RRS Sir David Attenborough

Autumn 2020 onwards
Summer: 90, Winter: 90

A new polar research ship for Britain

The RRS Sir David Attenborough is one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world.

Want to know what RRS Sir David Attenborough is up to this season? Check out our ‘Science this season’ page for latest updates from Antarctica.

This multidisciplinary research platform is transforming how ship-borne science is conducted in the polar regions and provides scientists with state-of-the-art facilities to research the oceans, seafloor, ice and atmosphere.

The new polar ship was commissioned by NERC, built by Cammell Laird for operation by British Antarctic Survey. The commissioning of the RRS Sir David Attenborough was part of a major Government investment in polar infrastructure which will keep Britain at the forefront of world-leading research in Antarctica and the Arctic. This £200m commitment represents the UK Government‘s largest investment in polar science since the 1980s.

RRS Sir David Attenborough in London
RRS Sir David Attenborough in London during the PreCOP26 Ice Worlds Festival

Explore the ship’s scientific facilities and operational capability

Exploring new frontiers

Britain has been a world leader in polar exploration and research for over a century. Today, studying these remote regions is crucial in helping us understand changes in our planet’s oceans, marine life and climate system.

Technical features

  • Length: 129 metres; beam: 24m;  Gross Tonnage: 15,000
  • Scientific cargo volume of approximately 900m³
  • Endurance – up to 60 days
  • Range 19,000 nautical miles at 13 knots (24 km/h) cruising speed; more than enough for a return trip from England to Rothera Research Station, or to circle the entire Antarctic continent twice!
  • Ice breaking capability – up to 1m thick at 3 knots (5.6 km/h)
  • Bow and stern thrusters for excellent dynamic positioning in challenging conditions
  • Launch and recovery of aerial and ocean robotic systems
  • Crew approx. 30
  • Accommodation for up to 60 scientists and support staff

Enhanced scientific capability

RRS Sir David Attenborough is designed to support science in extreme environments. A wide range of specialist scientific facilities, instruments and laboratories enable scientists to conduct multi-disciplinary sciences to study the ocean, seafloor, ice and atmosphere. Marine robotics and remotely operated vehicles – including the famous Boaty McBoatface – capture data from the deep ocean and previously inaccessible locations under the ice.

Autosub pre-deployment checks onboard RRS James Clark Ross during the JR58 autosub cruise. The autonomous unmanned vehicle (AUV) Autosub-2 travels beneath sea ice carrying a variety of scientific instruments to inaccessible parts of the ocean, to make measurements of Antarctic krill distribution and abundance, and of ice thickness.
Autosub pre-deployment checks onboard. The autonomous unmanned vehicle (AUV) travels beneath sea ice carrying a variety of scientific instruments to inaccessible parts of the ocean, to make measurements of Antarctic krill distribution and abundance, and of ice thickness.

From the ship, scientists can deploy, operate and control a range of remotely piloted science instruments at the same time, meaning they can gather measurements from both airborne and marine remotely operated vehicles and autonomous platforms simultaneously.

She is also the first British polar research ship to feature a moon pool – a vertical shaft (~4 x 4 m) running through the vessel, open to both the air and sea. Using the moon pool, scientific equipment can be deployed and recovered through the centre, and most stable part, of the hull. This is easier and safer than deploying equipment over the side or stern, particularly in the polar oceans’ rough seas.

The ship has a number of built-in laboratories. However, it’s also possible to ‘plug-in’ portable, containerised laboratories. This makes science on board the RRS Sir David Attenborough much more flexible and, as technologies and techniques change, the containers can be reconfigured to ensure research teams have the facilities they need to conduct world-leading science.

Operational capability

The new polar ship for Britain operates year-round, spending the northern summer supporting Arctic research cruises and the austral summer in Antarctica carrying out research programmes and bringing people and supplies to BAS research stations.

