Operational Guidelines


  • Updated April  2021

AECO is an international organization for expedition cruise operators. We are dedicated to managing responsible, environmentally friendly and safe expedition cruising in the Arctic. The members agree that expedition cruises and tourism must be carried out with the utmost consideration for the fragile natural environment, local cultures and cultural remains, as well as the challenging safety hazards at sea and on land. AECO members are obligated to operate in accordance with national and international laws and regulations, as well as agreed upon AECO by-laws and guidelines.

Parts of the guidelines have been developed for use in tour planning, preparation and operation by the tour operational office of AECO members. Other parts are tools to be understood and implemented by expedition staff working in the field in the Arctic. All visitors, staff and crew from AECO members’ ships must act in accordance with legal regulations as well as AECO guidelines. The guidelines do not in any way replace official laws and regulations or the need to know these regulations.

The guidelines are a dynamic set of tools that will develop with experience and knowledge as well as reflect new regulations and conditions.

The Guidelines have been developed with considerable input from the Governor of Svalbard, The Norwegian Polar Institute, WWF’s Arctic Program Office, as well as Visit Greenland, Greenland’s Ministry of Nature and Environment and others. These contributing institutions are not responsible for the correctness of the content, or the point of view AECO has taken on subjective matters in the guidelines.

AECO Responsibilities

The AECO guidelines are tools for the organization of responsible, environmentally friendly and safe expedition cruising in the Arctic by the members. The guidelines are intended to support AECO members in their efforts to give their visitors memorable and safe experiences of the Arctic unique and fragile nature, wildlife, cultures and cultural remains. The guidelines are also intended to support the protection of the environment and respect for and benefits to local communities.

Tourism, cruise and shipping activities in the Arctic operate within a comprehensive framework of international and national laws and regulations to ensure safety and preservation of the environment. Nevertheless, there is a need for operators to take responsibility for their activities and actions both within formal laws and regulations, and also where these regulations do not reach or define all aspects of their activities.

The expedition cruises conducted by all AECO members represent the primary means of access to the public to the more remote areas of the Arctic (except for the very resourceful few). We believe that access to these areas should be kept open to the public, unless very strong reasons require closure of some kind. AECO believes that the best way to secure access for the tour operators is through professional and sound organization and management. AECO members are prepared to take responsibility for their part of this management by operating according to laws and regulations, and through implementation of self-regulation.

All AECO members already work according to a large set of operating manuals and internal guidelines, and in accordance with existing laws and regulations. The AECO guidelines are not meant to replace member companies’ operating manuals, but to supplement and strengthen the set of available management tools. We also appreciate that the individual member companies might focus on specific aspects of the arctic experience and environment through theme programs, and that this might put more emphasis on specific areas of for example, environmental protection, than what is specified in the AECO guidelines.


AECO’s geographical range encompasses different countries with various national and local regulations. AECO members must adhere to all applicable laws and regulations.

Maritime operations of ships and cruise activities are regulated through national and international legislation, in particular the comprehensive convention system adopted by the UN organization IMO (International Maritime Organization) concerning safety at sea (SOLAS and others), pollution (MARPOL etc.), management systems (ISM-code etc.) and liability.

Members of AECO must ensure that ships owned or chartered by members are operated according to relevant maritime international and local laws and regulations.

Site management: In cooperation with the local authorities and others, AECO will work to protect and maintain the environmental quality of landing sites through developing area and site management systems including Site Specific Guidelines (appendix 2) and Community Guidelines (appendix 3).

Additional environmental standards

AECO supports a ban on use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic and has signed the “The Artic Commitment”.

AECO has signed the “Travel and Tourism Declaration on illegal trade in wildlife” and members of AECO cannot knowingly facilitate the carriage or sale of wildlife products, where the trade in those products is contrary to the   Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and as such is illegal under international law.

Operational area and guidelines application

AECO was founded in 2003 with its activity focused on Svalbard. AECO’s operational area was gradually expanded to other Arctic regions in accordance to decisions made at the Annual Meeting. From 2007 Jan Mayen and Greenland became part of AECO’s operational area, from 2015 the Russian Arctic National Park was included, from 2016 the Canadian Arctic was included and from 2019 Iceland was included.

AECO’s guidelines apply to AECO members in all these areas and as far as possible in all other Arctic areas.

Mandatory requirements and recommendations

Mandatory requirements and recommendations

AECO members are obliged to adhere to all AECO guidelines and decisions.

AECO members are expected to contribute by committing to a high standard and to represent the Arctic expedition cruise industry in the best possible manner. Beside adhering to all applicable laws and regulations, AECO guidelines and other mandatory AECO requirements, members are encouraged to continually work to raise the bar in regard to implementation, self-regulation and by following best practices.

Mandatory requirements

Implementation of guidelines

  • Take actions to ensure implementation of guidelines

Ref: Chapter 5.5

Field Staff Online Assessment

  • Require that staff pass AECO’s field staff online assessment

Ref: Chapter 5.6.2

AECO’s Cruise database

All operating members:

  • Register and update operator information
  • Register and update vessel information
  • Register PVR after the season, within deadlines as decided

Operators with vessels carrying more than 12 passengers:

  • Register sailing plans prior to the season, within deadlines as decided

Ref: Chapter 5.3 & 10.5

AECO’s Vessel tracker and AIS

Operators with vessels carrying 12 passengers or more

  • Install a vessel tracker
  • Run AECO’s vessel tracking while operating in the Arctic

Ref: Chapter 5.3

Incident reporting

  • Members of AECO have the obligation to report accidents, incidents and non-compliance to AECO.

