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About the Research Ship Schedules & Information Project   

Why is this project important?

This project has the potential to become a focal point for identifying and locating research platforms, their data gathering efforts and their affiliated efforts worldwide. Modernizing our one-stop-shopping site for Research Vessel specifications and cruise information will allow other programs and institutions to link back to this data and provide a public site for posting their information.  Many countries, institutions and/or agencies do not have the in-house resources or access to an IT shop or web expertise that would allow them to post their specifications and cruise information online.  Our belief is that by providing users with the web-based tools and framework to enter and maintain this information, the research community, the public and the agencies and entities searching for their information will benefit.

We are already a linkback component in the SailWX site's Research Vessels tracking section, with links back to OCEANIC for RV specifications and cruise information.  As a proof of concept, similar groupings of RV links have been created for the SAMOS project, the Voluntary Observing Ships program, the NOAA fleet as well as the European RVs and the Baltic RVs for the BONUS portal project. We can also provide similar linkback services and potentially future web services that will remove the need of projects to maintain a subset of RV specification and cruise schedule information. They would be able to simply populate their in-house data holdings directly from our database via web services.  The ability to maintain this information in one central data repository and re-use it for multiple purposes can provide substantial time and resource savings for all.  OCEANIC would do the work of creating the data entry tools, solicit updated specifications and cruise schedules from vessel operators and work with end-users in the creation of tools and techniques to re-use this information in support of their projects.

Current Status

Information in the database can aid researchers working on scientific results from prior cruises to improve their understanding and scientific interpretation. This activity can have benefits to researchers, funding agencies, and ship operators seeking to optimize the use of ships and scientific equipment. Information on international schedules can expose opportunities for collaborative work, of particular benefit for work in distant waters, where vessels may operate infrequently. Information can also assist pooling and sharing of equipment and facilities.

Little has changed regarding the International Research Vessel Portal (IRVP) site’s layout, design, and underlying data structure over the past two years. Budget cuts and updated priorities within the agencies that have historically funded the IRVP project caused our efforts to be significantly scaled back in 2004 and funding ended completely in 2005. This has been our only source of funding for this project in recent years. The IRVP project is currently operating in a non-funded status, with the University of Delaware absorbing daily operating costs. Website programming and development efforts have been paused, as well as research efforts to seek out new schedule and specification information and quality controlling existing records. Information that is provided via the online data submission form and spreadsheet are still imported and posted as they are received, as are operator requests to change existing entries.

UNOLS ship schedule changes are programmatically submitted to us via email as they are changed by a RV operator, thus automating regular updates on the UNOLS fleet. To ease submission of all other schedules, an Excel spreadsheet has been posted on the site under “Other Ship Data”. It identifies the columns of data that are being collected and streamlines importing cruise data into the database. The web-based form previously used for submitting cruise schedules has been replaced by the Excel spreadsheet method due to abuse of the previous online forms by mischievous users. The spreadsheet method allows the ship operator to maintain a copy of the submitted schedule so that as a vessel’s schedule is modified, changes can be submitted by simply emailing an updated file to us.

Cruise data holdings go back to 1991. Counts for the most recent years are:

  • ~ 1700 cruises for 2001
  • ~ 1300 cruises for 2002
  • ~ 1000 cruises for 2003
  • ~ 1000 cruises for 2004
  • ~ 1300 cruises for 2005
  • ~   940 cruises for 2006
  • ~ 1060 cruises for 2007
  • ~   730 cruises for 2008
  • ~   680 cruises for 2009
  • ~   660 cruises for 2010

Ship specifications are entered into the database as they are received. The public web form previously used to submit ship specifications has been replaced by a Word document, which identifies data fields and provides unit and other descriptive information on data being requested.

Vessel specifications categorized by length as specified by FOFC for various classes follows.


Length Criteria

# in Database


< 40m



>40m and <55m



>55m and <70m





The website received over 1,036,068 hits this year from over 94,846 users.

In December 2005, a working group meeting was held in Silver Springs, Maryland. It included representatives from NOAA, SCOR, POGO, ISOM, IOC/JCOMM and OCEANIC to perform the following steps per the meeting report:

  • Identify features needed in an ideal database of research cruises
  • Determine how well existing databases fit the ideal, and how they would need to be changed to meet the needs of scientists
  • Estimate the cost of modifying an existing database or creating a new one
  • Request support from appropriate agencies to augment an existing database
  • Work with existing efforts in the area, rather than re-invent the wheel

A productive discussion was held during the working group meeting, resulting in a shopping list of characteristics, data structure changes and features.