Her ice-strengthened hull, designed to break through ice up to one metre thick, and ability to spend up to 60 days at sea means the RRS Sir David Attenborough can undertake extensive voyages. The ship’s operational facilities will enable her to undertake logistics work efficiently, maximising the time spent on research cruises.

Building a new polar vessel

Modern ships are constructed in ‘blocks’

Useful documents

SDA video tour

Watch a tour of the RRS Sir David Attenborough:


RRS Sir David Attenborough provides UK polar researchers and their international collaborators with a state-of-the-art multi-disciplinary research platform to study the ocean, seafloor, ice and atmosphere.

It’s critical that we understand the role that the polar oceans play in our changing world. The Southern Ocean in particular has the sparsest data coverage of any of the world’s major oceans due to its remoteness and inhospitable nature. RRS Sir David Attenborough plays an important role in improving our knowledge of key polar atmospheric and oceanic processes, which regulate our climate. She is also enhancing our knowledge of the Southern Ocean ecosystem, essential for conserving and managing Antarctica’s species and biological resources.

International studies focusing on the changing Arctic are also being enhanced by this new facility. The ship enables scientists to investigate the impact that physical and biological changes in the Arctic environment will have on Arctic and non-Arctic countries alike.

At both poles, researchers can carry out marine geophysical and geological investigations to map and date glacial landforms and sediments on the seafloor to reconstruct past environments. This is fundamental for helping predict how the polar regions may respond to future climate change and contribute to global sea-level rise.

Scientific activities:

  • Atmospheric science
  • Biological Oceanography
  • Chemical Oceanography (Biogeochemistry)
  • Physical Oceanography
  • Marine Geophysics
  • Marine Geology

Scientific facilities

  • Reconfigurable laboratory space to meet evolving science needs over the lifetime of the vessel, with docking stations for containerised laboratories for additional flexibility
  • Computing and communication facilities to enable seamless collection, processing, storage and real-time transmission of scientific data
  • Enhanced deck facilities including science hangar, winches and a moon-pool for flexible and reliable deployment and retrieval of scientific equipment such as remotely operated vehicles and autonomous underwater vehicles, even in rough weather and in pack ice
  • Small boats and diving facilities to enable sampling in shallow coastal areas and under pack ice
  • Helideck and hangar for two small helicopters to assist with the deployment of airborne scientific instruments and scientific field parties
  • Sophisticated environmental sensor systems to continuously monitor atmosphere, water-column and seabed conditions
  • Rock drills and sediment corers to collect seafloor samples offering valuable insights into past environmental conditions
  • Seismic systems to examine the structure and evolution of the seafloor

Next-generation technologies

  • Capability to deploy, operate and control large numbers of remotely piloted science instruments at the same time
  • Robotic submarines and marine gliders will collect data on ocean conditions and marine biology and deliver it to scientists working in the ship’s on-board laboratories
  • Airborne robots and on-board environmental monitoring systems will provide detailed information on the surrounding polar environment

BAS celebrates the Coronation

9 May, 2023 by Emily Neville

This weekend, BAS staff in Antarctica and on board RRS Sir David Attenborough celebrated the Coronation of King Charles III. On the RRS Sir David Attenborough RRS Sir David Attenborough spent the …

How to test a new polar ship

16 July, 2021 by Emily Neville

At British Antarctic Survey, the next chapter in shipborne research is about to begin. Britain’s new polar ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, has been undergoing an intensive programme of …

Guest blog: Ship Ahoy!

21 October, 2020 by Nigel Bird

Guest Blog. UKRI-NERC’s Nigel Bird reflects on the highs and lows of the commission of RRS Sir David Attenborough.

Guest blog. RRS Sir David Attenborough: The story so far

20 April, 2017 by Paul Fox

Paul Fox, Senior Responsible Officer for RRS Sir David Attenborough, has written a guest blog for a behind-the-scenes look at NERC’s commission of a new polar research ship for Britain and the associated Antarctic infrastructure modernisation programme.

