Polar oceans present a unique set of challenges to sustained observations. Sea ice cover restricts navigation for ships and autonomous measurement platforms alike, and icebergs present a hazard to instruments deployed in the upper ocean and in shelf seas. However, the important role of the poles in the global ocean circulation provides ample justification for sustained observations in these regions, both to monitor the rapid changes taking place, and to better understand climate processes in these traditionally poorly sampled areas. In the past, the vast majority of polar measurements took place in the summer. In recent years, novel techniques such as miniature CTD (conductivity–temperature–depth) tags carried by seals have provided an explosion in year-round measurements in areas largely inaccessible to ships, and, as ice avoidance is added to autonomous profiling floats and gliders, these promise to provide further enhancements to observing systems. In addition, remote sensing provides vital information about changes taking place in sea ice cover at both poles. To make these observations sustainable into the future, improved international coordination and collaboration is necessary to gain optimum utilization of observing networks.