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Transits of the Northwest Passage

Atlantic Ocean      Arctic Ocean      Pacific Ocean


The earliest transit of the Northwest Passage was completed in 1853 but used sledges over the sea ice of Parry Channel.  The following voyages have made complete transits of the Northwest Passage to the end of the 2008 navigation season.  These transits proceed to or from the Atlantic Ocean (Labrador Sea) in or out of the eastern approaches of the Canadian Arctic archipelago (Lancaster Sound or Foxe Basin) then the western approaches (McClure Strait or Amundsen Gulf), across the Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean, from or to the Pacific Ocean (Bering Sea).  The routes taken and directions are indicated.  Complements of a few vessels left them for winter to return in a later navigation season.  Details of submarine transits are not included because only two have been reported (1960 USS Sea Dragon, [Capt. George Peabody Steele, West 1] and 1962 USS Skate [Capt Joseph L. Skoog, East 1]) and they do not navigate through ice.


Seven routes have been used for transits of the Northwest Passage with several minor variations (for example through Pond Inlet and Navy Board Inlet, etc).  These are:

1:  Davis Strait, Lancaster Sound, Barrow Strait, Viscount Melville Sound, McClure Strait, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, Bering Strait.  The shortest and deepest, but most difficult way owing to the severe ice of McClure Strait; the route is used by submarines because of its depth.

2:  Davis Strait, Lancaster Sound, Barrow Strait, Viscount Melville Sound, Prince of Wales Strait, Amundsen Gulf, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, Bering Strait.  An easier variant of route 1 which may avoid severe ice in McClure Strait; suitable for deep draft vessels.

3:  Davis Strait, Lancaster Sound, Barrow Strait, Peel Sound, Franklin Strait, Victoria Strait, Coronation Gulf, Amundsen Gulf, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, Bering Strait.  The route used by most vessels of draft less than 10 m.

4:  Davis Strait, Lancaster Sound, Barrow Strait, Peel Sound, Rae Strait, Simpson Strait, Coronation Gulf, Amundsen Gulf, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, Bering Strait.  A variant of route 3 for small vessels if ice from McClintock Channel has blocked Victoria Strait; Simpson Strait is only 6·4 m deep and has difficult currents.

5:  Davis Strait, Lancaster Sound, Prince Regent Inlet, Bellot Strait, Franklin Strait, Victoria Strait, Coronation Gulf, Amundsen Gulf, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, Bering Strait.  This route is dependent on ice conditions in Bellot Strait which has difficult currents; mainly used by eastbound vessels.

6:  Davis Strait, Lancaster Sound, Prince Regent Inlet, Bellot Strait, Rae Strait, Simpson Strait, Coronation Gulf, Amundsen Gulf, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, Bering Strait.  A variant of route 5 for small vessels if ice from McClintock Channel has blocked Victoria Strait; Simpson Strait is only 6·4 m deep, difficult currents run in Bellot and Simpson Straits.

7:  Hudson Strait, Foxe Basin, Fury and Hecla Strait, Bellot Strait, Franklin Strait, Victoria Strait, Coronation Gulf, Amundsen Gulf, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, Bering Strait.  A difficult route owing to severe ice usually at the west of Fury and Hecla Strait and the currents of Bellot Strait.


Complete transits have been made by 84 different vessels, beginning with Gjøa.  The Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov has made 16 transits, the largest number of any ship.  Hanseatic has made 7 transits, three vessels have each made three transits, and eleven have made two.  Sixteen of these vessels, mainly small craft, took more than one year to complete a transit wintering at various harbours along the route.  These vessels have been from 19 different registries: 40 were from Canada, 22 Russia, 14 United States, 12 Bahamas, 7 France, 6 Britain, 3 Germany, 3 New Zealand, 2 Australia, 2 Norway, 2 Poland, 2 Sweden, and one from, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Croatia, Ireland (Éire), Japan, Netherlands, and Singapore.  Passengers have been carried on 31 transits but only two were otherwise commercial voyages.  Several of the vessels involved continued through the Panama Canal and thus circumnavigated North America, one continued to circumnavigate North and South America, and four have circumnavigated the Arctic Ocean.


