Operational facilities – RRS Sir David Attenborough

In addition to its scientific role, the RRS Sir David Attenborough will support the resupply of the five Antarctic research stations operated by British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

Cargo handling facilities

RRS Sir David Attenborough‘s cargo hold has a volume of 2,100m³ and can store 660m³ of aviation fuel. The flexible design of the cargo hold allows for efficient stowage of containers and other cargo.

The ship is equipped with the following cranes to support logistics and scientific operations:

  • Main crane: 50t @18m (use on port side only), 20t @33m (use on either side)
  • Provision crane on helideck: 8t @16m
  • Starboard deck service crane: 8t @8m, 5t @16m, 2t @21m
  • Port deck service crane (5t @16m)
  • Port & starboard side science cranes (3t @16m & [email protected])

It is also equipped with a stern and a side A-frame (30t), a fold-out platform near the bow fitted with a boom and winch for towing scientific equipment, and several removable bulwarks so equipment can be deployed from the aft deck.

Small boating facilities

The new polar ship has a workboat and cargo tender, which can approach Bird Island and Signy research stations during resupply operations. This is important because the water near these stations is too shallow for the ship to approach. There are also some small, inflatable craft aboard the ship.

In a nod to the history of UK polar exploration, Erebus and Terror are named after the ships from Sir John Franklin’s fateful exploration of the Northwest Passage – the sea route linking Europe and Asia through the Canadian Arctic – in 1845.

Small rigid inflatable boats are used to put scientific field parties ashore

Erebus – the workboat

RRS Sir David Attenborough‘s workboat, Erebus, will transport people and supplies to and from our island stations as well as undertaking some scientific research.

To give her operational flexibility between science and logistics, she has a removable transducer pod capable of carrying four transducers for the Simrad EK80 fisheries echo sounder and the Kongsberg EM2040 shallow water multibeam echo sounder system. This acoustic equipment can be used to map the seabed – in some areas Erebus will be used to survey the seabed in shallow waters while the RRS Sir David Attenborough carries out concurrent surveys in deeper waters.

Erebus also has a hydraulic stern davit and winch that can be fitted when required.  This has a 250kg handling capacity and the winch fitted with 500m of 6mm rope for overside sampling operations.

Terror – the cargo tender

The cargo tender will transfer supplies such as food, fuel and science equipment onto land at stations and places that the RRS Sir David Attenborough cannot access. To assist with this work, Terror is fitted with a crane that can lift up to 1t loads @ 8m.

Helideck and hangar

The RRS Sir David Attenborough has a helideck and hangar which can support two small helicopters. These could assist with the deployment of airborne scientific instruments and scientific field parties, or transfer vital equipment to shore in case of fast ice preventing a landing by the ship.

Operating a polar research vessel with helicopter capabilities increases the potential science BAS and its collaborators can support.


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 …


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’


New polar ship construction milestone

18 August, 2017

A major feat of engineering takes place this week (21 August) as the “stern section” of the new polar research ship for Britain, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, is transported …