Zodiacs in Antarctica: What to expect

Zodiacs in Antarctica: What to expect

January 8th, 2023 / Burnham Arlidge

Zodiacs are the vehicles of Antarctica, allowing guests to go ashore and also explore the smaller bays and inlets in search of wildlife.

For many people visiting Antarctica this will be the first time they step foot aboard a zodiac. These rigid inflatable boats are incredibly good in all sorts of sea conditions and almost every Antarctic expedition cruise operator runs a fleet of zodiacs on each trip.

Below we have answered the most common questions we get asked in regards to zodiacs in Antarctica.

Why are zodiacs used in Antarctica?

In Antarctica, zodiacs are used as a means of transportation to and from the ship when making shore landings. Because there are no ports in Antarctica, cruise vessels will weigh anchor in small bays and you will use the zodiac to go ashore.

Zodiacs are also used for ‘wildlife safaris’. This is not a landing, but a zodiac cruise only. You simply use the zodiacs to scout the smaller bays and inlets for wildlife. Creatures in Antarctica including seals and whales are often very curious and will approach zodiacs. This often provides a once in a lifetime close encounter with these incredible animals.

If wildlife is spotted, passengers with good cameras will often kneel down on the floor of the zodiac and rest their lens and hands on the zodiac’s rubber rail pontoons for stability.

How safe are zodiacs?

Zodiac boats are very safe. They are built in such a way that makes them almost impossible to flip or sink quickly. Antarctic expedition guides are trained thoroughly in how to operate these boats and will always travel at a safe speed.

As guests will be seated on the side of the zodiac it is theoretically possible to fall off a zodiac in rough sea conditions, but this is almost unheard of given that the zodiacs will not be deployed in poor weather.

The expedition guide driving the zodiac will always be attached to a kill switch so that if they should fall off the zodiac, the engine will stop automatically. Once again, this should rarely, if ever, happen.

All passengers will be wearing life jackets at all times aboard zodiacs in the unlikely event of a guest falling into the water.

How easy is it to embark and disembark and zodiac?

To embark a zodiac, your expedition team will have a wooden step board in the zodiac so that you can walk down the platform steps and into the zodiac quite easily. There will be several people to hold you as you step onto the boat.

To disembark a zodiac is slightly different and will often be what is called a ‘wet landing’. This means that the zodiac will pull as far up onto a beach as possible and the passengers will then have to slide their legs over the rubber pontoon rails of the zodiac and walk to shore in the shallow water.

Waterproof muck boots will always be provided free of charge on expedition vessels which will keep your feet nice and dry during wet landings.

Zodiacs can be a little more tricky to embark and disembark in bad weather when there are swells. As mentioned, there will always be people to help you in, but it can take a little more time. If the weather becomes too rough, then the operation will be cancelled.

Will you get wet on a zodiac?

The most likely awnser is yes, you will gwt wet. Even in low swells, water can often splash over the sides and front of the zodiac. This is why it is so importnant that you have the right gear with you. Waterproof jacket and trousers are a must, as is something waterproof to put your camera and personal itmems.

If you get lucky, you won't get a drop of water on you all trip. But more often than not you may find yourself completely soaked after a zodiac cruise. Even when conditions look calm and settled, always bring waterproof clothing as the weather can change incredibly fast in Antarctica.

Do you have to use the zodiacs?

You do not have to use the zodiacs if you do not wish to. However, this will mean that you will have to stay on the ship at all times because the zodiacs are used for all land excursions and wildlife safaris.

It is therefore highly recommended that you do use the zodiacs to get the most out of your trip. Kayakers will also often be asked to board their kayaks from the safety of a zodiac instead of the ship.

Posted on Jan 08, 2023

About the Author Burnham Arlidge

Burnham started his career as a professional tennis player before retiring due to injury. Since then Burnham has thrown himself into adventure travel. He has visited some of the most iconic and obscure parts of the planet - his most memorable experience is Antarctica!

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