                To this compilation 115 complete traverses of the Northwest Passage have been made.  An analysis of routes shows:

   Route 1               west   2   east   0   total   2                  Route 2                 west   6   east    3  total     9

   Route 3               west 22  east 29   total 51                  Route 4                 west 11  east    8  total   19

   Route 5               west   7   east 15   total 22                  Route 6                 west   2   east  14  total   16

   Route 7               west   0   east   3   total   3                  All Routes            west 45  east  70  total 115


Sources include a compilation by Thomas Pullen and Charles Swithinbank published in Polar Record (1991), Brian McDonald (CCG) who has maintained and expanded the compilation, with advice from Lawson Brigham (USCG), Peter Capelotti (USCG), David Fletcher, Peter Semotiuk, and Patrick Toomey (CCG), personal observations made during several transits with Quark expeditions, many publications, and several internet sites.  Advice of subsequent voyages, any corrections, and similar details is appreciated.  It is intended that this compilation will be revised annually.


R. K. Headland                                                                                                                22 September 2008


(c/o SPRI, University of Cambridge, Lensfield Road, Cambridge, United Kingdom, CB2 1ER.)




                Year        Vessel                                                                     Registry                 Master                                                   Route


1              1903-06   Gjøa (21 m auxiliary sloop)                                    Norway1                  Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen  West  4

Wintered twice in Gjøa Haven and once off King Point


2              1940-42   St Roch1 (29∙7 m RCMP auxiliary schooner)          Canada1                   Henry Asbjørn Larsen1                           East  6

Wintered at Walker Bay and Pasley Bay, traversed Pond Inlet

3              1944        St Roch2 (RCMP auxiliary schooner)                      Canada2                   Henry Asbjørn Larsen2                           West  2

Return voyage, first transit in one season, traversed Pond Inlet


4              1954        HMCS Labrador (icebreaker)                                                Canada3                   Owen Connor Struan Robertson             West  2

First continuous circumnavigation of North America


5              1957        USCGC Storis (icebreaker)                                    United States1          Harold Lambert Wood                            East  6

6              1957        USCGC Bramble (buoy tender)                             United States2          Henry Hart Carter                                   East  6

7              1957        USCGC Spar (buoy tender)                                   United States3          Charles Vinal Cowing                             East  6

Travelled in convoy, Storis escorted Bramble and Spar, accompanied by HMCS Labrador from Bellot Strait


8              1967        CCGS John A. McDonald (icebreaker)                   Canada4                   Paul M. Fournier                                     West  3

Dispatched to assist USCGC Northwind beset 900 km N off Point Barrow with damaged propeller, circumnavigated North America


9              1969        USCGC Staten Island (icebreaker)                         United States4          Eugene F. Walsh                                     East  3

Escorted oil tanker Manhattan on return voyage from Point Barrow


10            1970        CSS Baffin (research icebreaker)                             Canada5                   P. Brick                                                   East  2


11            1970        CSS Hudson1 (research icebreaker)                        Canada6                   David W. Butler                                      East  2

First circumnavigation of the Americas


12            1975        Pandora II (hydrographic research vessel)             Canada7                   R. Dickinson                                           East  7

13            1975        Theta (research vessel)                                            Canada8                   K. Maro                                                   East  7

Travelled in company


14            1975        CSS Skidgate (buoy tender)                                    Canada9                   Peter Kallis                                              East  6


15            1976        CCGS J. E. Bernier1 (icebreaker)                           Canada10                  Paul Pelland                                            East  3


16            1977        Williwaw (13 m sloop)                                            Netherlands             Willy de Roos                                         West  4

Single-handed after Gjøa Haven, continued to circumnavigate the Americas


17            1978        CCGS Pierre Radisson (icebreaker)                       Canada11                  Patrick M. R. Toomey                             East  2


18            1976-79   J. E. Bernier II (10 m ketch)                                   Canada12                  Réal Bouvier                                           West  4

