A one-metre thick sheet of ice might seem an unbeatable foe but it’s no match for a device that can obliterate it without coming more than an arm’s length from its surface.

The Sipu Muin icebreaking hovercraft, one of just four in Canada, has been crushing ice in local waters by creating waves beneath the icy surface. The waves cause the ice to wobble and snap.

The principle is ingeniously subversive. “The ice is not flexible,” Commander Lynn White told CTV Montreal. “Once the wave reaches the ice, it will break.”

Four engines propel the craft, two for lift and another pair for propellers.

The craft cruises along icy surfaces at speeds of up to 90 km/h, causing warmer waters to rock beneath the surface, leaving the ice in fractured pieces as it proves unable to withstand the watery pressure from below.

“There is no contact with the surface, so we’re environmentally friendly. The fish are happy to see us, they’ve spent the winter in darkness and the sun is shining,” said White.

A relatively minor patch such as that of Lac St. Louis still requires about a week of ice-breaking to clear. The aim of most operations is to prevent formations that could lead to floods or block routes.

“Ice breaking is one of the most gratifying tasks because you can see your results straight off," said White. "We like to say that we bring the spring.”