Ref: Chapter 5.3 & 5.8

AECO’s Observer scheme

  • Members of AECO are required to carry an observer once every five years. Procedures and conditions are described in AECO’s Observer Scheme.

Ref: Chapter 5.4


  • Use distillate fuel oil

Ref: Chapter 5.5


Off-Vessel Risk Assessment Tool

  • AECO recommends using AECO’s Off Vessel Risk Assessment Tool (O-VRAT) before landing.

Ref: Chapter 6.1.1 & 6.1.4

AECO’s Cruise database

Operators operating vessels carrying less than 12 passengers are encouraged to register sailing plans.

Ref: Chapter 5.3 & 10.5

Research and citizen science

  • Support and contribute to relevant science and research activities

Ref: Chapter 10.4

Incident reporting

  • It is recommended to use AECO’s Incident Reporting Form when reporting. If the report is made in a different format, the information listed in AECO’s Incident Reporting Form must be included.

Ref: Chapter 5.3 & 5.7

Wildlife observations

  • Establish reporting procedures for sightings of certain wildlife species such as whales, walrus ashore, certain birds etc. in cooperation with national and international institutions.

Ref: Chapter 5.3

Outboard engines

  • Use 4 stroke lower emission outboard engines

Ref: Chapter 5.5

Crowd sourcing

  • Share depth soundings in AECO’s crowd sourcing project

Other member obligations

In addition to complying with relevant regulations and guidelines members must (Bylaws Article 3-F):

  • Adhere to AECO Bylaws,
  • Submit appropriate dues and fees,
  • Contribute to the organization’s good reputation and credibility.

Members are asked to actively be involved in:

  • Accepting positions of trust,
  • Involving in projects and processes,
  • Replying to AECO’s inquiries in a timely manner,
  • Participating in conferences and meetings.

To contribute to the organization’s good reputation and credibility, members are asked to, when possible:

  • Advocate for the association and its work,
  • Point to the association and its work,
  • Emphasize the importance of the Association,
  • Promote membership to operators that are non-member.

Planning procedures

Planning procedures must include the following steps:

  • Acquire an operational knowledge of laws and regulations regarding environment and safety at sea and land as a base for product development and planning.
  • Implement environment and safety considerations at all stages of the planning process.
  • Apply local adaptations to cruise/tour programs and itineraries, for instance in order to avoid seasonal bogs during melting-periods, bird nesting areas during nesting season, bird cliffs during chick-jumping etc.
  • Communicate with the local authorities at an early stage when planning new itineraries/products. Send advance notification of your travel plans according to procedures in the regulations and local demands.


Preparation for cruise operations must include the following steps:

  • Employ staff with relevant experience and in sufficient numbers.
  • Define responsibilities and plans of action both for regular operations and for emergency situations.
  • Develop systematic staff training at all levels- expedition staff, sales and marketing, administration and leadership, in the field and the home office- of the environmental and safety policies, regulations and guidelines on a general level and on a relevant detailed level for each job/function.
  • Ship crew, officers and staff should be informed about all AECO’s mandatory and recommended guidelines and policies.
  • Communicate relevant AECO policy and guidelines to visitors, agents and the market place, as well as to authorities, Arctic research communities and the interested general public.
  • Coordinate sailing schedules and itineraries pre-season to ensure smooth and safe operations, minimizing the environmental impacts and enhancing the wilderness experience.

Operational preparations

Operational activities must include the following steps:

  • Ensure updated contact information and vessels’ registrations in AECO’s cruise database.
  • Operations with vessels carrying 12 or more passengers must be registered with landing plans in AECO’s cruise database. Other vessels are encouraged to also register sailing plans.
  • Establish contact with and send information/sailing-plans to relevant authorities and local administrative interests – in accordance with national and local requirements.
  • Utilize the ships’ Automatic Identification System (AIS) and/or, in the case of SOLAS vessels, AECO’s vessel tracker to identify other vessels in the immediate vicinity and communicate intentions to coordinate activities.
  • Establish incident-reporting systems related to the environment and safety issues for internal use within each company and for reporting to AECO (see incident reporting). Also, ensure that authorities are informed formally when applicable by law or regulation, or otherwise informally, to ensure open communication regarding any issues which may arise.
  • Establish reporting procedures for sighting of certain wildlife species such as whales, walrus ashore, certain birds etc. in cooperation with national and international institutions.
  • Maintain regular contact with authorities in the local communities on an informal basis e.g. via the expedition leader visiting the offices of local authorities.

AECO’s observer scheme

Members of AECO are required to carry an observer once every five years. Procedures and conditions are described in AECO’s Observer Scheme.

Equipment and standards

SOLAS approved vessels are required to install and run “AECO’s vessel tracking” when operating in the Arctic.

All other vessels are encouraged to also install and run “AECO’s vessel tracking” when sailing in the Arctic.

AECO prohibits the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil by members[1] operating in the Arctic.

AECO strongly encourages members to use 4 stroke lower emission outboard engines.

Members operating on heavy fuel oil have a transitional period of three years, through 2022 to stop using HFO.

Implementation of guidelines

The creation of AECO Guidelines is a step toward achieving our objectives. To succeed, implementation on all levels within the AECO members’ organizations is a necessity. AECO wants to highlight the role of expedition staff, leaders and guides, and their key function.

External information 

  • Include AECO information/web address in written information/letters to guests.
  • Include the AECO logo and link to AECO’s website on company’s website.