Wintered in Holsteinborg, Resolute, and Tuktoyaktuk


19            1979        Canmar Kigoriak (icebreaker)                                Canada13                  C. Cunningham                                       West  2


20            1979        CCGS Louis S. St Laurent (icebreaker)                  Canada14                  George Burdock                                      West  2

Circumnavigated North America


21            1980        CCGS J. E. Bernier2 (icebreaker)                           Canada15                  E. Chasse                                                                East  4


22            1980        Pandora II (hydrographic survey vessel)               Canada16                  R. A. Jones                                             East  4


23            1981        CSS Hudson2 (research icebreaker)                        Canada17                  F. Mauger                                               East  3


24            1979-82   Mermaid (15 m sloop)                                            Japan                       Kenichi Horie                                          West  6

First single-handed transit, wintered in Resolute and Tuktoyaktuk


25            1983        Arctic Shiko (tug)                                                    Canada18                  S. Dool                                                    East  3


26            1983        Polar Circle (research vessel)                                 Canada19                  J. A. Strand                                             East  4


27            1984        Lindblad Explorer1 (ice strengthened ship)             Sweden1                  Hasse Nilsson                                         West  4

First passenger1 transit


28            1985        USCGC Polar Sea1 (icebreaker)                             United States5          John T. Howell                                       West  2

Accompanied by CCGS John A. McDonald for part of voyage


29            1985        World Discoverer (ice strengthened ship)               Singapore                Heinz Aye1                                              East  4

Carried passengers2, traversed Pond Inlet

Year        Vessel                                                                     Registry                 Master                                                   Route


30            1976-88   Canmar Explorer II (drilling ship)                         Canada20                  Ronald Colby                                          West  3

Reached Beaufort Sea for oil drilling programme from 1976 until completed transit


31            1983-88   Belvedere (18 m yacht)                                            United States6          John Bockstoce                                       East  6

Reached Tuktoyaktuk 1983, conducted whaling research to 1987, completed transit in 1988, traversed Pond Inlet


32            1985-88   Vagabond II1 (15·3 m yacht)                                  France1                    Janusz Kurbiel (1985-87) and

    Wojciech Jacobson (1988) East  6

Wintered in Tuktoyaktuk and twice in Gjøa Haven (where changed masters)


33            1988        CCGS Henry A. Larsen (icebreaker)                      Canada21                  Stephen Gomes                                       East  3


34            1988        Society Explorer2 (ice strengthened ship)                Bahamas1                                Heinz Aye2                                              East  3

Carried passengers3, traversed Pond Inlet [formerly Lindblad Explorer]


35            1988        CCGS Martha L. Black (icebreaker)                       Canada22                  Robert Mellis                                          East  3


36            1988        USCGC Polar Star1 (icebreaker)                            United States7          Paul A. Taylor                                         East  3

Accompanied by CCGS Sir John Franklin to Demarcation Point


37            1988-89   Northanger (15 m ketch)                                        Britain1                    Richard Thomas                                      West  4

Wintered in Inuvik


38            1989        USCGC Polar Star2 (icebreaker)                            United States8          Robert Hammond                                    West  3

Accompanied by CCGS Sir John Franklin to Demarcation Point


39            1986-89   Mabel E. Holland (12∙8 m lifeboat)                        Britain2                    David Scott Cowper1                              West  6

Single-handed voyage, vessel wintered at Fort Ross twice, and at Inuvik


40            1983-90   Ikaluk1 (icebreaker)                                                 Canada23                  R. Cormier1                                                    East  3

Reached Beaufort Sea in 1983, where worked to 1990 when completed transit


41            1990        USCGC Polar Sea2 (icebreaker)                             United States9          Joseph J. McCleland                               West  3

Accompanied by CCGS Pierre Radisson to Demarcation Point


42            1990        Terry Fox (icebreaker)                                            Canada24                  P. Kimmerley                                          East  3


43            1991        Canmar Tugger (tug)                                             Canada25                  L. Lorengeek                                           East  3


44            1992        Frontier Spirit1 (ice strengthened ship)                   Bahamas2                                Heinz Aye3                                                     West  3

