Get to know the UK's new polar research ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough

11 June 2019 by Carla Yorukoglu

Once you have set eyes on the RRS Sir David Attenborough, you won't forget her. From rock drills and marine robots to the intriguingly named moon pool, take a closer look at everything the ship has to offer.

RRS Sir David Attenborough

Once you have set eyes on the RRS Sir David Attenborough, you won't forget her. Measuring in at 129 metres, the ship is as long as 10 buses and weighs 10,400 tonnes - that's 1,400 elephants. Built by Cammell Laird to a Rolls-Royce design and kitted out with state-of-the-art facilities, the ship will push the boundaries of polar science and exploration.

The ship has beds for 30 crew and 60 scientists and support staff.

It is made up of 1 million pieces of steel, and contains over 30 kilometres of pipes and more than 750 kilometres of electric and data cables.

The ship is capable of spending 60 days at sea without being refuelled, allowing her to embark on longer voyages than any other UK polar research vessel.

Helideck and hangar

The ships helideck and hangar will support two small helicopters which can launch aerial drones for science missions. They can also transfer equipment and people to and from shore.

Laboratories and workspaces

There will be 14 laboratories on board and at least 10 shipping containers with scientific equipment that can be reconfigured to keep up with changing technologies and techniques.

Living on board

Scientists and crew will be able to unwind using the gym, sauna, bar and TV facilities. They will sleep in a mixture of single and double-occupancy cabins. Cabins are located away from the ship's bow to reduce the effects of motion.

Marine robotics

The ship will act as a central platform for deploying state-of-the-art autonomous and remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs). These will explore untouched parts of the ocean and atmosphere. Remotely controlled vehicles will be connected to the ship and powered via a cable - just like an umbilical cord. Autonomous underwater vehicles, like the 'Boaty McBoatface' Autosub Long Range, will have no link to the ship and will travel deep beneath ice shelves and at the edge of active glaciers.

Moon pool

Scientists can lower and raise equipment (such as ROVs) through the moon pool, a vertical hole running through the hull of the vessel. This makes it easier and safer to deploy scientific equipment in the rough polar oceans and ice-covered waters.


The engines will run as silently as possible to avoid interference with the 'ears of the ship', acoustic instruments, which use echo sounders to measure life in the water and map the sea floor.

Rock drills

Deployed from the stern, sides or moon pool of the ship, drills will sample soft sediment and rock up to 2,000 metres underwater.

Some of the ship's other features

  • CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) - a collection of sensors deployed overboard to detect how the salinity (salt levels) and temperature of the water column changes relative to depth
  • Scientific winch system deploys equipment, such as rock drills, overboard.
  • Main cargo crane (50 tonnes)
  • Side A-frame deploys sensor equipment overboard
  • Work boat "Erebus" transports personnel and supplies
  • Cargo tender "Terror" delivers people and supplies to land
  • Diesel power plant consists of two six cylinder and two nine cylinder Rolls Royce Bergen engines
  • Hull designed to break through ice one metre thick
  • Satellite communications
  • 4.5 metre propeller

The infographic is copyright Ben Gillilard, NERC, UKRI.