The Atle icebreaker

Project: Safety during icebreaker operations

In this PhD project, I investigate the safety during icebreaker operations from a human perspective. Two focus areas within this project are verbal communication between two or more vessels, and the process where a crew member acquires the skills and knowledge necessary for safe icebreaker operations.

A large part of all goods transported to and from Sweden is shipped by sea. To enable all-year-round shipping in the Baltic Sea, the Swedish Maritime Administration has a number of icebreakers at its disposal. All eligible vessels receive icebreaker assistance when needed. Prior research within this area has dealt mainly with physical aspects of icebreaking, e.g. vessel construction, ice formation and ice coverage, and vessel routing in ice. However, even though the icebreaker is part of a complex system where interaction is important, the role of the human has yet to be studied in this context.

Direct icebreaker assistance often requires an icebreaker to operate in close vicinity to other vessels, to be able to break them loose. Passing at a small distance reduces the room for error, and that is one reason why communication is believed to be of vital importance; a misunderstanding or delayed response to an instruction may lead to a collision. By studying the verbal communication, this study aims at highlighting good examples and identify situations in which communication can be an issue, and in the end contribute to the development of a safer practice.

Another focus area deals with individual competence. Education, hands-on practice and experience are key words previously identified as important components necessary for safe icebreaker operations. The type of training (theoretical, simulator, on-board training), order and extent may vary. This part of my research aims at studying the whole chain, the process, during which an individual progresses from novice to expert in icebreaking.

The project is part of the research conducted by the Maritime science research group.