Carried passengers4, traversed Pond Inlet


45            1992        Ikaluk2 (icebreaker)                                                 Canada26                  R. Cormier2                                             West  3


46            1992        Kapitan Khlebnikov1 (icebreaker)                            Russia1                    Piotr Golikov1                                         East  3

Carried passengers5


47            1993        Kapitan Khlebnikov2 (icebreaker)                            Russia2                    Piotr Golikov2                                              East  3

Carried passengers6


48            1993        Frontier Spirit2 (ice strengthened ship)                   Bahamas3                                Heinz Aye4                                              West  3

Carried passengers7


49            1993        Dagmar Aaen1 (27 m yacht)                                   Germany1                Arved Fuchs                                           West  5


50            1994        Kapitan Khlebnikov3 (icebreaker)                            Russia3                    Piotr Golikov3                                              East  3

51            1994        Kapitan Khlebnikov4 (icebreaker)                            Russia4                    Piotr Golikov4                                         West  2

Return voyage, carried passengers8 & 9


52            1994        Hanseatic1 (ice strengthened ship)                          Bahamas4                                Hartwig van Harling1                              West  3

Carried passengers10


53            1994        Itasca (converted tug)                                             Britain3                    Allan Jouning                                          East  4


54            1995        Kapitan Khlebnikov5 (icebreaker)                            Russia5                    Viktor Vasiliev1                                          East  5

Carried passengers11




                Year        Vessel                                                                     Registry                 Master                                                   Route


55            1995        CCGS Arctic Ivik1 (icebreaker)                               Canada27                  Norman Thomas                                     East  5

56            1995        CCGS Arctic Ivik2 (icebreaker)                               Canada28                  Robert Mellis                                          West  5

Return voyage to and from Kap York


57            1995        Canmar Ikaluk3 (icebreaker) [formerly Ikaluk]       Canada29                  D. Connolly                                            East  3


58            1995        Dove III (8∙2 m yacht)                                             Canada30                  Winston Bushnell                                    East  3


59            1995        Canmar Miscaroo (icebreaker)                               Canada31                  D. W. Harris                                           East  3


60            1995        Hrvatska Cigra [Croatian Tern] (19∙8 m yacht)    Croatia                     Mladan Sutej                                           West  5


61            1996        Kapitan Dranitsyn1 (icebreaker)                             Russia6                    Oleg Agafonov                                       East  5

Carried passengers12


62            1996        CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier (icebreaker)                   Canada32                  Norman Thomas                                     East  5

Escorted by CCGS Louis S. St Laurent for part of voyage, traversed Pond Inlet


63            1996        Hanseatic2 (ice strengthened ship)                          Bahamas5                                Hartwig van Harling2                                     West  3

Carried passengers13 until grounded in Simpson Strait, escorted by CCGS Henry A. Larsen to Victoria Strait, traversed Pond Inlet


64            1996        Canmar Supplier II (cargo vessel)                          Canada33                  P. Dunderdale                                         East  3


65            1996        Arctic Circle (tug)                                                   Canada34                  J. McCormick                                         East  3


66            1997        Hanseatic3 (ice strengthened ship)                          Bahamas6                                Heinz Aye5                                              West  3

Carried passengers14, escorted to Victoria Strait by CCGS Henry A. Larsen, traversed Pond Inlet


67            1997        Kapitan Khlebnikov6 (icebreaker)                            Russia7                    Viktor Vasiliev2                                      East  3

Carried passengers15


68            1997        Alex Gordon (tug)                                                   Canada35                  Paul Misata                                             East  5

Escorted by CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier to Franklin Strait and then CCGS Pierre Radisson


69            1997        Supplier (tug)                                                          Bahamas7                                Allan Guenter                                          East  5

Escorted by CCGS Terry Fox to Victoria Strait


70            1998        Kapitan Khlebnikov7 (icebreaker)                            Russia8                    Piotr Golikov5                                              East  3