New animation shows track of giant A23a iceberg

16 January, 2024

Scientists at British Antarctic Survey are using satellite images to track the colossal iceberg A23a. This new animation shows the recent trajectory of the A23a iceberg as it moves north …

First Antarctic research mission on polar ship

20 November, 2023

A team of international researchers set sail on the RRS Sir David Attenborough today (20 November) to answer some of the big questions about how Antarctic ecosystems and sea ice …

First AUV deployed from new polar ship

22 August, 2023

An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) was deployed from the RRS Sir David Attenborough (SDA) for the first time last week. The Gavia Offshore Surveyor, named Freya, was deployed from the …

Next phase of trials underway on polar ship

28 July, 2023

Further trials are underway on RRS Sir David Attenborough in preparation for its first Antarctic science cruise. Over the coming weeks, the crew and scientists on board will be carrying …

New refit yard announced for RRS Sir David Attenborough

10 December, 2022

Babcock International’s Rosyth shipyard today has been awarded £45 million to maintain the UK’s fleet of three scientific research vessels – including RRS Sir David Attenborough. The three vessels are …

Celebrating Polar Pride Day 2022

18 November, 2022

Today (18 November) British Antarctic Survey (BAS) joins global celebrations to mark LGBTQIA+ STEM DAY and Polar Pride Day. Polar Pride is a celebration of the contribution of LGBTQIA+ people in polar research …

RRS Sir David Attenborough departs for Antarctica

17 November, 2022

Britain’s new polar research ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, departs the UK next week (Tuesday 22 November) for its second voyage to Antarctica. The ship departs Harwich on 20 …

BAS bids farewell to Captain John Harper

20 September, 2022

Captain John Harper retires this month after a long and successful career at British Antarctic Survey (BAS). In fact, with an incredible 42 years of service, Captain Harper is the …

Polar ship begins science trials

23 August, 2022

RRS Sir David Attenborough begins its second leg of science trials this week (22 August 2022). Britain’s new polar ship will depart Belfast today for its second leg of science …

Funding addresses environmental challenges

27 June, 2022

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists will investigate critical challenges facing the UK, thanks to new funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). A £47m investment to several UK research …

Polar research ship returns to UK

14 June, 2022

Britain’s new polar research ship, RRS Sir David Attenborough, returns to the UK today (14 June) after completing its landmark maiden voyage to Antarctica. The ship departed the UK in …

Gallery opens at National Maritime Museum

11 June, 2022

Britain’s new polar research ship, RRS Sir David Attenborough, is centre-stage in a new gallery, ‘Poles Apart’, which opened today at the Royal Museums Greenwich National Maritime Museum. The exhibition …

BAS’ 2021-2022 field season has ended

27 May, 2022

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) field season has finished for another year.   RRS Sir David Attenborough departed Rothera Research Station for the final time earlier in May and is …

Trinity House Cadets join polar ship

12 May, 2022

Trinity House Merchant Navy Cadets are joining Britain’s new polar research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough. Three Cadets will be joining the vessel in the Falkland Islands this week for …

Couple tie the knot in Antarctica

25 April, 2022

RRS Sir David Attenborough stewards Eric Bourne and Stephen Carpenter, tied the knot yesterday (Sunday 24 April) at British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Rothera Research Station. It is the first same-sex …

RRS Sir David Attenborough completes ice trials

31 March, 2022

The RRS Sir David Attenborough completes ice trials during its maiden voyage to Antarctica – a critical milestone in the commissioning of Britain’s new polar ship. This is the first …

Connecting under-represented groups with science berths

16 February, 2022

British Antarctic Survey has teamed up with the National Oceanography Centre and the University of Glasgow to champion the FindAScienceBerth project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. The project …

Opportunities for Antarctic research – Apply now

11 January, 2022

Applications to carry out small-scale research projects in the Antarctic in the 2022/23 season are invited from UK-based researchers. The Collaborative Antarctic Science Scheme (CASS) provides opportunities for scientists in …

Celebrating Christmas in Antarctica 2021

23 December, 2021

2021 has been a rollercoaster year for British Antarctic Survey, operating research stations in the Antarctic and the sub-Antarctic through the Covid-19 pandemic, while our new polar research vessel, the …