Staff members 

  • Require staff members to pass AECO’s Field Staff Online Assessment.
  • Educate EL/guides about AECO guidelines.
  • Require that the EL/guides know and follow the AECO guidelines.
  • Include the AECO guidelines in internal manuals.

Crew members

  • Educate crew members prior to sailing season.
  • Make sure that the AECO guidelines are available on the bridge.
  • Require that crew members know and follow the AECO guidelines.

On board information 

  • Use AECO’s Animated Guidelines, general PowerPoint presentation or similar to inform guests about AECO and AECO guidelines.
  • Either hand out AECO guidelines to guests, and/or include AECO guidelines in cabin information and/or hang AECO guidelines on a visible notice board or show on a screen onboard.


It is also recommended:

  • To use the AECO guidelines as a basis for internal manuals.
  • That ship-owners if possible include AECO guidelines as part of ship IS5.7.


Members of AECO should be very conservative when using images for advertising that can be misinterpreted by the public and authorities alike. Some images may be interpreted as a breach of the guidelines. AECO members should make sure that in-house staff and external agents market the member’s products in a way that accurately reflects their compliance with AECO guidelines and standards.

Incident reporting

Members of AECO have the obligation to report accidents, incidents and non-compliance to AECO. It is important that AECO is informed at an early stage and kept updated on relevant development.

It is recommended to use AECO’s Incident Reporting Form when reporting. If the report is made in a different format, the information listed in AECO’s Incident Reporting Form must be included.


Environmental considerations and safety

The guidelines below are in addition to company policy and internal routines. The guidelines are directed to operational staff and to some extent the ship’s crew.

Breaking ice

Both above and below the surface many Arctic species are depending on the sea ice for feeding and breeding, especially during spring and summer Hence the longevity of the fast ice cover may influence the environment.

  • Do not break fjord ice during spring and summer.
  • Breaking of any ice should always be avoided if there if there is a risk of negative impact on the environment

Landings and shore-based activities

Landings and shore-based activities can affect or have the potential to affect wildlife, plant life, landscape, geological features and cultural remains. Landings and shore-based activities may also be subject to safety risks.

AECO’s Off-Vessel Risk Assessment Tool

In order to mitigate risks to the environment and people involved, AECO has developed an Off-Vessel Risk Assessment Tool.

It is recommended to use AECO’s Off-Vessel Risk Assessment Tool (O-VRAT) when making landings outside settlements.

AECO guidelines dealing with wildlife are also relevant for landings and shore-based activities.

If an operator conducts excursions that include tent camps AECO refers them to national and local legislation related to camping activities as well as AECO guidelines.


Even if different parts of the area in question have different legal protection status through national and local legislation, it is the policy of AECO to regard all land and marine areas as protected and act according to the highest protection status, which includes:

  • Do not remove anything. The regulations are relatively complex on what can be removed and where (plants, bones, dead animals/skeletons, fossils, stones, etc.). The expedition staff must know the regulation. Visitors or staff from AECO ships should however not move or remove any objects that are not clearly garbage, and thus avoid degradation of the landing sites and their wilderness value.
  • Do not allow cairn-building, graffiti creation of any kind or other such disturbances to the physical environment.
  • Ensure that visitors, staff or crew do not leave anything behind onshore or in the water.
  • Be considerate to other people or activities: avoid landings near camps, trappers or others unless contact is established, and the landing is agreed to.

Pre-landing information for visitors

  • Inform guests about what they will see, encounter/experience.
  • Divide visitors into groups according to language, difficulty of walk, etc. This should be done on the ship and before boarding the zodiacs to avoid a crowding at the landing site with unnecessary erosion of the vegetation.
  • Visitors should stay in their group: Instruct visitors on the importance of staying in their group, keeping close to the guide and following instructions.
  • Inform visitors about environmental impacts.
  • Inform visitors to not remove anything or leave anything behind.

Site considerations and landing plans 

  • Avoid other ships at the same landing site. A landing by more than one ship at a time can create confusion, reduce the guides’ overview resulting in security risks, increased disturbance and impact in the local environment, as well as reducing the experience value for the visitor.
  • Landing plan: The EL should plan each landing based on knowledge of the site, general and special regulations and restrictions, seasonal, local and weather conditions and safety considerations. The landing staff must be properly instructed before landing.
  • AECO recommends using AECO’s Off-Vessel Risk Assessment Tool (O-VRAT), when making landings outside settlements.
  • Choose a landing site and hiking route that avoids or minimizes disturbance of animals or cultural remains or erosion of vegetation and landscape.
  • Use prepared or marked paths if they have been established for the purpose (Note: in some areas it is required to use marked paths.).
  • Refrain from landing early in (melting season) in sensitive areas or if much rain has made the soil soft / muddy and walking through will create visible trails / damage.
  • Organise landings adequately with staff instruction, communications, time frames etc. Plan the landing in such a way that outside of settlements/developed areas, there are not more than 100 passengers ashore in the same general area at the same time, unless site specific guidelines state different numbers.
  • Large groups ashore should be divided into small groups to enhance the experience and communication and make it easier to ensure that all visitors know how to act. Choose an adequate group size according to the actual site, usually less than 30 unless guidelines states differently.
  • The  visitor to  guide ratio must not exceed 20 : 1 outside settlements unless Site Specific Guidelines state differently and must be lower if local conditions and regulations require.
  • When visiting settlements, adjust group sizes to the size of settlements in accordance with local requirements.
  • After the landing, guides should report any possible incidents as well as potential improvements of routines at landing site to the expedition leader.


  • Do not leave any litter anywhere, including cigarette butts.

