Planning the expedition

A scientific expedition onboard a research ship is commonly known as a cruise, which can give the wrong impression.  A research cruise is an exceedingly busy and complex exercise, requiring detailed planning and preparation.  For many scientists, the cruise will be the culmination of several years of effort, and they have high expectations.  Indeed, the ships work 24/7 and ‘dead’ transition time swapping between different sampling systems has to be minimized, so the technical manning, working decks and labs all have to be individually organised and optimised for each cruise.  Additionally, once the ship is on-site, going back to port because something has been forgotten isn’t really an option when it’s several days sailing time away.

  • Programming

    The first step in this process is to actually organise all the funded projects for the coming year into an overall programme.  Because the programme comprises of a range of specialised facilities, in addition to the ships, its known as NERC’s Marine Facilities Programme (MFP) and runs on a financial year basis from 1 April – 31 March.

    Read more about how programmes are created

  • Planning

    There are a lot of complex elements to a cruise and making sure everything is ready to go on board ship at the right time is crucial.  To solve this logistical puzzle, a number of dedicated teams work together to get the ship, equipment, technicians, crew, and scientists ready to sail.  The lynchpins of this process are the Project Managers, who coordinate all the planning and preparation to ensure  the ship will be set up as required by the cruise's Principal Scientist.

    Read more about expedition planning

  • Law at sea

    Within National Marine Facilities Sea Systems the Marine Operations team are responsible for arranging for the ship to be properly fueled and stored with food and spare parts.  A less obvious, but equally critical part, is to ensure that the ship’s route is planned in accordance with International Law.  Fundamental to this is the need to obtain diplomatic clearance from the Governments of the Coastal States in whose waters the ship will be conducting science.  This process takes a minimum of 6 months and can often be quite complex, with some countries only granting permission at the last moment.

    Read more about the law at sea

  • Scientific Equipment

    While the ship is fitted with some research equipment such as echosounders and winches, much of the specialist equipment is provided from the National Marine Equipment Pool.  The collection is the central UK pool accessed by the UK marine science community, while other equipment may be accessed through barter arrangements with our partners.

    Read more about the scientific equipment

  • Technical Support Staff

    The specialist scientific equipment provided requires skilled technicians and engineers to operate and maintain it while at sea. All of the National Marine Facilities Sea Systems staff have a core set of skills in which they specialise but the need for multidisciplinary skills is essential.

    Read more about the technical support staff

  • Logistics

    With sometimes up to 4 different research cruises underway at the same time in different parts of the world, and over 8000 items of equipment to be kept track of, logistics is a complex business.  The result is that our team handle about 1000 tonnes of equipment each year.  Needless to say attention to detail is critical as there’s no opportunity to replace an item you’ve left behind.

    Read more about logistics

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The outputs of research generate new knowledge about the oceans. Transferring scientific knowledge to support business and industry is an important part of our NOC remit.



Our research is intended to tackle the big environmental issues facing the world. Research priorities will include the oceans' role in climate change, sea level change and the future of the Arctic Ocean.



The University of Southampton and the University of Liverpool both offer a range of highly regarded undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in Ocean and Earth Science.



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Delivery Partners

Delivery Partners helping to provide marine science national capability.


Marine Science Community

The creation of a wider association of Universities and research institutions to support wider engagement of the NOC with the marine science community is now underway.



The National Oceanographic Library is a national resource for the UK marine science community.


Principal scientists

All updated information for cruise participants can be found using the Marine Facilities Planning website: