Sir David Attenborough lays keel on UK's new polar research ship

17 October 2016

NERC's new state-of-the-art polar research ship, RRS Sir David Attenborough, reaches its first construction milestone this week with the ceremonial laying of the keel.

Artist's impression of RRS Sir David Attenborough

Artist's impression of RRS Sir David Attenborough

Built at Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead, the RRS Sir David Attenborough is set to transform the UK's polar research capability. When she becomes operational in 2019, the new ship will provide a research platform from which scientists will tackle some of the most important issues facing humanity, including climate change, future sea level rise and the impact of environmental change on marine biodiversity.

Construction will be officially started by world-renowned naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, after whom the ship is named. Today, Sir David will start the 'keel laying' process by initiating the lifting by crane of the first hull unit, weighing approximately 100 tonnes, on to the construction berth. Keel laying is a maritime engineering tradition that formally marks the start of a ship's construction with a ceremony that is said to bring luck to the ship and to the captain and crew during its later life.

NERC Chief Executive Duncan Wingham said:

The RRS Sir David Attenborough will be one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world and will help ensure world-class polar and deep ocean science in the decades to come. Today's keel laying ceremony marks the start of an exciting construction process here at Cammell Laird, which will make new science possible from 2019. While it might seem remote to the UK, it is vital to understand the polar region as one of the first places where we see the impact of global environmental changes.

Sir David Attenborough said:

It is an honour to be invited to take part in the keel-laying ceremony. The polar regions are not only critical for understanding the natural world but they also have an enormous appeal for journalists, broadcasters and the public. I have had several opportunities to experience the power of these places first hand. This new ship will ensure that scientists have access to these enigmatic regions to uncover secrets that we can only imagine at this point. Scientists working on this new ship will inform everyone about our changing world for generations to come.

The RRS Sir David Attenborough was commissioned by NERC and will be operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Professor Jane Francis, director of BAS, said:

This ceremony is a very exciting moment for our scientists, engineers and operational support teams. It is particularly exciting for our ships' officers and crew because the new ship will not only be their place of work but it will also be their home for several months each year. This £200 million government investment in the new research ship, and a suite of infrastructure projects that will support it, will be a huge transformation in the way that BAS delivers its science programmes and its provision of operational support to the UK science community.

Subsea vehicle being lifted from the sea

A state-of-the-art subsea vehicle of the kind to be known as Boaty McBoatface

Also unveiled today is the state-of-the-art subsea vehicle to be known as Boaty McBoatface, in recognition of the popularity of the name during NERC's Name Our Ship campaign earlier this year, which will be deployed from RRS Sir David Attenborough. The Autosub Long Range (ALR) autonomous underwater vehicle is operated by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and will be used by oceanographers to measure ocean and seabed properties over ocean scales. Boaty McBoatface will be the focal point on a new £1 million government-funded Polar Explorer Programme, an educational initiative that aims to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and citizens by engaging young people with the RRS Sir David Attenborough and polar science.

Further information

Mary Goodchild
NERC media office
01793 411939
07710 147485


1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Artist's impression of the RRS Sir David Attenborough unloading supplies in Antarctica

Artist's impression of the RRS Sir David Attenborough unloading supplies in Antarctica. Copyright Rolls Royce.