Navigating the Straits of the Northern Sea Route

(By Geir B. Honneland; INSROP Working Paper No. 81 – 1997, IV.1.2)


The paper gives an overview of the straits along the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The most important ones, dividing the five seas along the route, are already known in the literature. Others are presented here for the first time outside Russia. The presentation is based mainly on an investigation of Russian charts, used for navigation along the NSR. Existing literature is occasionally used to supplement this material. The main objective of the paper is, however, to examine to what extent this new material can supplement, and possibly correct, the existing literature.

The paper sets out to describe some general geographical characteristics of the seas and most important straits of the NSR. An overview is then given of the less important and previously partly unknown straits. The overview is not a complete list of all the straits along the route, but a presentation of all straits from the Norwegian boundary in the west to the Bering Strait in the east which are mentioned by name on the charts used for navigation by Russian vessels. Their mention by name is, however, probably an indication of their importance in a navigation context. Although many of the straits mentioned here are situated close to the shore and would thus not normally be used for navigation along the NSR, the important question is if it would be possible at all to use the actual strait for navigation if such a route were chosen. Furthermore, it is considered of importance to make the list of straits along the NSR as complete as possible in order to improve the background material for the discussion of jurisdictional aspects of the route.

Sailing directions are given mainly to indicate which of the main straits are to be preferred to others in given situations. With this limitation of ambition in mind, it should be clear that the current paper does not intend to present a detailed guide for navigation; rather, it aims at serving as a general overview. For more detailed sailing directions, confer the newly published - and translated - Russian "Guide to Navigation through the Northern Sea Route" (1996).


    Geir B. Honneland, 1997, Navigating the Straits of the Northern Sea Route, INSROP.©