Cruising North - Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic

Full transit through the Northwest Passage is through several routes through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago between the Baffin Bay in the east and the Beaufort Sea in the west. It offers a significant shortcut for vessels travelling between Asia and Europe or North America.

As more sea ice melts, more small boats are making passages to the Arctic. Boats still have to deal with storms, ice jams, polar bears, hypothermia and dealing with emergencies. The North is one of the most dangerous areas of the world because help is still far away.

Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone (NORDREG) tracks pleasure craft through the Northwest passage. Most vessels under 300 gross tons, such as Issuma, aren't required to file a trip plan and may not be included in the count. According to (Feb/2013), only 135 vessels have transitted the Northwest Passage since records began.

The first explorer to conquer the Northwest Passage by sail was the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. He sailed in a converted herring boat called Gj?a between 1903 and 1906. In 1984, the commercial passenger vessel MS Explorer became the first cruise ship to navigate the Northwest Passage. In 1986-87, Jeff MacInnis and Mike Beedell were the first to sail the passage in an 5.5 metre (18-ft) catamaran called Perception.

Only 10% of the Canadian Arctic is adequately charted, with merely 1% charted to "modern standards," says Adam Lajeunesse, Irving shipbuilding chair of Arctic marine security at Nova Scotia's St. Francis Xavier University.

In 1969, the first commercial cargo ship to transit the Northwest Passage was the SS Manhattan. In 1984, the first tourist cruise through the Northwest Passage was made by adventure company Lindblad on a 43-day voyage from New York to Japan.

In 2007, and again in 2008, the Northwest Passage became open to ships without the need of an icebreaker for the first time since record-keeping began in 1972. In 2010, the trimaran S/V Northern Passage was the the first Arctic circumnavigation through the Northwest Passages in the same season. It was also the first boat to sail through both the Northeast and Northwest Passages during one and the same season. [website]

Passages: 2008: 6   2009: 11   2010: 11   2011: 13   2012: 151+   2017: 31   2018: 5   2019: 27  

In 2012, a solo sailor in a 27-foot fiberglass sailboat was one of 18 private yachts to sail the Northwest Passage. Richard Husdon, aboard sailboat Issuma, was the 151st boat through the passage. (Reported by By August 29, 2012, 31 ft. sailboat Belzebub captained by Canadian Nicolas Peissel, made the first-ever passage though McClure Strait by a sailboat, aided by Ice Services Canada. [news Aug.31/2012] In September 2012, a 660-ft. ship carrying 481 passengers completed a 26-day passage of 8,900 km (5,500 m).

In 2013, Irish adventurers Kevin Vallely, Paul Gleeson, Denis Barnett and a Canadian, Frank Wolf, rowed nearly 1,900-kilometre in an attempt to to be the first to cross the 3,000-km Northwest Passage from Inuvik to Pond Inlet [map] by human power in one season. [] A number of kayak passages have been completed, but over multiple seasons.

Crystal Serenity

In 2013, the first commercial bulk carrier MS Nordic Orion transitted the Northwest Passage enroute from Vancouver to Finland. In 2016, the largest ship through the Passage was the cruise liner Crystal Serenity (photo), gross tonnage 69,000 with 1,500 passengers and crew.

2017: 31 ships made a transit through the Northwest Passage. Transport Canada implemented the international Polar Code in new regulations for ships operating within Canadian Arctic waters.

2018: 5 ships made a transit through the Northwest Passage. (Canadian Coast Guard)

2019: 27 ships made a full transit through the Northwest Passage, including 5 general cargo ships and 5 passenger ships. The MCTS (Marine Communications and Traffic Services) in Iqaluit, Nunavut provided support for 191 vessels ? cargo ships, cruise ships, research vessels, bulk carriers, fishing vessels, pleasure crafts and coast guard ships ? sailing in Canada?s Arctic waters. (Canadian Coast Guard)

From 2013 to 2019, the number of ships sailing in Northwest Passage waters increased by 44%, from 112 to 160 unique vessels. More dramatic, distance ships traveled more than doubled - from 2,980 nautical miles to 6,170 nautical miles.
- report by Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment working group (PAME)

Other Northwest Passage information: