CGC Healy History

Captain Michael A. Healy


Captain HealyCaptain Michael A. Healy was born near Macon, Georgia in 1839. He was the fifth of ten children born to Michael Morris Healy, an Irish plantation owner, and his wife Mary Elisa Smith, a former slave. This family produced several distinguished individuals. Three brothers entered the priesthood; James became the first black bishop in North America, Patrick was president of Georgetown University, and Sherwood became an expert in canon law. Three sisters became nuns, one reaching the level of mother superior.

When his siblings became bishops, priests, and nuns, it may have been to compensate for the man who became known as "Hell Roaring Mike." Michael Healy was uninterested in academic pursuits and so began a seagoing career as a cabin boy aboard the American East Indian Clipper JUMNA in 1854. He quickly became an expert seaman and rose to the rank of officer on merchant vessels.

In 1864 he applied for a commission in the U.S. Revenue Marine and was accepted as a Third Lieutenant. After serving successfully on several cutters in the East, Healy began his lengthy service in Alaskan waters in 1875 as the second officer on the cutter RUSH.

He was given command of the revenue cutter Chandler in 1877. Promoted to Captain in March 1883, he was given command of the cutter Thomas Corwin in 1884.

Finally in 1886, he became Commanding Officer of the cutter Bear, taking her into Alaskan waters for the first time. Here he remained until 1895.

Although already held in high regard as a seaman and navigator in the waters of Alaska, it was as Commanding Officer of Bear that Healy truly made his mark in history. During the last two decades of the 19th Century, Captain Healy was the United States Government in most of Alaska. In his twenty years of service between San Francisco and Point Barrow, he acted as: judge, doctor, and policemen to Alaskan natives, merchant seamen and whaling crews.

He operated closely to what would become the mission of his Coast Guard successors a century later: protecting the natural resources of the region, suppressing illegal trade, resupply of remote outposts, enforcement of the law, and search and rescue. Even in the early days of Arctic operations, science was an important part of the mission. Renowned naturalist John Muir made many voyages with Healy during the 1880's as part of an ambitious scientific program. With the reduction in the seal and whale populations, he introduced reindeer from Siberia to Alaska to provide food, clothing, and other necessities for the native peoples.

The primary instrument in Healy's capable hands, to accomplish all of this, was the cutter Bear, probably the most famous ship in the history of the Coast Guard. Under "Hell Roaring Mike", Bear became legendary as "Healy's Fire Canoe". Healy and Bear proved to be a perfect match, a marriage of vessel capability and unrivaled ice seamanship that became legend.


USCGC Healy (WAGB 20) was constructed by Avondale Industries in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her keel was laid on September 16, 1996. A spectacular launch followed on November 15, 1997. Delivered to the U.S. Coast Guard and placed "In Commission, Special" on November 10, 1999, Healy joined the icebreakers Polar Star (WAGB 10) and Polar Sea (WAGB 11) in their homeport of Seattle, Washington. The ship departed New Orleans on January 26, 2000, arrived in Seattle on August 9, 2000, and was placed "In Commission, Active" on August 21, 2000.                                                                                                             

Since her commission, Healy has supported research at the North Pole four times. During her   maiden voyage on September 6, 2001, Healy became the second U.S. surface ship to reach the North Pole, accompanied by the German research icebreaker Polarstern. On this mission, Healy was awarded the Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation for mapping 1,100NM of the Gakkel Ridge, the only unmapped undersea ridge at the time, which included the discovery of twelve undersea volcanos. On September 12, 2005, Healy again reached the North Pole, accompanied by Swedish icebreaker Oden. Healy became the first U.S. surface ship to reach the North Pole unaccompanied on October 29, 2015, for which she received the Coast Guard Unit Commendation. On September 30, 2022, she would again arrive at the North Pole unaccompanied for her fourth and latest achievement at 90 degrees. 

Not only has Healy trekked to the North Pole, but she has also assisted with Operation Deep Freeze. In 2003, Healy embarked with USCGC Polar Sea to aid with vessel escort and the annual resupply of McMurdo Station. Extreme weather conditions that year dictated the need for multiple icebreakers to complete the mission. This feat emphasized Healy's flexibility and ability to accomplish a broad range of Coast Guard missions. The ship was awarded the Antarctic Service Medal and the Coast Guard Unit Commendation. 

In 2012, Healy escorted the fuel tanker Renda to Nome, Alaska, under incredibly difficult winter ice conditions. This fuel was vital for maintaining electricity in Nome and called on Healy to ensure safe navigation in the thick ice conditions. Also, on AWS-12, Healy completed 472 individual science casts, including a two-week Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) mission, the Chukchi Sea Offshore in Drilling Area (COMIDA) Hanna Shoal mission, a five-week Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) mission, and a three-week North Slope Moorings mission. The research collected has lasting effects on ocean floor mapping and biological studies.

In 2016, Healy embarked on the monumental AWS-16 mission, transiting over 20,000 nautical miles and completing 141 distinct science evolutions. The science evolutions collected biological data in the complex Arctic environment, even discovering a new marine species, the benthic ctenophore. Healy also conducted a hydrographic survey of the Alaskan North Slope and Beringian Margin seafloor top to collect information to effectively delineate the U.S. ECS and extend U.S. territory and sovereign rights over the seafloor. During the AWS-16 expedition, Healy paired with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the U.S. State Department to complete all science missions successfully.

On July 11, 2023, Healy departed on the Arctic Summer 2023 circumnavigation deployment, aiming to accomplish a full schedule of science missions. She started the expedition to support ONR's Arctic Mobile Observation System (AMOS). The AMOS mission focuses on developing technologies for continuous, long-term scientific observations in the Arctic marine environment. Next, Healy partnered with the Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC), National Science Foundation, and NOAA for a month-long Nansen and Amundsen Basins Observational System (NABOS) mission. They collected data to understand the circulation of Atlantic water into the Arctic using mooring buoys and conductivity, temperature, and density sensors. 

While deployed in 2023, Healy had several engagements with Arctic partners. She exchanged crew with the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfred Laurier and the Icelandic Coast Guard Vessel Thor. Healy conducted a similar exchange with the Norwegian Coast Guard Vessel Svalbard before participating in a multi-agency search and rescue exercise with the ship and other Norwegian responders. This cooperation is valuable to the U.S. Coast Guard’s role in advancing the U.S. vision of the Arctic as a region that is "peaceful, stable, prosperous and cooperative," as stated in the 2022 National Strategy for the Arctic Region (NSAR) and the U.S. Coast Guard Arctic Strategic Outlook Implementation Plan. 

Throughout Healy's more than 20-year tenure, it has had a lasting impact on Arctic science, collecting valuable data to understand Arctic waters and how it affects the ecosystem. Healy has also proven to be a flexible asset with the ability to operate globally and with diverse partners. We are proud of our cutter and look forward to many more years of making history.