Polar ships engineering team

Our ambition

Our ambition is to ensure that RRS Sir David Attenborough, our polar research vessel, is ready to conduct science and logistic missions in the harshest of marine environments. Our activities include maintenance, repair, upgrades and ensuring that the vessel is current with all maritime legislation. Operating between both poles and across the equator in the extremes of climate and temperature puts the vessel under punishing mechanical and physical stresses.  The team has to have a full understanding of all aspects of marine engineering and a full appreciation of working in such a diverse environment.

Team priorities

  • Polar Marine Research Support. Provide equipment and systems operated from the vessel to deploy various science equipment and sensors.  All aspects of science are monitored, from the sea bed to the upper atmosphere. Availability of the systems for the deployment of science equipment is our main capability.
  • Ship Systems Upkeep. Maintaining a safe and efficient ship within a limited down time and within a budget to ensure that there are maximum sea days available for science and logistics.
  • Upgrading Marine infrastructure.  Understanding the future of marine science for the next 25 years and producing a world class research vessel, RRS Sir David Attenborough, to meet those requirements.

Technology, innovation and training

  • Operation of a marine science vessel with state of the art monitoring systems.  Including a wide range frequency echo sounder suite, swath bathymetry, seismic recording equipment, atmospheric monitoring, underway sampling to full ocean depth and multi-purpose laboratories.
  •  Autonomous Underwater Vehicles that can be deployed and recovered from the ship whilst underway. These will collect oceanographic data whilst the ship conducts other science.
  • The RRS Sir David Attenborough can be adapted for specific specialised experiments using containerised laboratories and transferring information and data via satellite to remote locations.
  • Operating the ship within the Polar Regions requires specialist knowledge and training. Understanding how the ship copes with the extreme harsh conditions during ice breaking is an area in which BAS engineers have become experts.  Working with the Royal Navy and other polar operators these ideas are shared and best practices formed for working in ice.

New Polar Research Vessel – RRS Sir David Attenborough

  • Our team of engineers were involved in the project from the very concept design, through the feasibility studies and onto the yard selection to build the most technically advanced and environmentally efficient polar research vessel afloat.  The ship is a combination of science monitoring and mobile experimentation to help understand the way the oceans and the Polar regions effect the climate and the environment.  Collaborations of science experts and engineers have designed the ship to be versatile and future proof to last for the next 25 years.
  • Having to deal with conditions in both the Antarctic and Arctic, the ship is designed to break ice 1m thick at 3 knots. A powerful diesel electric propulsion system drives twin shafts with controllable pitch propellers.  This gives maximum versatility whether requiring maximum power to break ice or cruise the open ocean with maximum efficiency and very low emissions. The ship is designed for world-wide operation and at the press of a touch screen each mode can be selected to drive the ship with the required propulsion setup.
  • Monitoring the performance and operation of the vessel is possible via a satellite link, allowing our support engineers back in Cambridge UK to assess problems and efficiency remotely from 8000 miles away.  This helps provide data for diagnosis and swift action in the event of a fault, even when the ship is isolated.
  • The vessel is built to exceed the latest regulatory requirements, making it one of the first vessels built to comply with the Polar Code and the latest marine emissions standards.
  • The Sir David Attenborough replaced the two previous BAS vessels as a much more capable ship.  It will also supply the Antarctic bases with food and essential spares as well as transporting scientists to and from the continent.
  • The Polar Ships Engineering team will provide support for maintenance, repairs, refits and spare parts wherever the ship is operating globally.

Rob White

Senior Marine Engineer


Andrew Webb

Marine Engineer


Leigh Wirtz

Marine Technology Engineer

RRS James Clark Ross makes final call to Falkland Islands

1 March, 2021

Today (Monday 1 March 2021) the RRS James Clark Ross (JCR) makes her final call to her home port of the Falkland Islands. After 30 years of service, the JCR will be sold at the end of her 20/21 Antarctic season.  …

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 …

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 …