Single-use plastics and beach cleanup efforts 

  • AECO encourages all members to reduce the use of single-use plastics and other disposable items.
  • AECO encourages members to engage in beach cleanup efforts and support AECO’s cleanup projects.
  • Please refer to AECO’s Clean up Svalbard Guidelines (appendix 8) and other information provided by the Association.

Guidelines on wildlife viewing

It is the view of AECO that a high level of environmental consideration, taking into account the potential for disturbance by our activities, is the best way to enhance and safeguard the experience of the unique Arctic wilderness for our visitors.

Basic principle: No disturbance!


Anyone staying in, or operating a tour program in the Arctic, shall show due consideration and exercise the caution required to avoid unnecessary disturbance or damage to the natural environment or cultural heritage.

AECO regards all fauna in the Arctic as protected. No one may hunt, capture, injure or kill fauna or damage eggs, nests or lairs.

It is prohibited to lure, pursue or otherwise seek out polar bears in such a way as to disturb them or expose either bears or humans to danger.

No disturbance distance: the principle is that we will avoid disturbing animals. This should not be interpreted as an authorization to move forward until we see a reaction, and then stop. The principle is that we shall avoid provoking a reaction in the first place. It is the responsibility of the operators to avoid interactions/disturbance of animals and define how disturbance will be avoided. It is difficult to establish exact distances to ensure not disturbing wildlife. Animals, whether the same species or not, may react differently to a given situation. For some species AECO does give specific recommendations as to distances to the animals as a basic starting point.

Avoid disturbing wildlife with noise. Avoid making loud noises. Keep radios on a low volume setting. If close to animals keep conversation low and calm.

Suspend loudspeaker announcements on deck if there is a risk of disturbing wildlife or local communities, except for mandatory or necessary safety announcements.

Data collection

Identifying and, in many cases, recording species for trip log purposes is a part of most onboard naturalists’ reports. These logs are valuable for research and management of the areas.

  • Note the GPS position (Latitude and Longitude) of sightings.
  • Identify species and provide any additional information, such as identification photographs.
  • If encouraged/asked, send copies of sighting reports to collaborating partners and authorities.

Wildlife found dead 

Wildlife found dead or other objects that stem from animals should not be removed e.g. carcasses or other objects coming from polar bears, reindeer, walrus, whales etc. lying in the terrain. In Svalbard, wildlife found dead, parts of wildlife found dead and animals killed in the interest of animal welfare belong to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund. Report findings to the Governor and do not remove anything (like walrus tusks, teeth and claws of polar bear etc.).

If you observe entangled or dead animals, report to the authorities in accordance with regulations and local requirements.


Rabies has been detected in Arctic regions. Some animals, such as the arctic fox, arctic dogs and arctic wolves are potential carriers of rabies.

  • Never touch live or dead wild animals.
  • Inform local authorities if you observe animals that might have rabies.

Arctic dogs

Arctic dogs are potentially dangerous. Keep safe distance. Report to local authority or community if you observe loose dogs outside settlements.

Entanglement and stranded animals 

  • Assist where possible: any animals entangled in fishing equipment, etc., should be assisted when this is possible. Use experienced staff/crew for these situations. Should you not be able to assist, record details including latitude and longitude, species and type of entanglement.
  • Photographs of the entanglement should be taken.
  • Report: report the event as soon as possible to local authorities for further instructions or to seek assistance. Complete a report and send it to local authorities.
  • Details of dead (floating) whales and stranded animals should be recorded. Where possible, take photographs recording the front and side of the head of the animal (for species identification).
  • Include a scale of measurement (e.g., a ruler or Zodiac paddle) in the photographs. Report findings to local authorities as soon as possible.

Wildlife guidelines 

AECO has developed specific wildlife guidelines that apply for a number of species in the Arctic, all of which can be found in appendix 5. Guidelines for species where special guidelines have not yet been developed can be found below.

Walrus – AECO’s wildlife guidelines include Walrus Guidelines (Appendix 5).

Seals – AECO’s wildlife guidelines include  Seal Guidelines (Appendix 5).

Cetacean – AECO’s wildlife guidelines include  Cetaceans Guidelines (Appendix 5).

Reindeer – AECO’s wildlife guidelines include  Reindeer Guidelines (Appendix 5).

Arctic fox –  AECO’s wildlife guidelines include a Arctic Fox Guidelines (Appendix 5)

Birds – AECO’s wildlife guidelines include Guidelines about Birds in the Arctic (Appendix 5)

Polar bears – AECO’s wildlife guidelines include  Polar Bear Guidelines (Appendix 5)


Arctic wolves are quick to learn begging if fed. Ensure that no food is available to them while you are ashore. Close contact to wolves is potentially dangerous because of rabies.

Musk oxen 

Musk oxen are potentially dangerous. Solitary oxen and herds with calves are considered to be most dangerous.

Keep your distance and never approach closer than 100 meters.

Never go between mother and calves.


Do not follow hares, let them approach you.


AECO has developed specific vegetation guidelines (Appendix 6) that apply for the Arctic.


  • Avoid making visible trails. Preferably walk on rock, firm soil or gravel.
  • Gravel slants: avoid walking up or down gravel slants where paths become very visible.
  • Specific geological formations: approach interesting geological formations in such a way that they are not harmed.
  • Thermal wells: be aware that some thermal wells may be protected and specific regulations may apply. Do not walk on the limestone plateau, or the unique vegetation nearby. These calcareous formations are very sensitive to physical disturbance such as trampling. Keep a minimum distance of five meters.
  • Fossils: do not remove fossils. There are different regulations in different areas; AECO members’ passengers or staff should not remove fossils, or for that matter stones, at any landing sites.
  • All minerals and rocks are protected under Greenland law. Tourists are not allowed to collect or extract stones or minerals in Greenland. If participating in a locally organized geological tour, minerals collected there can only be exported by show of receipt of participation in the tour and/or and export permit.
  • Geological structures under water: some geological structures under water may be especially vulnerable (such as the underwater pillars in Ikkafjorden – special regulations apply). Avoid causing any harm to such structures.

