996 allow navigation on the NSR on a non-discriminatory basis for ships of all nationalities based on Guide for Navigation through the NSR, 1996 (NSR Guidelines1 ). This basic legal framework applicable to foreign shipping in the NSR has apparently not changed much until now. Indeed, the Russian Ministry of Transport still makes many of these documents available through their official webpage in exactly the same version as they were adopted in 19962 . 

Technical requirements for ships passing through the NSR are provided in "Requirements for the Design, Equipment and Supply of Vessels Navigating the Northern Sea Route," a section included in the NSR Guidelines. These requirements apply to all ships with 300 gross tonnages (registered3 ). Additional requirements are provided with respect to the hull, which must be of a double bottom type that cannot be used for storage of petroleum products or other harmful4 . Special requirements apply to the stability of the ship with reference to challenges of icing, e.g., potential ice accretion on horizontal and lateral surfaces of the ship, or when damaged5 . The regulations also require a minimum of navigation and communications equipment, as well as certain provisions and emergency facilities6 .

Ships navigating the NSR must satisfy the applicable Rules of the Russian Register of Shipping for vessels containing the following literal designations of ice resistance categories as part of the symbol of their ice class7   Ships are generally divided into a number of categories according to type and function. To ensure the safety of all types of vessels, each vessel is subject to various rules and standards regarding appropriate use of the vessel, the environment and other issues, as established by the classification societies and other organizations. The structural and machinery requirements for icebreaking vessels are established by several classification societies. An estimated comparison is presented in the table above, of the literal designations of ice classes between those employed by the Russian and other classification societies.

In the Ice Rules of the Russian Register (1999) icebreakers are divided into four categories: LL6 – LL9 (See Appendix 5.2). In addition, nine categories are introduced for ice strengthened ships: LU1 – LU9 (See Appendix 5.1)8 . The higher number of ice classes is a response to the described need to introduce higher ice classes for the more severe conditions, presenting at the same time equal steps between the ice classes. Statistical data on ice conditions in the various NSR parts are used to separate different seasons (winter-spring and summer-fall) as well as different severity in order to determine the required ice class for different time of the year (See Appendix 5.3). A vessel belonging to ice resistance category LU4, or equivalent ice class used by other classification societies, may be permitted to travel, under the control of icebreakers, along sections of the western part of the NSR up to 125゚ E, and along individual part of the eastern part of the NSR during the summer period, if navigation conditions are favourable. Icebreakers are permitted to navigate the NSR under ice conditions that correspond to the designation of their respective ice class. On a case by case basis, the NSR Administration may permit the operation of an icebreaker under more severe ice conditions than these envisaged by its ice class. Such permission would be granted following a review of the appropriate documentation, provided by the owner of the icebreaker, confirming that the state of the hull, machinery, and systems of the icebreaker satisfy navigational safety requirements on the NSR and preclude the possibility of sea pollution. Class LU3 vessels may be permitted as an exception, upon special decision of the NSR Administration, in the summer navigation period in the Western area of the NSR under favourable navigation conditions. Operation in ice of class LU3 vessels in the Eastern area of the NSR is not permitted.

The operation of commercial vessels on the NSR is carried out in one of two modes. The first is unescorted mode, in which the vessel navigates in ice infested waters without icebreaker assistance. When severe ice conditions are expected to make significant delay in navigation, this mode is avoided in favour of the second mode: escorted navigation, or ice escort. During the escorting operation the icebreaker sails in front, opening a channel through the ice, and the commercial vessel follows behind. In severe ice conditions, the channel created by the icebreaker may close up before the escorted ship has passed through. In these cases the icebreaker may be obliged to tow the escorted vessel. In some cases, and when the ice and weather conditions are extremely severe, the vessels may be forced to perform a so called close towing. During close-towing operations, the icebreaker tows the escorted ship with its bow attached directly to a notch of the icebreaker, called the stern notch. On the other hand, if one takes a look at the hull damage statistics on the NSR9 , it indicates that hull damages on the NSR are most frequent when vessels are following an icebreaker and when close towing operations are performed. This might be an issue in terms of the insurance premium.


  •  1. The following sections are included in the NSR Guidelines: “Regulation for Navigation on the Seaways of the NSR (1991)”; “Regulations for Icebreaker-Assisted Pilotage of vessels on the NSR (1996B)”; “Requirements for Design, Equipment and Supply of Vessel
  •  2. www.mintrans.ru
  •  3. Requirements for Design, Equipment and Supply of Vessels Navigation the NSR (1996C), Art.2.10 & 11
  •  4. Ibid. Art.3.1
  •  5. Ibid. Art. 6.2 to 6.5
  •  6. Ibid. 7.1 to 7.3 & 8.1 to 8.3
  •  7. Ibid. Art.2.2 and ARCOP D2.2.1 (2004)
  •  8. missing bibliography definition
  •  9. See section 5.6.1 of this Chapter

Karl Magnus Eger, 2010, Technical Requirements for Navigation on NSR, CHNL.©