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The Guide to Polar Class Yachts: Understanding and Ensuring Compliance of Our Explorer Yacht

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

As an Explorer Yacht Builder, I've navigated the choppy waters of countless maritime regulations. But nothing quite prepared me for my first encounter with the Polar Yacht Guide (PYG). A unique set of guidelines crafted for high-latitude sailing, the PYG has been instrumental in shaping our approach to building yachts capable of tackling the icy realms of the Arctic and Antarctic.

Today, I'd like to share our journey through the PYG and how it's influenced the design of our Explorer Yacht.

The Polar Yacht Guide for none-SOLAS pleasure yachts in Polar Waters (PYG) is a voluntary guide targeted at high latitude exploration vessels LOA <24m. The PYG guides those smaller non-commercial vessels outside the remit of its larger brother, the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters, MGN 637. We found no prescriptive way to answer each of the recommendations within PYG; a best-guess approach is probably as close as any of us will get. With that in mind, this is how it affected the design of our Explorer Yacht.

Scope of Application

The PYG isn't just another maritime rulebook; it's tailored for yachts under 24m, filling a niche unaddressed by the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters, which applies to larger vessels (typically over 300GRT). Its principles apply to a broad spectrum of yachts, ensuring their safe sojourn in Arctic and Antarctic territories.

Structurally Sound

Yachts venturing into polar waters must showcase the robustness required for contact with ice, intentional or otherwise. This means:

Ice-ready hulls: Designed to avoid and sometimes embrace and navigate safely around icy encounters.

  • Vanguard is NOT Ice Rated; she is aluminum hulled, too small, and underpowered to be an icebreaker. Her design does, though, pay respect to the intended destinations.

  • The hull is built considerably stronger than Code. She has a 24mm stem and keel plate with a 12mm aluminum plate extending through the lower hull on either side.

  • Stringers are 50% thicker and deeper than Code requirements.

  • The prow contains an impact zone backed with a watertight bulkhead at 1000mm aft, plus 3 others further aft.

  • The lower hull has double bottom tanks for 80% of the waterline length.

  • Both propellers are semi-enclosed to protect from floating ice with self-aligning rudder stocks that are also >100% stronger than Code requirements.

  • A low total draft of 4.5M and the skegs arranged for stable grounding if necessary.

  • Engine room seawater inlet can be back flushed online to clear slush ice as required.

Accretion Measures: Ice isn't just external; PYG ensures vessels consider the impact of ice accumulating on the ship, guarding against potential capsizing or instability.

  • MCA Category (0) allows for high latitude operating in Summer months only. No further action was taken besides black upper surfaces that maximize summer warming.

Mastery in Operation

Navigating polar waters isn't a task for the uninitiated:

Specialized Navigation: Expert ice pilots, well-versed with polar intricacies, become invaluable assets.

  • Eyos Expeditions will provide Ice Pilotage. There is not enough time to personally learn the skills necessary we will hire as an effective alternative.

Route Mapping: The PYG emphasizes reaching a destination and how you get there—prioritizing safety over speed.

  • We have installed Time Zero Professional, and linked with this is Furuno DFF-3D multibeam Sonar array. Furuno Navtex, AIS (A), GNSS Compass.

  • A Mil-Spec low light and IR Camera is installed, complete with a long-range IR illuminating laser for poor visibility and spotting operation.

  • The tender has IR wavelength searchlights, a low-level light camera, and a depth sounder for poorly charted anchorages.

  • Both the yacht and tender are equipped with AIS for location tracking. Both can operate on winter-grade low cloud point diesel fuel.

Training: The crew isn't just working on a ship; they're entrusted with a mission. Specialized training ensures every member is polar-ready.

  • Provided by our Ice Pilot plus USCG specialized crew training as needed.

Preserving the Polar Purity

In polar realms, nature reigns supreme, and the PYC ensures yachts respect this sovereignty:

Waste Protocol: Discarding waste isn't an afterthought; it's a meticulous process, ensuring the pristine environment remains untainted.

  • Waste is stored in the swim platform using dedicated access.

Clean Propulsion: Emissions are tightly regulated, urging vessels to adopt greener technologies.

  • Vanguard has duplicated commercial diesel-electric hybrid propulsion systems and a large solar array (less effective at high latitudes).

  • Diesel engines are EPA Tier III certified. Electric independence at anchor and operation on slow passages or near wildlife is preferred.

Ballast Regulation: Protecting polar waters from foreign contaminants, PYG advocates for advanced ballast treatments.

  • Water ballast is fresh water from the RO plant. Biological contamination is not an issue.

  • Additionally, the antifoul system is none toxic (Intersleek 1100SR)

Emergency? Be Ready

The PYG envisions many possible scenarios:

Equipment: From lifeboats to survival gear, everything is polar-proof.

  • Covered within MCA Category (0) requirements, VHF, AIS, EPIRB, SART, Liferafts ...... plus additional requirements recommended by Eyos.

Survival Training: Crew members are trained to avoid emergencies and face them if they arise.

Evacuation Routes: PYG mandates vessels to map out quick evacuation strategies, just in case.

  • Prepared during voyage planning in consultation with our Ice Pilot.

Keeping Connected

Isolation can be perilous, and thus:

Advanced Communication Systems: Yachts must have functional systems even in remote areas.

  • Irridium Sailor 4300 geostationary Sat Comms, Starlink (Mobile) low-level Sat Comms provided in addition to VHF and hand-held Iridium for the tender/shore party.

Reporting: Regular position updates keep yachts on the radar, ensuring they're never truly alone.

  • Eyos to act as a base station.

  • AIS (A) fitted for remote location tracking.

  • 2 off ICOM VHF fitted with AIS for tracking Yacht when ashore or in tender.


More than just a code, the PYG is a testament to an experienced sailor's respect for the pristine polar worlds. It behooves novices (like us!) to pay due respect to those lessons learned and apply them to our circumstances.

Chris Leigh-Jones

Further Reading: Polar Yacht Guide

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