Carried passengers16


71            1998        Hanseatic4 (ice strengthened ship)                          Bahamas8                                Heinz Aye6                                              East  3

Carried passengers17, escorted to Victoria Strait by CCGS Sir John Franklin, traversed Pond Inlet


72            1999        Admiral Makarov (icebreaker, dock in tow)           Russia9                    Vadim Akholodenko                               East  3

73            1999        Irbis (tug, dock in tow)                                           Russia10                   Aleksandr Aleksenko                              East  3

Travelled in convoy each towing a component of a steel floating dock, Korea to Caribbean


74            1999        Kapitan Dranitsyn2 (icebreaker)                             Russia11                   Viktor Terekhov1                                    West  3

Carried passengers18, circumnavigated the Arctic1


75            1999        Ocean Search (12∙5 m yacht)                                  France2                    Olivier Pitras1                                          East  5

Traversed Pond Inlet


76            2000        USCGC Healy1 (icebreaker)                                   United States10        Jeffery M. Garrett                                   West  3


77            2000        Hanseatic5 (ice strengthened ship)                          Bahamas9                                Thilo Natke                                             West  3

Carried passengers19, traversed Pond Inlet


78            2000        Kapitan Dranitsyn3 (icebreaker)                             Russia12                   Viktor Terekhov2                                    West  3

Carried passengers20, circumnavigated the Arctic2


79            2000        Nadon [St Roch II] (17·7 m RCMP catamaran)     Canada36                  Kenneth Burton                                       East  6

Voyage to commemorate St Roch 1940-42 transit


80            2000        Simon Fraser (icebreaker, formerly CCGS)           Canada37                  Robert Mellis                                          East  6

Escorted Nadon


81            2000        Evohe (25 m yacht)                                                 New Zealand1          Stephen Kafka                                         East  6


                Year        Vessel                                                                     Registry                 Master                                                   Route


82            2001        Kapitan Khlebnikov8 (icebreaker)                            Russia13                   Viktor Vasiliev3                                      East  3

83            2001        Kapitan Khlebnikov9 (icebreaker)                            Russia14                   Viktor Vasiliev4                                          West  1

Return voyage, carried passengers21 & 22


84            2001        Turmoil (46 m yacht)                                              Cayman Islands       Philip Walsh                                            West  4

Traversed Pond Inlet


85            2001        Northabout (14∙9 m yacht)                                      Ireland (Éire)           Jarlath Cunnane                                       West  4

Circumnavigated the Arctic3


86            2002        Kapitan Khlebnikov10 (icebreaker)                          Russia15                   Piotr Golikov6                                              East  3

Carried passengers23


87            2001-02   Le Nuage (12∙8 m yacht)                                         France3                    Michèle Demai                                        East  3

Complement of mother and daughter, wintered in Cambridge Bay


88            2002        Sedna IV (51 m yacht)                                             Canada38                  Stéphan Guy                                           West  5


89            2002        Apostol Andrey (16∙2 m yacht)                                Russia16                   Nikolay Litau                                          East  5

Assisted by CCGS Louis S. St Laurent through Prince Regent Inlet, circumnavigated the Arctic4


90            2002        Arctic Kalvik (icebreaker tug)                                  Barbados                 Sanjeev Kumar                                        East  3


91            2002        Hanseatic6 (ice strengthened ship)                          Bahamas10               Thilo Natke                                             West  3

Carried passengers24, traversed Pond Inlet


92            2003        Kapitan Khlebnikov11 (icebreaker)                          Russia17                   Viktor Vasiliev5                                          East  5

93            2003        Bremen3 (ice strengthened ship)                              Bahamas11               Daniel Felgner                                         West  3

 Both carried passengers25 & 26, Bremen [formerly Frontier Spirit] traversed Pond Inlet


94            2003        Norwegian Blue (12∙9 m yacht)                              Britain4                    Andrew Wood                                        East  5

95            2003        Vagabond2 (15·3 m yacht)                                      France4                    Eric Brossier                                           East  5

Both traversed Pond Inlet; Vagabond [formerly Vagabond II] circumnavigated the Arctic5


