Since arriving at the National Oceanography Centre on 31 August 2006, RRS James Cook has undertaken research expeditions focusing on a range of scientific disciplines in some of Earth’s most challenging environments, from tropical oceans to the edge of ice sheets.
The RRS James Cook is fitted with cutting edge scientific instruments and hosts a wide array of scientific investigations on-board, making her one of the most advanced research vessels currently in service.
Single and multi-beam echo sounder surveys
Clean seawater sampling
Remotely Operated Vehicle operations
Deep-water coring, trawling, and towing
Integrated data logging
Adaptable laboratory space
Length: 89.2 metres
Beam: 18.6 metres
Maximum draft: 6.315 metres
Gross tonnage: 5,401 tonnes
Nett tonnage:1,620 tonnes
Average operating speed: 10 knots
The RRS James Cook is the most capable ship in the NERC fleet in terms of over-the-side handling capability with both the stern and mid-ships’ ‘A’ frames built with safe working loads of up to 30T. In addition, the ship has a comprehensive winch suite capable of supporting all current and anticipated future scientific operations.
The ship contains a range of laboratory spaces that can be flexibly configured to support multiple scientific activities on each expedition. RRS James Cook has plentiful laboratory spaces sub-divided into ultraclean, clean, normal, and temperature-controlled areas, with sufficient flexibility to be used for multiple needs. There is also the option to configure the lab spaces to ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ labs, depending on the nature of the science being undertaken. Container labs enable scientists to work on samples they have collected in controlled conditions, which may involve the use of radioactive substances or may entail ‘clean chemistry’ procedures. The RRS James Cook has 278m2 of laboratories, as well as positions for up to seven 6 m (20 ft) container laboratories on deck.
Permanently fitted sensors and instrumentation
Research ships come with a range of inbuilt equipment that scientists use on an expedition. The systems enable a wide variety of parameters to be continuously logged whether the ship is stationary or carrying out scientific work.
The RRS James Cook is fitted with a complex and highly capable suite of acoustic instruments designed to:
map the seabed, both coastal and deep ocean;
measure the abundance of fish and other biomass; and
accurately position scientific platforms and sensors deployed by the vessel.
Bridge equipment and propulsion
The RRS James Cook has modern bridge equipment including a dynamic positioning system.
RRS James Cook
Stabilised C Band V-Sat
Sailor 250 Broadband
Global Maritime Distress and Safety System
Sailor 6222 plus other items
Echo sounder 1
Skipper GDS102 50kHz and 200KHz
Echo sounder 2
Skipper GDS102 50kHz and 200KHz
Kongsberg S-Band 30kW
Kongsberg X-Band 25kW
Applanix PosMV 320
Seatex Seapath 300
Fugro Marinestar 9200
Seatex Seapath 200
3 × Navigat X Mk 1
Sperry C.Plath Navigat X Mk1
Speed log 1
Skipper DL 850
Kongsberg Doppler DL850
Speed log 2
Skipper DL 850
Chernikeef Aquaprobe Mk5
Voyage data recorder
Maritime Black Box MBB
Automatic Identification System
High resolution picture transmission
Kongsberg K-POS DP-22
The ship is configured with a novel azimuth thruster propulsion system configuration compared to a conventional fixed shafts/propellers and rudders. The thrusters can be independently rotated through 360° which will make the vessel extremely manoeuvrable.
RRS James Cook has a range of in-built equipment, enabling scientists to collect unique samples and undertake specialist measurements during oceanic research expeditions. An overview of capabilities and technical specifications are given below.
Timing and Positioning Systems
There are two independent GPS systems installed for science. The accuracy of these acquired positions are further augmented by the supply of correction data from the CNav system which provides differential GPS data to the two systems. The ship is fitted with a satellite timeserver (a Network Time Protocol clock) which receives high-accuracy time updates via satellite. This is fed into the ship’s network to provide an accurate time reference for all computer systems.
The Surface Water and Meteorological monitoring system (SurfMet) utilises scientific instruments to continuously measure surface water properties and the meteorology. Scientists use these measurements to aid regional and global climate models. A wave radar is used to monitor ocean waves; this is located half-way up the main mast.
Surface water: temperature, salinity, chlorophyll and particulate matter.
RRS James Cook has several echo sounder transducers built into her hull. These emit pulses of sound through the water column, which bounce back when they hit an object. Echo sounders are used for navigational purposes, seafloor mapping and detecting fish or other objects in the water column. The accuracy of all acoustic systems depends on the knowledge of the speed of sound through the water column. The Kongsberg system gets the speed of sound at the echo sounder from a probe which is installed in the port drop keel.
Ultra Short Base Line (USBL) is a technique used to measure the distance of an underwater object relative to the ship. Using sound, the USBL beacons communicate with transducer heads which are deployed through the hull of the ship. Beacons are placed on remotely operated vehicles, towed vehicles and drills to determine their location to a high degree of accuracy when they are deployed.
Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCPs) are used to measure the velocity (speed and direction) of the water column. They emit sound waves and use the Doppler effect to detect the current over a range of depths, giving a two-dimensional profile.
A gravity meter is installed to measure the relative change in gravity. This instrument is cradled in an actively-compensated gimbal in a shock-mounted frame, allowing the meter to stay level as the ship moves around it. The gravity data needs to be grounded against an absolute gravity measurement on land. This measurement is taken at each end of the ship’s passage, using a land gravity meter to take readings at a known Gravity Base Station. The ship also has the capability to deploy a towed magnetometer. The magnetometer is ~1.5m long with fins and is typically deployed using the port-side aft boom, with a 300m layback from the ship.
Two data acquisition systems work in parallel on RRS James Cook. Raw, unprocessed data are recorded by the NMF Research Vessel Data Acquisition System (RVDAS). Ifremer’s TECHnical and Scientific sensors Acquisition System (TECHSAS) is configured with a range of modules that are programmed to parse and build structured data as it is received. Data from the acquisition systems, hydro-acoustic suite and other sources are aggregated by a central file system server which stores it onto a multi-redundant (RAID) network storage system. Data from this is backed up to hard disks which are provided to the scientists at the end of each cruise.
Satellite Internet and Phones
RRS James Cook is fitted with a C-band VSat antenna which is subscribed to a time-division-multiple-access (TDMA) internet connection service over satellite. This provides the ship with a guaranteed download speed of 1.5Mbps (~183kB/s), a guaranteed upload speed of 1.5Mbps (~183kB/s) and four telephone lines when a stable link has been established. The TDMA allows bursts of up to 10Mbps, depending on whether there are other ships using the same satellite. The ship is also fitted with a pair of Thrane&Thrane Cobham Sailor 500 antennae which provide up to 256 kbps (~32kB/s) internet and a satellite phone.
Lower sensor packages such as Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) sensors through the water column;
Lower coring systems to the seabed to obtain samples from the seabed and sub-seabed;
Tow platforms such as the Towed Ocean Bottom Instrument (TOBI) for seabed mapping;
Tow undulating sensor platform to measure water properties while underway;
Tow deep-sea trawling and net systems.
The permanently fitted winches live in the bottom of the ship, where the wire is fed up to the gantries on deck. The table below shows the types and properties of the permanently fitted winches found on our ships.
Wire length (m)
Wire diameter (mm)
Safe working load (T)
Mean breaking load (T)
Weight in water (kg⋅km−1)
Steel Armoured electro / optical cable for high data transmission
Shared traction winch with level winds for each storage drum