Celebrating Polar Pride 2021

18 November, 2021

Today (18 November) British Antarctic Survey (BAS) joins global celebrations to mark LGBTQ+ STEM DAY and Polar Pride Day. Polar Pride is a celebration of the contribution of LGBTQ+ people …

New polar ship makes London debut

28 October, 2021

RRS Sir David Attenborough visits London as pre-COP event ahead of first mission to Antarctica. The UK’s new polar research ship is making its London debut in Greenwich (Thursday 28 October …

Festive Greetings from BAS!

18 December, 2020

Staff at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ships and research stations prepare to celebrate the festive season. It’s been a year like no other, with extraordinary arrangements made to keep facilities …

New building at Rothera breaks ground

30 January, 2020

In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the first sighting of Antarctica by the British naval officer Edward Bransfield on this date in 1820, a new building to facilitate the …

RRS Sir David Attenborough latest milestones

16 January, 2020

BIRKENHEAD. The RRS Sir David Attenborough achieved two important milestones at Cammell Laird’s shipyard this month with the commissioning and testing of lifeboats and power systems. The ship is in …

Poet Laureate marks naming of polar ship

20 October, 2019

A new work by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage celebrates the RRS Sir David Attenborough. In this video Simon describes his inspiration for the poem, which can be read in full …

Ship is named with royal ceremony

26 September, 2019

The UK’s new polar research ship is formally named the RRS Sir David Attenborough today [Thursday 26 September] by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  In their first engagement of …

First Antarctic construction season success

21 May, 2019

ANTARCTICA: At the onset of the Antarctic winter British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Rothera Research Station bids farewell to 50 construction workers.  They have spent the last six months building the …

New polar research ship makes a ‘splash’

11 July, 2018

RRS Sir David Attenborough hull launch into River Mersey 14 July Update 20 July 2018 – watch video of launch A major milestone in the build of the UK’s state-of-the-art …

The RRS Sir David Attenborough in the virtual wind tunnel

27 October, 2017

The RRS Sir David Attenborough (SDA) just got another step closer to completion as the Hamburg Ship Model Basin (HSVA) investigated the aerodynamic performance of Britain’s new polar research vessel using a computer generated ‘virtual wind tunnel’

NEWS STORY: New polar ship contract signed

23 November, 2015

The contract for the UK’s new polar research ship was signed NERC’s Chief Operating Office Paul Fox and Cammell Laird Chief Executive, John Syvret CBE on Friday 19 November 2015 …

NEWS STORY: New polar ship bidder selected

12 October, 2015

Government announces preferred bidder to build new polar ship Minister of State for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson announced today that the preferred bidder to build a new polar research …

NEWS STORY: Funding announced for new ship

25 April, 2014

New polar research ship for UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon George Osborne MP announced this week (Friday 25 April 2014) that the Government has earmarked more than …


Overview Climate change is proceeding faster at the poles than any other region, with sea-ice retreating, glaciers melting and biotic communities being invaded by sub-polar species. These changes are affecting …


The Greenland Ice Sheet is decaying at an accelerating rate in response to climate change. Warm ocean waters moving through the fjords eventually meet the faces of marine-terminating glaciers, increasing …


CONSEC is addressing the challenge to understand the links between the biodiversity, structure and function of Southern Ocean ecosystems and the impacts of rapid environmental changes to improve scientific knowledge …


CUPIDO aims to address: what is the role of zooplankton in promoting the transport of plastic in the ocean?
and how this plastic transport interferes with zooplankton's ability to store carbon in the deep ocean?


Dynamics of the Orkney Passage Outflow (DynOPO) is a collaboration between BAS, the University of Southampton and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC). The project aims to investigate the flow of …


Antarctic ice-loss research capability


Understanding the Ocean Regulation of Climate by Heat, Carbon Sequestration and Transports


Realising the benefits of the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation programme.