The following content has been reviewed by the National Science Foundation.

Three vessels have been fully funded; for more check out this press release.

The table below outlines the RCRV Design Evolution and the drivers, reviews and related activities that led to increases in vessel length.

RCRV Design LOA (ft) Date of Change/Milestone Activities/Drivers of Change
131-180 March 2003 UNOLS Science Mission Requirements for Regional Oceanographic Research Vessels released
  June 2004 FIC request for community input on prioritization of SMRs to guide Navy SOR development
Approximately 140-165 September 2005 Navy's Initial SOR
  Spring 2006 Review/Comment on initial SOR by UNOLS committees
155 maximum March 2007 Navy's Revised SOR
155 October 7-8, 2009 RCRV Design Down-Select Panel Meeting/Recommendation of Nichols-Glosten Associates Design
  March 25, 2010 NSF Request to FIC for recommendations on changes in RCRV design including usable aft deck space
  September 07, 2012 NSF Solicitation 12-558 directs LI to incorporate recommendations of UNOLS FIC as agreed by NSF including adding 20' to aft deck and centerboard and "Student Education Lab"
175 December 13, 2012 NSF selection of OSU as LI and approval of 20' added to LOA with no increase to superstructure length
  February 25, 2013 NSF Determination Review. Established Ice Class requirements and established RCRV could not be less than 300GTR (i.e. would be inspected and need hospital and extra berthing)
185 June 14, 2013 RCRV Basis of Design Memo 06.01-1 and review activities leading to decisions to include an enclosed foredeck and angled transom
  December 2-6, 2013 CDR
191 December 12, 2013 Basis of Design Memo 194.1 -1 following sea keeping analyses. Decision approved by NSF for addition of U-Tube for better sea keeping.
  August 4-7, 2014 PDR
193 December 8, 2014 Decision to mitigate weight risk identified at PDR. Basis of Design Memo 079.1
199 May 30, 2018 Contract Change Order approved to lengthen additional 6 feet in order to accommodate necessary structural, machinery, and piping requirements.

Gulf Island Shipyard LLC, in Houma Louisiana is building all RCRVs for OSU. For more information check out one of the many press releases published.

OSU and our partners from The Glosten Associates thoroughly explored this and other powering options with the goal of finding the most efficient "modern" powering and propulsion solution that would still allow the vessel to meet its anticipated mission requirements. In addition to hybrids, we looked at fuel cells and liquid natural gas (LNG). We also explored augmenting power generation through sail, wave energy, and even limited solar power. Although an unfortunate truth, these sorts of solutions do not provide the power density required to meet the demands of a modern regional class research vessel. There is not enough storage space, for example, to incorporate LNG. Fuel cells are largely unproven and are not a practical solution to meet the 21-day duration requirement. A hybrid battery/diesel electric solution looked promising, but when we ran the numbers it didn't pencil out. The reason they work to some degree on tugboats doesn't apply to a research ship. A tug loiters for long periods using little energy, so batteries alone are sufficient. When a research ship is on station, it is often using cranes, A-Frames, or is holding a heading into wind and seas. This all takes power. Lots of power. For this reason, as well as the space and weight requirements driven by battery storage, a hybrid solution did not prove viable for RCRV.

That said, energy efficiency is one of the principal components of the RCRV design. It was with that in mind we performed our "green ship study" that identified a large number of energy efficient features that will be incorporated into the RCRV design. This report is publicly available on our website. One of the elements we're most excited about (of many exciting design features) is that we're planning to incorporate an integrated bus that will power and propel the vessel with shared variable speed power generation. Although this is explained in more detail in the report, the main idea behind this technology is that generators will produce the necessary power while running at an optimal speed thereby decreasing the fuel consumption. Production matches the demand by varying the speed of the generators. This feature alone is expected to reduce fuel consumption by up to 15%. Some vessels are reporting even greater savings, although this technology is still relatively new on ships. By assuming up to a 15% reduction, and assuming the vessel uses 1000 gallons a day (which is a likely consumption rate expected for RCRV), for a 220 day annual sailing schedule this would equate to a savings of 33,000 gallons of diesel fuel or 369 tons of CO2.

The vessel's fuel endurance was sized such that the vessel could cruise at its design speed for up to 21 days. The design speed is approximately 11.5 knots. As a practical matter, few if any oceanographic research cruises will require 11.5 knots sustained for 21 days. It follows that the fuel endurance, a function of fuel consumption, will increase as demand decreases. Performing science operations on station will decrease fuel consumption as will transiting at speeds less than 11.5 knots. Fuel endurance greatly increases beyond 21 days when these factors are considered. But, as a regional class vessel, endurance beyond 21 days at transiting speed was out of scope.