96            2003        USCGC Healy2 (icebreaker)                                   United States11        Daniel Oliver                                           West  3


97            2003-04   Dagmar Aaen2 (27 m yacht)                                   Germany2                Arved Fuchs2                                          East  5

Wintered in Cambridge Bay, traversed Pond Inlet; circumnavigated the Arctic6


98            2003-04   Polar Bound (14·6 m motorboat)                            Britain5                    David Scott Cowper2                                      West  5

Single-handed voyage, wintered in Cambridge Bay, assisted by CCGS Louis S. St Laurent in Prince Regent Inlet


99            2004        Kapitan Khlebnikov12 (icebreaker)                          Russia18                   Pavel Ankudinov1                                   East  5

Carried passengers27


100          2005        Oden (icebreaker)                                                    Sweden2                  Anders Wikström                                    West  3


101          2005        Kapitan Khlebnikov13 (icebreaker)                          Russia19                   Viktor Vasiliev6                                          East  3

Carried passengers28

102          2005        Idlewild (17∙3 m motorboat)                                    Canada39                  Benjamin Grey                                        East  6

Assisted by CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier and CCGS Louis S. St Laurent through Bellot Strait


103          2004-05   Fine Tolerance (13·7 m yacht)                                Australia1                                Philip Hogg                                             East  6

Wintered in Cambridge Bay, assisted by CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier and CCGS Louis S. St Laurent through Bellot Strait


104          2005        Kapitan Khlebnikov14 (icebreaker)                          Russia20                   Viktor Vasiliev7                                      West  3

Return voyage


105          2006        Kapitan Khlebnikov15 (icebreaker)                          Russia21                   Pavel Ankudinov2                                   East  7

Carried passengers29


106          2004-06   Minke I (12·8 m yacht)                                            Canada40                  Peter Brook                                             East  6

Wintered in Cambridge Bay twice


107          2006        Nekton (13·6 m yacht)                                             Poland1                    Tadeusz Natenek                                     East  4

108          2006        Stary (13·5 m yacht)                                               Poland2                    Dominik Bak, Jacek Waclawski, and

    Slawek Skalmierski             East  4

Travelled in company, traversed Pond Inlet (Stary changed masters at Cambridge Bay and Tuktoyaktuk)


                Year        Vessel                                                                     Registry                 Master                                                   Route


109          2007        Kapitan Khlebnikov16 (icebreaker)                          Russia22                   Viktor Vasiliev8                                      East  5

110          2007        Hanseatic7 (ice strengthened ship)                          Bahamas11               Ulf Wolter                                               West  5

Both carried passengers30 & 31


111          2007        Babouche (7·5 m catamaran)                                   France5                    Sébastien Roubinet                                  East  5


112          2007        Cloud Nine (17·3 m ketch)                                      United States12        Roger Swanson                                       West  3


113          2007        Luck Dragon (12·1 m yacht)                                  Britain6                    Geoffrey Allison                                     West  3

Vessel abandoned in Bering Sea


114          2007        Berserk II (14∙6 m yacht)                                        Norway2                  Jarle Andhøy                                           West  5


115          2005-08   Arctic Wanderer (11∙9 m yacht)                              United States13        Gary E. Ramos                                        East  6

Wintered in Cambridge Bay thrice


116          2008        Polarstern (icebreaker)                                           Germany3                Uwe Pahl                                                                West  1


117          2008        Berrimilla (10 m yacht)                                           Australia2                                Alexander Whitworth                              East  4


118          2008        Geraldine (14 m yacht)                                           United States14        Walter Jones                                            West  3

119          2008        Amodino (23 m yacht)                                             New Zealand2          Juan Ribos                                              West  4

120          2008        Tyhina (10·4 m yacht)                                             New Zealand3          Peter Elliott                                              West  4

121          2008        Baloum Gwen (14·9m yacht)                                  France6                    Thierry Fabing                                        West  4

122          2008        Southern Star (23·7m yacht)                                   France7                    Oliver Pitras2                                           West  4

2008 had the largest number of yacht transits in one summer

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