Cairns, graffiti, signs, etc.

  • Do not build cairns, gather or rearrange stones in any way.
  • Do not allow cairn-building, graffiti creation of any kind or other such disturbances to the physical environment.

Cultural remains

AECO has developed specific cultural remains guidelines (Appendix 7) that apply for the Arctic.

Drones and other UAV

AECO has banned the general use of UAVs by revenue passengers in the Arctic. Use of UAVs for special purposes may be decided by the operators within limits of regulations and AECO guidelines. UAVs/Drones can under no circumstances be used to pursue or approach wildlife.

Polar bears and firearm safety

Polar bear confrontations

AECO’s wildlife guidelines include a specific Polar Bear Guidelines (Appendix 5).

AECO members must take every necessary action to avoid confrontations with bears. Polar bears are best observed from a distance where they are undisturbed. Hurting or killing a polar bear is an offence if not done in self-defense. Irresponsible actions leading to such a situation can also be deemed an offense.

As a rule of thumb, a polar bear’s behavior should not be altered because of your presence.

Any shooting at or of a polar bear will be investigated as a possible criminal offense. The investigation will include focus on whether the tour operator has ensured that the guards had the necessary knowledge of firearms, that training in polar bear protection had been given, that adequate firearms and deterrents were available and that there are established routines for handling confrontations with polar bears.

Polar bears can be encountered all over Svalbard, including Bjørnøya and theoretically all over Greenland, but most likely in East -, North – and Northwest Greenland. In areas with polar bears, encounters must be expected anywhere, anytime. Appropriate means of frightening and chasing off polar bears should be part of the equipment; for example, flare guns and flare pens equipped with thunder flashes or signal cartridges, sirens and similar. Such equipment should be carried so that it is readily accessible.


Careless handling of firearms represents a greater hazard to human health than polar bears. It is imperative that safety rules be adhered to when firearms are stored, transported or used.

People have very differing attitudes or feelings towards firearms ranging from nervousness and negative feelings to strong interest and a desire to look at or touch weapons. It is important that the expedition leader and guides explain the need of guns and signal guns, how and when we load and unload them, the dangers involved, the importance of unauthorized persons never touching them and of following the instructions of the guides and guards ashore.


Type of weapon:  The Governor of Svalbard recommends “a minimum calibre of .308W or 30-06 (7.62 mm). Rifle bullets shall be expanding, with a minimum bullet weight of 11.5 g. The required impact energy shall be 2,700 J, measured at a distance of 100 m.  For reasons of precision, range, functionality in cold conditions and stopping power, the Governor of Svalbard recommends the use of rifles as the primary means of protection against polar bears, rather than other types of firearms.”

All firearms in use on the cruise should be of the same caliber, using the same ammunition.

Guides should use their “own” rifles: Guides and/or polar bear guards carrying firearms should preferably be responsible for one particular rifle throughout the season (or throughout the whole cruise).


All guides and polar bear guards should be experienced in the safe handling of firearms, have good shooting skills, and have knowledge about polar bear behavior. At least one guide ashore should have considerable experience, preferably from hunting or active shooting. Unless the user is familiar with the firearm and has had sufficient training with a firearm, the sense of safety provided by firearms is deceptive. Test your weapon and signal gun/pen prior to the cruise. Never point at anyone with a gun or signal gun/pen; loaded or unloaded.

Signal guns 

To frighten away a polar bear, a signal gun or emergency signal pen (with crack cartridges) is more suitable than a rifle. However, flares cannot replace a rifle, they only complement it. Moreover, flares are useful for alerting about imminent danger or accident. Flare guns also represent a hazard for humans and should not be loaded unless needed.

Storage and maintenance 

  • Weapon locker: All firearms should be stored in the ships’ weapon locker, never in the owner’s cabin. The bolt should not be stored at the same place as the rifle.
  • Ammunition should be locked in.
  • Running maintenance: The “owner” has the responsibility of maintaining and cleaning their rifle. Be sure that the oil used to clean the gun is suitable to low temperatures – incorrect cleaning materials can result in weapons jamming in the Arctic.

In Zodiacs – transportation 

  • Use a cover to protect the rifle from sea water and dust.
  • The rifle should never be loadedloaded, or half loaded in the zodiacs.


  • The expedition staff must keep an overview of their group!
  • If approaching a cabin, send an armed person out to check out the cabin first to make sure there are no bears hiding close to or inside the cabin.
  • Never let visitors walk alone if not accompanied by a rifle-carrying person.
  • Load cartridge (half loading) of at least one firearm immediately when coming ashore outside settlements.
  • Load the chamber only to prepare for an actual warning or shot. Never walk around with loaded chamber.
  • Empty the chamber immediately when a risky situation ends.
  • Never let visitors handle your rifle.

In settlements

  • Never walk inside the settlements with a half loaded or loaded rifle. Let the bolt be open or remove it, making it visible to everybody that it is unloaded.
  • Never walk outside the settlements in polar bear areas without a rifle.