If the vessel was to conduct a science mission in which it spent quite a bit of time on station, or surveying at slow speeds, the limiting factor would quickly become cold stores as it does on any research vessel. RCRV stores are sized for approximately 21 days with a full crew and science complement (including the addition of a mated four-person accommodations van). It could be possible to extend cold stores endurance with the addition of a small reefer van, for example. Fittings for such a van have been included forward on the enclosed foredeck in order to ensure maximum versatility of the RCRV for science projects in the regional zones that might require greater than 21 days at sea. However, as mentioned, internal store spaces were sized based on the 21 day requirement.

The U.S. academic research fleet of the future will, according to the National Science Foundation, be composed of fewer but more capable vessels. The following list comprises some of the attributes that will make the planned RCRV's "more capable" than the current generation of similarly classed vessels.

Two RCRVs expected to facilitate missions previously assigned to 5 less capable intermediate and regional ships while also facilitating some missions previously placed on higher cost Ocean and Global class vessels because the science requirements include the use of capabilities not found on older intermediates and regional class vessels (such as DP or multi beam).

Sea Keeping

The bilge keels, centerboard, a wider beam, and primarily the "U-Tube" will greatly reduce vessel rolling motions. This will enable a different mode of operations whereby the vessel is aligned WITH the sea wave trough rather than into the waves. This will reduce pitch and, by employing the "U-Tube" properly, will reduce roll. This will increase the safety of deployments and likely increase the sea state in which operations can occur. This makes the vessel more useful and able to collect data earlier and later in the year when the weather is worse. This is a large part of being "more capable."


The vessel is being designed to operate as efficiently as possible. This will reduce both operational costs and the vessel's carbon footprint. It will do more for less: the metric "data per dollar" will be maximized by increasing the amount of data the vessel can collect and minimizing the cost to do it. Primary efficiencies are due to:

  • Bulbous Bow
  • Variable Speed power generation
  • LED lighting throughout
  • High efficiency pumps and motors throughout
  • Waste Heat Recovery

Ice Classification

No current intermediate or regional vessel is certified for safe operation around sea ice. RCRV will be built with an ABS "C0" Ice classification meaning that the vessel is certified to safely independently operate in areas of open first year ice coverage less than 6/10ths total of ice one foot or less. Interest in science research operations in polar regions is expected to increase in coming decades as the regions become more accessible to navigation, and the RCRVs will present one of the most cost effective platforms to operate in these areas. The Alaska region has been identified by the science community as a possible "region" in which the RCRV could be expected to operate.


Dynamic positioning will enable the vessel to safely hold station over a wide range of environmental conditions. This provides the advantage of enabling new position-critical missions to be performed, such as precise ROV tracking. ROV tracking can actually be performed automatically by connecting its position data to the DP system. This is what was done, for example, by response vessels at the BP oil spill to close the well. They actually had up to 20 ROVs operating simultaneously, all from DP vessels. This would have been inconceivable by hand operated vessels. No research ship at the time had this capability. DP will also increase safety of the vessel in high states of wind and seas while the vessel is docking, working in rivers, or close to navigational hazards, etc. With our two Z-drives and two bow thrusters, these are going to be very maneuverable vessels.


Besides enabling "virtual participation", increasing engagement with students and researchers, and vastly increasing the amount of data that is collected and available, the vessel will be able to "ground truth" remotely sensed data from satellites in near real time–providing important cal/val services not currently available. We are working with remote sensing experts to ensure that we are collecting data useful to this process. The types of data being continually collected (met, ocean, ocean floor) will be unprecedented by any vessel.


RCRV will have the ability to collect high quality and high resolution ocean floor and subfloor acoustic data (multibeam) from near shore to midwater depths. We are working with hydrographers to ensure that RCRV multibeam data collected in shallow and midwater depths will be "chart quality" (i.e. of the highest quality that will potentially be useful for charting and habitat mapping, an ability that is important to the ocean energy industry, for example).

RCRV will also introduce a deployable "centerboard" that will, with high positional precision, provide at versatile platform on to which a wide variety of acoustical sensors can be easily installed based on specific mission requirements. These could possibly include fisheries survey transducers (EK-60), current profilers (ADCP), and shallow water multibeam units (2040), among other possibilities. The innovation of the RCRV's centerboard will be that it will have a removable "foot" that can be used to easily swap out families of sensors AND it will have swappable plates that will provide the maximum flexibility for individual sensors. Presently, no vessel in the academic research fleet has as versatile a centerboard or one so precisely spatially referenced in order to provide highly reliable data.

Active Heave Compensation and Render Recover

Active Heave Comp and Render recover will increase safety of operations and enable deployments in higher environmental conditions.

Synthetic line, neutrally buoyant in water, will open up new possibilities for coring including video coring.

Van Vestibule

RCRV will have built in grey/black/fresh water hook ups, full power, alarms, network drops, etc. The modular design, with standard mating features, and forward fit, exemplified by USCG approved berthing vans and other science lab vans will greatly improve mission flexibility.

