Fednav recently became the first shipping company to employ drones, or Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV), for ice reconnaissance on a commercial voyage. The Umiak I, one of Fednav’s most powerful icebreakers, used a variety of video-equipped drones to scout ahead of the vessel in the ice-covered waters of the Labrador Coast. The goal was to provide the captain and officers with detailed real-time visual information on the local ice conditions.

Enfotec, a Fednav subsidiary and industry leader, has for 20 years specialized in providing advanced ice imagery and analysis to vessels operating in difficult ice conditions. With advances in recent years in the quality of information derived from satellite and radar images and conventional ice charts, this new method of ice detection allows for the immediate capture of subtle ice features such as ridges, leads, and fractures. The UAVs deliver critical high-quality, short-range visual observations allowing navigators to see beyond the normal horizon for strategic navigation.

The backdrop for the application of this emerging technology was the Labrador Coast. The coast experiences the heavy winter conditions of the Canadian Arctic—thick first-year ice that is heavily deformed under wind-induced pressure and remnants of multi-year and glacial ice that are embedded in the ice cover—which pose great challenges for navigation. “The use of UAVs is proving to be extremely beneficial to identify many ice features that should be avoided ahead of the vessel, as well as identifying open water leads to improve voyage efficiency,” says Thomas Paterson, Senior Vice-President, Ship Owning, Arctic, and Projects of Fednav Limited. “In addition, the deployment of drones fitted with top-quality cameras, gives the ice navigator another useful aid when making important decisions while transiting heavy ice regimes, and in turn, improved safe navigation.” With this application of modern technology, Fednav and Enfotec remain at the leading edge of ice navigation efficiency.