Hazards and safety risks ashore

Beside risks in connection with polar bears, walrus, firearms and zodiac landings – the following challenges are among those that can be met:

  • Along shore: sudden waves, shoreline fallout.
  • Terrain: unpredictable conditions caused by climate change, e.g. more rain and greater risk of avalanches and landslides.
  • Rivers: rivers can be deeper than they appear.
  • Hidden ice: gravel and scree can cover hidden ice or glacier remnants and possibly crevasses or bergschrund. Ice can be unstable and can slide out or fall.
  • Glaciers should not be approached without experienced guides.
  • Flood waves: glacier fronts and icebergs flipping over can cause serious flooding on shorelines.
  • Weather conditions can change rapidly and be hazardous such as fog, blizzard etc.
  • Visitors hiking capacity: an overestimation of someone who takes part in a longer or more difficult walk can spread out the group and lead to dangerous situations.

Zodiac operations

General safety

Onboard equipments and conditions 

  • Anchor
  • Paddles
  • Spare fuel
  • Rope for anchoring
  • Pump
  • Tool kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Radio
  • Compass/ GPS
  • First aid kit
  • Flare kit and sound signaling device
  • Boats must be properly inflated.
  • Any defects found in outboard motors, boats or associated equipment should be reported to a designated person as soon as possible.
  • Boats should be clean, water pumped out and seats wiped off prior to boarding visitors.
  • Capacity: maximum seating capacity varies with the type of zodiac – refer to the zodiac manual in each ship and then do not overload boats.
  • At least two zodiacs should always drive together, in case of a MOB situation. This is also the recommended guideline when there are no visitors in the zodiac. The exception is during very short shuttles.
  • Life vest: ensure that everyone onboard is wearing a life vest/personal floatation device (PFD) properly before entering the zodiac.
  • Guides carrying rifles go ashore first. At new places and in terrain where it is difficult to see the surrounding area, a guide should do a reconnaissance and look out for polar bears before any passenger comes ashore.
  • The dead man’s string should be used according to the policy of your company.
  • Technical operational procedures: The zodiac driver should always check that the zodiac is adequately maintained before operating; has full and appropriate fuel container, is sufficiently inflated etc.

Range finders 

  • It is strongly recommended to use Laser Range Finders (LSRs) during zodiac operations. Regularly check distances to potentially hazardous features.
  • It is recommended that the LSR has a reach of minimum 1000 meters.
  • It is recommended to use the LSR for distance assessment training for staff.

Driver qualities 

  • Experience and training: All drivers should have gone through satisfactory driving practice before operating any vehicles.
  • Technical skills: All guides should be acquainted with basic technical skills concerning zodiacs. This is due to the necessity of handling unforeseen situations.

Driving procedures 

  • Go slowly (no faster than 5 knots) when near birds or animals, or when the sea-floor conditions are unknown.
  • Avoid sudden or repeated changes in direction, speed or changing gears when close to marine mammals or swimming birds.
  • Crew/staff without passengers: Zodiacs should only be driven by crew /staff without passengers if necessary and according to the same rules that are defined in these guidelines.
  • Shallows / stones: before operating, search for information about the sailing conditions in the actual area. Do a reconnaissance without passengers if necessary.

Ice conditions 

  • Allow for the actual ice condition.
  • Fast Ice: Newly formed fast ice has sharp edges that might rip a hole in your zodiac.
  • Drift Ice: Investigate the ice drift before zodiac operation. Drift ice will move due to sea currents. You might suddenly be enclosed when sailing in drift ice.

Glacier fronts 

Glaciers fronts may calve, causing flood waves and/or flying bits of ice. Keep your distance!

The recommended minimum distance to glaciers in the Arctic is no less than 200 meters. For high activity glaciers such as glaciers fed directly from the Greenland Inland Ice Cap a distance of 400 meters is recommended.

At some glacier fronts, even this may be too close, especially in narrow fjords, shallow fjords and fjords with high cliffs. Show extra caution and always increase the distance to the glacier fronts if the glacier calves in shallow water or on land – use good judgment.

  • All glaciers may calve, even if the probability of a glacier calving may differ. E.g. the probability of the Bråsvell glacier calving is much smaller than the Monaco glacier, but the Bråsvell glacier may still calve.
  • All zodiacs must keep an appropriate distance (including a buffer zone) away in order to handle a possible calving.
  • Avoid being trapped by islands or in brash ice close to the glacier front in case a calving occurs.
  • Factors that might affect the probability of a calving:
  • Glacier front height
  • Water depth in front of the glacier
  • Gradient of the glacier
  • The speed of the glacier front
  • Degree of fracturing in the glacier front
  • Sea and current dynamics under the glacier front
  • Fjord width, sea depth and topography as high cliffs


  • Potentially unstable: all icebergs can suddenly flip over, causing flood waves. Keep your distance! Icebergs are continuously under the influence of waves, tides, currents and temperature, and therefore potentially unstable. Remember that 90% of the berg is under water.
  • Sudden flipping might cause huge waves, or parts of the iceberg might come to the surface at unexpected places.
  • Never approach an iceberg too closely.
  • Details: see Glacier fronts.


Stones falling from cliffs, ravines with sand/stones and the breaking up of ice are hazardous. For these reasons, do not drive Zodiacs close to cliffs.

Impacts on the environment 

Fauna in water, in drift ice, on ice floes and ashore: see the guidelines for wildlife viewing and polar bear safety.

Pollution: Zodiacs and zodiac driving represent a potential pollution risk through fuel leakage, use of low quality fuel or untrimmed or old model engines. The use of 4-stroke outboard engines is strongly recommended in order to reduce exhaust fumes and engine noise as much as possible. Noise pollution is also an issue. Members of AECO should always strive to reduce such pollution potentials as much as possible in their operations.

