Icebreakers: Some of the Toughest Ships in the World

They can move through ice that’s up to 21 ft (6.4 m) thick.
Loukia Papadopoulos

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Icebreakers are some pretty impressive ships. They manage to smash their way through thick ice by pushing forward until it cracks from pressure.

To do this, icebreakers have incredibly powerful engines for their size. They also have other modifications that allow them to move through ice that’s up to 21 ft (6.4 m) thick.

Their hulls are strengthened to prevent them from getting holed when smashing through ice and they’re coated with resin to reduce friction. Their bows are curved and slope upwards to ‘ride’ over the ice, and their prows are sharp and heavily reinforced to help break it.

Some icebreakers even come equipped with water jets to spray heated water below the waterline and weaken the ice. In order to be powerful enough to push through an icefield, icebreakers typically run on a combination of diesel-electric or nuclear power. 

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How do these ships manage to maintain maneuverability despite the ice surrounding them? How do they use their weight to shatter the ice beneath? What other techniques do they use to make it through such tough ice? Which are the largest and most powerful icebreakers in the world? This video answers all these questions and more.

If you want to see whether a torpedo could sink an icebreaker, click here.

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