Construction begins on MBARI’s new flagship research vessel

For more than three decades, MBARI research has revealed the astounding diversity of life deep beneath the sea surface. Our technology innovations have provided priceless insights into the ocean’s geological, ecological, and biogeochemical processes.

Last fall, MBARI embarked on a new chapter in our work as we began the construction of a state-of-the-art ship. The new research vessel—named in honor of MBARI’s founder, David Packard—is being built at Freire Shipyard in Spain and will arrive at MBARI’s facilities in 2023.

MBARI’s new research vessel, the R/V David Packard, will enable our researchers to deploy a variety of advanced instruments for studying the ocean, including the ROV Doc Ricketts. Image: Glosten © 2021 MBARI

The R/V David Packard will be capable of accommodating diverse expeditions in Monterey Bay and beyond to further MBARI’s mission to explore and understand our changing ocean.

The new research ship will be 50 meters (164 feet) long and 12.8 meters (42 feet) wide with a draft of 3.7 meters (12 feet). It will support a crew of 12, plus a science crew of 18. This new vessel will enable continued exploration of the deep sea, from the midnight zone—the inky depths below 1,000 meters (about 3,300 feet)—to the abyssal seafloor 4,000 meters (13,100 feet) deep.

As the command center for MBARI’s deep-diving remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts, the R/V David Packard will allow researchers to continue exploring the deepest reaches of the Monterey Canyon. The new ship will also be capable of launching a variety of autonomous robotic technologies, allowing MBARI to continue our work to map the deep seafloor, track the environmental DNA (eDNA) shed by marine life, and listen for the echo of the nightly migration of deep-sea animals.

MBARI’s new research vessel is named in honor of our founder, David Packard. He established MBARI in 1987 as an advanced center for ocean research and technology development. Image: © 1994 MBARI

MBARI’s new research vessel will honor Silicon Valley innovator David Packard, who founded Hewlett-Packard (HP) in a Palo Alto, California, garage with Bill Hewlett, and is largely credited with sparking the tech revolution. His philanthropic endeavors included funding the creation of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1984. Three years later, Packard founded MBARI as an independent institution committed to pursuing cutting-edge ocean science and engineering programs.

Packard encouraged MBARI to pursue bold, pioneering initiatives, famously saying, “Take risks. Ask big questions.” MBARI’s new research vessel will further his vision for MBARI as a next-generation hub for groundbreaking science and innovation. Funding for this new vessel comes from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Planning for MBARI’s acquisition of a new research vessel began in 2009. MBARI’s marine operations team engaged Glosten for its expertise in naval architecture and marine engineering.

Glosten is a full-service consulting firm of naval architects and marine, electrical, production, and ocean engineers. Glosten has provided design and engineering support to the oceanographic research community for more than 60 years, working with scientists and operators to offer economical designs that are optimized for marine science, operational areas, and low emissions.

MBARI enlisted Glosten to provide design and engineering support for our new research vessel. The team spent the last three years detailing design specifications for the ship, and construction got underway in 2021. Image: Glosten © 2021 MBARI

For the past three years, MBARI’s marine operations team worked closely with Glosten’s team of engineers to refine design specifications for the R/V David Packard. Glosten provided the design and specification services for the shipyard bid package and assisted in the bid review process. Glosten also serves as the on-site construction team for MBARI, providing MBARI continuity through the life of the ship.

Freire Shipyard is building the R/V David Packard in Vigo, a coastal town in northern Spain. Freire (Construcciones Navales P. Freire) is a family-owned company established in 1895 by Paulino Freire. The Freire family continues leading and managing the company. Today, Freire is one of the leading shipyards in the world and specializes in designing, building, and repairing the most sophisticated and innovative ocean research vessels.

The final design was completed this past spring, and construction commenced in November with the laying of the ship’s keel. The keel is the central steel beam that serves as the ship’s backbone. Keel laying marks the beginning of the build as the ship begins to take form. MBARI’s Director of Marine Operations Michael Kelly joined Glosten engineers William Moon and Isabel Goni-McAteer at Freire Shipyard to honor this momentous milestone.

Construction should be complete by May 2023, when the vessel will depart Spain for its journey to its homeport of Moss Landing, California. MBARI’s marine operations team will conduct the ship’s final fitting out and testing before science operations begin in fall 2023. The R/V David Packard will join MBARI’s two existing research vessels, the R/V Rachel Carson and R/V Paragon.

The R/V David Packard will replace MBARI’s current flagship research vessel, the R/V Western Flyer, which will be retired in fall 2022. The Western Flyer has been an integral part of MBARI’s research and cutting-edge marine instrumentation. The vessel has been instrumental in MBARI’s explorations of Monterey Canyon with the ROV Doc Ricketts, mapping missions at Sur Ridge, long-term research at Station M off the coast of Central California, and extended expeditions to the Gulf of California, Hawaii, and the Pacific Northwest. Operations for the ROV Doc Ricketts will transition from the R/V Western Flyer to the R/V David Packard when the new vessel reaches full operational status in fall 2023.

The MBARI team is excited to follow the ship’s construction, and we look forward to welcoming our new research ship in 2023.

“To safeguard Earth’s living ocean, we need to invest much more in science and exploration. MBARI’s new vessel will be a powerful research and exploration platform, and I’m excited about the potential the R/V *David Packard* can contribute to inspiring ocean education and conservation for decades to come.” —Julie Packard, Chair of MBARI’s Board of Directors and Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium

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