Passengers handling procedures and instructions

Passengers boarding, and disembarking procedures from/to ship and to/from shore:

  • Mandatory Zodiac briefing prior to the first excursion.
  • Describe the boarding procedure.
  • Demonstrate the proper procedure for donning the lifejacket to be worn in the Zodiacs.
  • Boarding procedure:
  • Sailors grip: One passenger enters and leaves the zodiac at a time. Use sailors grip and step on the inflatable side, then into the zodiac.
  • The visitor takes a seat at a designated place.
  • Life vest: be sure that all passengers have their life vests on properly.

Passengers clothing/equipment

  • Inform passengers about appropriate clothing for the conditions they will be encountering at the first information meeting in a general sense and before every landing specifically.
    • Recommended clothing: Windproof suit, hat, gloves, scarf and suitable footwear.
    • Recommended equipment: Backpack with some spare clothing is recommended as well as camera-protection against water splash.

Passenger behavior on board

  • Remain seated: Passengers shall always remain seated unless embarking or disembarking from the boat, or unless the boat is stopped and permission is obtained from the driver. There should never be more than one passenger standing at the time of embarking or disembarking.
  • Secure equipment and belongings to avoid losing items overboard.

Adaptation to weather and sea conditions

Balance the boat according to the weight of the passengers.

Cultural and social interaction

“Do not expect to find everything as it is at home – you have left home to find things different.”

These guidelines for cultural and social interaction are developed to support members in their effort to conduct respectful interaction with people and cultures they meet, and to maximize local communities’ benefits from tourism. Although these guidelines especially mention Inuit and Greenlandic communities, they apply to visits in any Arctic town or settlement, including Norwegian, Russian and Polish settlements in Svalbard.

AECO has developed Community Guidelines (appendix 3), and a template for the Development of Community Specific Guidelines (appendix 3).

AECO has also implemented a number of Community Specific Guidelines that are mandatory for our members.

Other considerations in the Arctic

Arctic dogs 

In many Arctic towns and settlements there will be a significant number of Arctic dogs. They are working dogs and not pet animals. They can be dangerous to strangers, therefore:

  • Never approach or attempt to pet Arctic dogs without permission and supervision from the dog owner or handler.
  • Never feed Arctic dogs without permission and supervision from the dog owner or handler.

Military stations 

Five Danish Defence military installations in Greenland have historically been subject for applications for visits. Four located in the National Park in East Greenland: Station Mestersvig, Station Daneborg, Station Nord and Station Ella Ø (military facilities are limited to the area east of the river Hundeelven). One located in South Greenland; Station Grønnedal. Request to visit any of the stations only via email: FKO-KTP-AKO@MIL.DK.

Search and rescue services in Arctic regions

Search and rescue services are present in most Arctic areas. But remember, the areas are huge and the resources limited. Avoid any potential misuse of resources by:

  • Keeping in contact with local authorities.
  • Reporting your position in accordance with local demands.
  • Always informing local authorities before entering and after leaving areas with limited possibilities of communication (e.g. fjords).
  • The use of satellite positioning system is recommended.

Scientific work and cooperation

AECO and its members should:

  • Support, and if needed, proactively initiate studies on cumulative visitor impacts to sites and/or areas.
  • Support and contribute to relevant scientific and research activities through contributing to transportation, logistical support or other assistance from our ships in Arctic waters.
  • Engage in a working relationship with non-governmental organizations active in conservation and environmental issues.

Post Visit Reporting

Use AECO’s cruise database for Post Visit Reporting.

Svalbard: Report to the Governor. Ships sailing in Svalbard waters shall, according to law, report all landings with the exact site name and position (preferably GPS-position) of landing and the number of persons landing.

Greenland: Ships sailing in Greenland national park shall submit post-visit reports in accordance with requirements following the permission to enter.


Evaluation should aim to:

  • Evaluate planning and operations systematically in view of environmental and safety challenges and experiences with the aim of improving your operations and, if applicable, the AECO guidelines/industry standards.

Additional information

The AECO Operational Guidelines were adopted by the Annual Meeting of AECO in 2004, while the AECO Environmental & Safety Guidelines were approved by the members in May 2005. These guidelines were slightly edited by the Annual meeting in October 2006. The guidelines for cultural and social interaction were adopted as provisional guidelines in April 2007 and approved by the Annual meeting in October 2007. The guidelines for implementation were approved by the Annual meeting in 2007. The guidelines were made applicable for Jan Mayen and Greenland (in addition to Svalbard) in October 2006. The amended guidelines approved by the Annual meeting 2007 and 2013, reflects AECO’s geographical range. Minor amendments have been done almost annually, the last amendment in October 2014.


