previous sub-section
Observations and Collections at Sea
next sub-section


For purposes of oceanographic research, a very sturdy, seaworthy vessel capable of working under practically all weather conditions and of withstanding any storm is required. Vessels engaged in marine investigations can be broadly classified as either oceanic or coastal types, depending largely upon their size and cruising radius, but the two categories are not sharply defined, since large vessels may be used for near-shore investigations and relatively small vessels sometimes extend their operations far out to sea. In the following discussion, vessels and equipment used in coastal surveying and in the study of fisheries problems will not be described, although vessels engaged primarily in such work are sometimes employed in oceanographic investigations. Practically any vessel, small or large, can be used for certain types of investigations, but rarely is any single craft, unless specially designed, suitable for all kinds of oceanographic work. One of the chief requirements of oceanographic vessels operated by private or small organizations is economy of operation. This generally means a relatively small craft with low maintenance cost which can be handled by a small crew. Vessels owned or operated by national agencies, such as the Meteor (Germany), Discovery II (Great Britain), and Willebrord Snellius (Netherlands), are generally fairly large, but in most cases they serve a dual purpose. For example, the Meteor was used as a naval training ship and as a survey vessel, and the Snellius was especially built for surveying work in the Netherlands East Indies.

The following features are desirable in vessels that are to be used in oceanographic research:

  1. Sturdiness and seaworthiness, large cruising radius, and accommodations for laboratory work and the storage of collections.

  2. Low freeboard in order to make possible the handling of instruments near the sea surface and to reduce the wind drift when hove to at stations.

  3. Sails to increase the cruising radius, to provide a safety factor in case of engine breakdown, and to improve the working conditions on board by reducing the roll and vibration when under way. Riding sails to steady the vessel when hove to at stations and to reduce the leeway by keeping the vessel headed into the wind.

  4. Sufficient clear deck space for the installation of winches and for handling bulky equipment such as trawls and dredges.

Name of vessel Nationality Operated by Type of vessel Launched Commissioned for oceanographic work Overall length, feet Tonnage Officers and crew Scientists Reference
R.R.S. Discovery II Great Britain Discovery Committee of the Colonial Office Steel steam vessel (trawler) (special) 1929 1930 234 2100 (disp.) 46 6 Ardley and Mackintosh (1936)
F. & V.S. Meteor Germany Hydrographic Department of the Navy Steel steam vessel for survey and training (gunbost) 1915 1924 233 1200 (disp.) 114 10 Spiess (1932a)
H.M.S. Willebrord Snellius Netherlands Hydrographic Section, Department of Defense Steel steam vessel for surveying (gunboat) 1928 1929 204 1055 (disp.) 84 6 Pinke (1938)
R.R.S. Dana (II)[a] Denmark Danis Commission for the Investigation of Sea Steel steam vessel (trawler) 1917 1921 138 360 (gross) 14 8 Schmidt (1929)
Armauer Hansen Norway Geophysical Institute, Bergen Wooden auxiliary ketch (special) 1912 1913 76 57 (gros) 5 6 Helland-Hansen (1914)
Carnegie[b] U.S.A. Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington Wooden auxiliary brigantime (nonmagnetic) 1909 1928[c] 155 568 (disp.) 17 8 Bauer, Peters, Ault, Fleming (1917)
Atlantis U.S.A. Woods Hole Ocean ographic Institution Steel auxiliary ketch (special) 1930 1931 142 460 (disp.) 17 5 Iselin (1933)
E.W. Scripps U.S.A. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California Wooden auxiliary schooner (yacht) 1924 1938 104 140 (disp.) 7 6 Moberg and Lyman (1942)
Catalyst U.S.A. Oceanographic Laboratories, University of Washington Wooden motor vessel (special) 1932 1932 75 94 (gros) 5 9 Thompson (1936)


In table 57 are listed certain representative vessels that have been extensively used in oceanographic investigations. Those owned by national agencies are large, over 200 feet long, and carry large crews, while, on the other hand, vessels owned and operated by institutions are generally between 100 and 150 feet long and carry crews of less than twenty. During the nineteenth century the practice of utilizing only large craft in oceanographic work made it impossible for private organizations to engage in independent and systematic investigations. However, Björn Helland-Hansen, of the Geophysical Institute in Norway, convinced that small vessels could be used effectively, had the Armauer Hansen built to conform to his ideas. This small vessel, only 76 feet long, has carried out both intensive and extensive work in the North Atlantic and has ably confirmed Helland-Hansen's thesis. Following his lead, other private institutions have purchased or built small vessels that can be economically operated.

previous sub-section
Observations and Collections at Sea
next sub-section