Current System

On the ship specifications side, search fields are available to help find vessels by:

  • Country
  • Operating area
  • Affiliation (i.e.: NOAA, ONR, EPA, NATO, etc.)
  • Research capabilities (i.e.: ROV/AUV support, Ice breaking, DPos, etc.)
  • Wet and dry lab areas
  • Speed, range and endurance
  • Maximum number of scientists
  • Acquisition systems (i.e.: Coring capable, multibeam, ADCP, etc.)

On the scheduling side, additional search fields allow users to find past or future cruises based on:

  • Experiment performed
  • Principal investigator
  • Discipline
  • Geographic location (US Navy Grid)
  • National and international program participants and the vessels used. (i.e., BITS, GLOBEC, HOTS, TRACTOR, SAMOS)
  • Agency/institutional involvement in various projects. (i.e., JAMSTEC, NAVY, NOAA, NSF, ONR)

Future Plans and Possibilities

Feedback from the Baltic Sea Portal, the EurOcean Portal, the International Ship Operators Meeting, the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans and others indicate that the types of data collected regarding the research vessels and their science missions needs to be revamped. We propose to rework the database to provide a simplified and condensed “General” set of specifications for all vessels. A set of more detailed specifications will then be created to accommodate the data requirements of the groups requiring them. Currently these are the Baltic Sea (BONUS) Portal group and the EurOcean portal group.

Other possible changes to consider:

  • Addition of "Science Berths Available" field to facilitate collaboration and capacity building.
  • Provide ship operators with direct login accounts to allow them to modify their own vessel schedules. Web-based tools would be created to accommodate this task.
  • Provide more sophisticated and customizable filtered or “Portal” views for both cruise schedules and vessel specifications. Adding features to allow for “Program” views for various international projects and collaborative efforts (ie: ARGO, VOS, CLIVAR, HOTS, BITS).
  • Increased outreach activities to inform the scientific community about the sites existence and purpose and to solicit more cruise schedule and specification information from the worlds research vessel operating institutions.
  • Provide a mechanism to display past and proposed vessel cruise tracks, with the ability to query the database of cruises and generate reports based on the results.
  • Accommodate multiple science missions per cruise leg. Currently only one PI and science mission is listed per cruise.
  • Provide linkage capabilities to data archival organizations, allowing them to verify that cruise data is indeed archived after a pre-determined period of time. Also allowing for easier location of historical cruise data.
  • Collaborate on a more internationally recognized method for tracking the “location” of a cruise. The current system uses an arbitrary “US Navy Grid” system. Other possibilities include IHB Sea Areas, Marsden Squares, Australian C-Squares, Operator entered Lines, Points & Polygons in a GIS mapping system.
  • Provide specifications and schedules for other non-Ship research equipment, such as ROVs, AUVs, VOS's, manned Submersibles and airborne remotely operated research equipment.
  • Provide a mechanism for scheduling and tracking the availability of pooled or shared equipment.
  • Provide pages with a brief overview and description of the various scientific equipment used aboard RVs such as ADCP, CTD, Scanfish, Triaxus, Side Scanning Sonar, Multi-Beam Sonar, etc.
  • Provide a mechanism for operators to post the availability of surplus equipment.
  • Other modifications and additions will be considered - just let us know what you need.

Funding Information

Budget cuts and updated priorities within the agencies that have historically funded this project have caused our efforts to be significantly scaled back in 2004 and funding ceased completely in 2005. This has been our only source of funding for the International Research Vessels project in recent years. If you are interested in helping us modernize and continue this project, please email us at info (@)

Other OCEANIC Projects

In addition to development and hosting of the International Research Vessels Portal project, we support the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), an organization of 61 academic institutions and national laboratories involved in oceanographic research and joined for the purpose of coordinating oceanographic ships schedules and research facilities. We host their web and mail servers and assist them with their programming and web development efforts. UNOLS cruise schedule information is submitted to the existing IRVP database electronically each time a schedule is modified to ensure that the UNOLS database holdings remain synchronized with the IRVP database.

Current OCEANIC projects include:

Past projects that have been completed and archived include:

We are constantly looking for feedback and ideas to better serve the scientific community. If you would like to help, or if you have additional information on Research Vessels -- please contact us at info (@)

OCEANIC - Ships Schedules & Information Pages
University of Delaware, College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment
Lewes, Delaware  19958
Phone:  (302) 645-4225