Acts and regulations relevant for Arctic expedition cruising


Maritime operations of ships and cruise activities are regulated through national and international legislation, in particular the comprehensive convention system adopted by the UN organization IMO (International Maritime Organization) concerning safety at sea (SOLAS and others), pollution (MARPOL etc.), management systems (ISM-code etc.) and liability. The documents are available at www.imo.org


The Svalbard treaty



The Svalbard Act (not available in English)


Regulations relating to tourism and other travel in Svalbard

Regulations and travel restrictions | Governor of Svalbard (sysselmesteren.no)


Svalbard Environmental Protection Act



Regulation relating to camping activities

Forskrift om leiropphold på Svalbard – Lovdata (Norwegian)

https://www.aeco.no/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/RegulationsrelatingtocampingactivitiesinSvalbard.pdf (English)


Regulations relating to off-road motor traffic and the use of aircraft for tourism purposes in Svalbard

Regulations relating to motor vehicle aircraft (sysselmesteren.no)


Regulation relating to harvesting on the fauna in Svalbard

Forskrift om høsting på Svalbard – Lovdata (Norwegian)


Regulations relating to environmentally hazardous substances, waste and waste management fees in Svalbard

Pollution, waste and chemicals | Governor of Svalbard (sysselmesteren.no)


Not all regulations relating to the various protected areas in Svalbard are available in English:


North-West Spitsbergen national park

South-Spitsbergen national park

Prins Karls Forland national park

Eastern-Svalbard nature reserves

Kong Karls Land nature reserve

Moffen nature reserve

Hopen nature reserve

Bjørnøya nature reserve

Ossean Sars nature reserve

Nordenskiöld Land national park

North Isfjorden national park

Sassen-Bünsow Land national park

Inner Wijdefjorden national park

Festingen geotop protected area

Jan Mayen 

Regulations for Jan Mayen are not available in English


Forskrift av 28 mai 1971 om regulering av naturinngrep på Jan Mayen

Regulation of 28. May 1971 relating to nature interference in Jan Mayen


Forskrift av 11 august 1978 om forvaltning av vilt og ferskvannsfiske

Regulation of 11. August 1978 relating to management of wild fauna and fresh water fishing


Forskrift av 21. juni 1974 om fredning av kulturminner

Regulation of 21 June 1974 on cultural heritage protection


Executive Order on Access to and Conditions for Traveling in Certain Parts of Greenland (available in Danish only)


Landsting Act No. 29 of 18 December 2003 on the Protection of Nature (available in Danish only)

Landstingslov nr. 29 af 18. december 2003 om naturbeskyttelse



Landsting Act No. 11 of 12 November 1980 on nature preservation

Landstingslov nr. 11 af 12. november 1980 om naturfredning i Grønland



Landsting Act No. 12 of 29 October 1999 on harvest and hunting

Landstingslov nr. 12 af 29. oktober 1999 om fangst og jagt




Landsting Act No. 25 of 18 December 2003 on Protection of fauna

Landstingslov nr. 25 af 18. december 2003 om dyreværn



Landsting Decree No. 6 of 30 October 1998 on museums

Landstingsforordning nr. 6 af 30. oktober 1998 om museumsvæsen



Home Rule Order No. 10 of 13 April 2005 on harvest of large whales

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 10 af 13. april 2005 om fangst af store hvaler



Home Rule Order No. 21 of 22 September 2005 on protection and harvest of polar bears

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 21 af 22. september 2005 om beskyttelse og fangst af isbjørne



Home Rule Order No. 22 of 19 August 2002 on hunting and fishing with fees

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 22 af 19. august 2002 om betalingsjagt og -fiskeri



Home Rule Order No. 20 of 25 August 2005 on mountain trout fishing

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 20 af 25. august 2005 om fiskeri efter fjeldørred



Home Rule Order No. 12 of 13 September 2004 on export and import of wild animals and plants, etc. covered by the Convention of 3 March 1973 on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Washington Convention/CITES) (available in English)

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 12 af 13. september 2004 om eksport og import af vilde dyr og planter mv. omfattet af konventionen af 3. marts 1973 om international handel med udryddelsestruede vilde dyr og planter (Washingtonkonventionen/



Home Rule Order No. 7 of 17 June 1992 on the National park in North and East Greenland (available in Danish only)

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 7 af 17. juni 1992 om Nationalparken i Nord- og Østgrønland.



Greenland Home Rule Government Order No. 1 of 21 January 2004 on the Conservation of Birds (available in Danish only)

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 1 af 21. januar 2004 om beskyttelse af fugle



Home Rule Order No. 8 of 8 February on the conservation of reindeers

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 8 af 8. februar 2001 om beskyttelse af rensdyr.



Home Rule Order No. 9 of 8 February 2001 on the conservation of musk ox

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 9 af 8. februar 2001 om beskyttelse af moskusokser.



Home Rule Order No. 20 of 17 May 1989 on the conservation of foxes in Greenland

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 20 af 17. maj 1989 om fredning af ræve i Grønland.



Home Rule Order No. 9 of 5 May 1988 on the conservation of wolves in Greenland

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 9 af 5. maj 1988 om fredning af ulve i Grønland.



Home Rule Order No. 13 of 13 September 2004 on the conservation of wolverine

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 13 af 13. september 2004 om beskyttelse af jærv



Home Rule Order No. 2 of 12 February 2004 on the conservation and harvest of belugas and narwhales

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 2 af 12. februar 2004 om beskyttelse og fangst af hvid- og narhvaler.



Home Rule Order No. 21 of 17th May 1989 on the Nature Reserve in the Melville Bay (available in Danish only)

Hjemmestyrets bekendtgørelse nr. 21 af 17. maj 1989 om naturreservatet i Melville Bugt.




List of appendixes

Appendix 1 – Visitor Guidelines


Appendix 2 – Site Specific Guidelines


Appendix 3 – Community Guidelines and Guidelines, Community Specific Guidelines and Community Specific Guidelines


Appendix 4 – Biosecurity Guidelines


Appendix 5 – Wildlife Guidelines


Appendix 6 – Vegetation Guidelines


Appendix 7 – Cultural Remains Guidelines


Appendix 8 – Clean Seas and Clean up Svalbard Guidelines


Appendix 9 – Yacht guidelines

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