Shipping company using drones in the Arctic

Shipping in the Arctic is no easy task.

Distances from southern Canada to the country’s High Arctic is long. Trips can be slow going, with captains navigating through hazardous ice up to one and a half metres thick.

But one Montreal-based shipping company called Fednav thinks they’ve found a way to make the going a little bit easier by using drones to and from Canada’s High Arctic.

Currently, captains navigate through treacherous ice with satellite software that sends images to the ships. But still, nothing can beat seeing the conditions first hand. Especially when the costs of running these ships to the Arctic runs from $70,000 – $100,000 per day.

“If we can save a day of sailing, it’s very significant,” says Tom Paterson, Fednav’s Senior Vice-President, Shipowning, Arctic and Projects.

To find out more, Eye on the Arctic’s Eilís Quinn spoke with Tom Paterson, Fednav’s Senior Vice-President, Shipowning, Arctic and Projects:
Drones in the North

Intrest in employing drones throughout the circumpolar world is increasing in everything from mining to the oil and gas industry.

In Canada’s northwestern Yukon territory, prospectors are  using unmanned aerial drones to survey land for gold deposits.

In Alaska, unmanned aircraft have been used by research institutions like the University of Alaska Fairbanks to monitor sea lion populations. And this summer, increased commercial use of drones is anticipated in Arctic Alaska by resource companies.

Live view of sea conditions

Fednav’s drones are fitted with a camera and function as mini-helicopters that allow the captain to see ice conditions in real time and adjust navigation accordingly.

“We see these small drones on television, and see that they can take great footage,” Paterson says. “So the idea was, why don’t we take them on the ship and put them up into the Arctic and if they can give us some good technology and some good viewing ahead.

“If we can save money and save fuel it helps everything – the environment and our customers.”

Fednav Drones from Fednav Limited on Vimeo.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related Links:

Canada: Drones help Yukon prospectors find gold deposits, CBC News

Finland:  New Finland icebreaker can operate sideways with asymmetrical hull, Yle News

Russia: Russia, icebreakers and Arctic identity, Blog by Mia Bennett

United States:  Civilian drones set to take flight over Arctic Alaska, Alaska Dispatch

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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