Polar Yacht Guide

Daria Blackwell
Daria Blackwell
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World Sailing and Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation have compiled and published The Polar Yacht Guide with much input from Ocean Cruising Club Members. Press release issued 28 October.

The Polar Yacht Guide and why it is needed.
Background Information
There are lots of reasons why sailors cruise to the polar regions. These include:
•    A perception (sometimes misguided) that global warming is making higher latitudes more accessible
•    Cruising in the lower latitudes has become overcrowded and commercialised
•    It is the ultimate ‘eco-tourism’ destination
•    Cruising sailors, more than others, love ‘pushing the boundaries’ and exploring
This has resulted in a big increase in the number of yachts cruising in Greenland, Svalbard, Alaska, the Northwest Passage, South America, the southern oceans and the Antarctic.
The accompanying graph shows the number of transits of all vessels and of yachts voyaging through the Northwest Passage since it was first transited by Amundsen in 1906. A similar story applies to yachts cruising or racing in the southern oceans and to yachts planning to visit the Antarctic peninsula.

Safety and the Environment
Most of these expeditions have been successfully completed by well-prepared yachts with competent crews. However, there have been a number of exceptions which have resulted in rescue operations and questions about potential damage to the environment. This is a cause of concern to maritime authorities, environmentalists, governments and local people.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping. Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry. Inevitably, and with good reason, a number of regulations originated at IMO (eg COLREGS) also affect recreational craft. These craft are typically subject to simplified codes administered by flag states and many seagoing sailing craft follow World Sailing special (safety) regulations. Much of the successful and safe management of small craft depends on the well-established concept of “Educate not Legislate” adopted by leading sailing organizations.

Recently some IMO delegations proposed that parts of the IMO Polar Code should be extended to cover “all ships on all voyages” (as in the application of COLREGS). This is a concern for private yacht sailors because:
•    it is seen as the creeping extension of mandatory regulation, and
•    the IMO regulatory system is designed for big ships not yachts.
Vessels of all types face a tough and demanding environment in polar regions but their approach to overcoming these challenges differs.
The different polar regions share some common problems: navigating in ice, poorly surveyed waters, limited SAR resources, fragile and precious environments and isolation. However, they differ in other respects. The Antarctic is governed by the Antarctic Treaty system and has well-established protocols for visiting yachts but the northern polar regions are administered by various sovereign countries with different rules. The southern oceans frequently experience extreme weather in very exposed waters whilst the north generally has more ports of refuge.

At the time of writing, the world is in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic and cruising sailors are being asked to not visit polar regions. In particular, yachts are not welcome in vulnerable communities which may have limited health care facilities.

Polar Yacht Guide
A group of experienced high latitude sailors, mindful of the concerns mentioned above, have written a voluntary code of practice called the Polar Yacht Guide (PYG). The PYG, which is specifically designed for yachts, is in three parts: (a) Safety of navigation and voyage planning for all polar waters, (b) Arctic waters and (c ) Antarctic waters. The PYG is intended to supplement existing guides and pilot books. The authors and contributors believe it will be more effective than mandatory legislation.
The draft document was circulated for consultation to a wide group of organisations and individuals including search and rescue organisations, experienced high latitude sailors, environmental organisations, yacht clubs, navigation institutions, IMO representatives and Government agencies. It is now available on the World Sailing web site at www.sailing.org and the Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation web site at: https://rccpf.org.uk/pilots/184/Arctic--- Northern-Waters.

Principal authors of the PYG Drafting Group are:

Alan Green, experienced ocean racer and a member of the team representing World Sailing at IMO. Former Chairman of the ISAF Offshore Special Regulations committee and author of the Offshore Special Regulations Handbook. Former secretary of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. Recipient of the British Boating Industry Bronze Anchor Award recognising services to the sailing community during the Fastnet Race 1979.

Skip Novak participated and skippered in four Whitbread Round the World Yacht Races in the 1970s and ’80s. In 1987, he built the expedition yacht Pelagic and has spent every season since sailing and climbing in the Antarctic. Skip sits on the Panel of Experts that vettes expeditions to South Georgia and has served on the Executive Committee of IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators). Awarded the prestigious Blue Water Medal from the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Cruising Club’s Tilman Medal for his lifetime of voyaging to high latitudes.

Victor Wejer, Author of Periplus to Northwest Passage. Yacht Skipper since 1962: Baltic Sea, North Sea, Celtic Sea, Atlantic, Canadian Maritimes, Central Arctic, Alaska. Supported and guided over 70 yachts transiting the Northwest Passage. Ocean Cruising Club Award of Merit 2016. Arctic SAR Trenton contact & consultant. OCC Port Officer Representative for the North West Passage.

Andrew Wilkes, Author of Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation arctic guide ‘Arctic and Northern Waters’, RYA Yachtmaster Ocean Instructor. Skippered yachts to west and east Greenland, Baffin Island, Labrador, Northwest Passage, Alaska and South America. Royal Cruising Club and the Ocean Cruising Club member.
The PYG drafting group will have responsibility to update the document from time to time and will welcome comments and suggestions at polaryachtguide@rccpf.org.uk or polaryachtguide@ws.org.uk.

World Sailing (formerly the International Sailing Federation ISAF) with member national authorities in 145 countries maintains racing rules and safety protocols for yacht racing from olympic classes to offshore and oceanic events. Since [1998] with its appointment by IMO to consultative status the scope of World Sailing was extended to promote and safeguard the interests of all recreational sailors (racing and cruising). The World Sailing delegation is represented on the current IMO correspondence group formed to consider revisions to the IMO Polar Code. World Sailing will host the PYG on its web site at www.sailing.org.

The Royal Cruising Club (RCC) was founded in 1880. The Club’s 1892 Journal published Wilford Grenville’s Log entitled ‘Among Icebergs and Eskimos’ and sailing in high latitudes has been a popular members’ pastime ever since. Past and present RCC members, and polar sailors of note, include H W (Bill) Tilman, Miles Smeeton, John Gore-Grimes, David Lewis, Willy Ker, Christopher Thornhill, David Scott-Cowper, Pete Hill, Bob Shepton, Ewan Southby-Tailyour and Annie Hill. The RCC and Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation (RCCPF)) have aways published accounts of their cruises and pilotage guides. The PYG can be found on the RCCPF web site at https://rccpf.org.uk/pilots/184/Arctic--- Northern-Waters.

The Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) has a simple qualification for membership: full members must have made a continuous ocean passage of at least 1,000 nautical miles in a boat less than 70’ long. It has attracted accomplished international cruising sailors such as Sir Francis Chichester and the current membership stands at over 3,000 members of all nationalities. The OCC has over 200 ‘Port Officers’ offering local cruising advice for areas ranging from the Northwest Passage to Cape Horn.

World Sailing and the Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation


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Daria Blackwell
Daria Blackwell
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The final version of the Polar Yacht Guide is available here for free download. 

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Polar_Yacht_Guide_2020_11_26.pdf (6 views, 887.00 KB)
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Daria Blackwell - 15 Dec 2020
The final version of the Polar Yacht Guide is available here for free download. 

Hi all,
I would urge anyone interested in boat design, safety, equipment and procedures to spend some time with the Polar Yacht Guide. It is quite well done. You do not have to be heading into higher latitudes to benefit: similar to reading about what makes for a safe offshore boat when you are just coastal cruising.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy


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