The class system for the UNOLS fleet has never had rigid differentiators. Each class has an expected primary mission that is matched to the capabilities of the vessels within the class. The primary mission of the new Regional Class Research Vessels will be research operations in the coastal ocean ranging from nearshore environments to the outer continental rise. The vessels' endurance, draft, ice classification and science mission equipment will be tailored for essential science in these "regional environments" along all US coasts including Alaska.

OSU will operate the first vessel and a consortium led by the University of Rhode Island will operate the second vessel. The third vessel will be operated by a consortium led by the University of Southern Mississippi and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

Presently, the first vessel will receive its UNOLS designation in early 2022 following a year of shakedown and trials. The second vessel is expected to receive its designation towards the end of 2022.

As vessels within the U.S. Academic Research Fleet, RCRV day rates will vary annually depending on factors such as days per year of funded science operations, realized crew salaries and travel, the science missions being supported, transit distances, fuel costs, the need for regulatory activities such as inspections, and both planned and emergent maintenance. Using best case/worse case scenarios that assume 220 versus 150 operating days and inflation rates for fuel of 2% versus 4%, estimates of day rates for the RCRVs in 2021 range from about $22,300 to about $28,500 per day of operation. These estimates do not include technical services.

The majority (~35%) of any vessel's day-rate calculation derives from crew and shore support salaries. Due to the expected efficiencies of the RCRV design, fuel consumption (as a variable cost) is expected to be similar to the smaller and less capable R/V Oceanus. This analysis was provided by OSU to the NSF as part of the project's panel-reviewed Preliminary Design Review materials. To put these numbers in a greater context, the average day rate for the Oceanus between 2012 and 2014 was $24,016 while the average from 2014-2017 was roughly $18,670 due in part to reduced fuel costs and reduced maintenance demands. As Federal assets, depreciation costs are not included as part of the day rate calculation. The Congressional Budget Office provides more information on the "cash accounting" method as applied to Federal investments.

As stated in the project's "System Requirements Document", the vessels shall be "capable of general-purpose interdisciplinary oceanographic research in areas from shallow coastal bays and estuaries to and beyond the continental shelf and slope. The ship shall be capable of operating on any ocean worldwide, in a regional research capacity." To that end, the project has science and regional input from its "Science Oversight Committee." This NSF-approved group is composed of a diverse membership of scientists, operators, and technicians from the East, Gulf, West, and Alaska regions of the United States. These members act as a conduit between the science community and the RCRV project team on important issues regarding the vessels' capabilities, requirements, and particular characteristics that might be unique to a specific operating region.

For more information on the history of the RCRV design, please see this short report.

OSU has engaged with The Glosten Associates, a highly respected engineering and naval architecture firm located in Seattle. Also on the team are other engineering and technical consultants who bring a wide range of experiences to the design development effort. A competitive, nation-wide selection process resulted in Gulf Island Shipyard being selected to construct the vessels following their detailed design process.

The first RCRV has been named Research Vessel Taani, the second will be known as the Research Vessel Resolution. The third vessel has not been named.

The table above summarizes the major changes since 2005. In short, these have been driven by the following:

  • NSF requirements
  • Regulatory Requirements
  • Science Oversight Approved modifications

OSU envisions the datapresence/telepresence capabilities of the RCRV as a tool to facilitate virtual research at sea while providing an interdisciplinary approach to ocean science research, one that enhances observational, experimental and analytical capabilities. Implementing the RCRV class as a shore-accessible continuous data collection system will link scientists everywhere to quality real-time data and promote unprecedented shore-based expertise and participation in sea going operations. This approach will also enable the class to readily participate in outreach activities and further engage the community.

The term "datapresence" is intended to convey that virtual participation will extend far beyond just video streaming. The vision is to provide a wide selection of high quality, processed data as information that is accessible in near real time to researchers anywhere in order to allow them to become virtually part of an at-sea science party.

The Navy's Statement of Requirements, dated March 2007 indicated that the RCRV would be classified as ABS D0. OSU received this requirement, among others, that served as the original baseline from which further requirements and design changes were measured.

On 23 January 2013, OSU received direction from NSF to "Develop 'PC-7 Ice Classifications Impact Report' for one (1) hull as new deliverable." This report was subsequently developed as "Implications of Applying IACS Polar Class 7 to the RCRV Design." In this report, and reiterated again at the 27 February 2013 NSF Determinations Review (NDR), it was recommended against building a PC7 vessel stating that a scaled down version of Sikuliaq would be more appropriate for operations in and around ice. Further discussion at NDR resulted in a task for OSU to evaluate C0 versus the baseline D0 requirement. OSU & The Glosten Associates then developed report 12100.02 "Implications of Applying ABS Ice Class C0 to the RCRV Design" wherein recommendation was made:

"Making the RCRV ice class C0 will result in a significant increase in the vessel's capabilities and days of operability in icebound waters [over D0]. This increased ability is achieved at a very nominal cost to the program and without any anticipated major changes to the vessel's systems or machinery."

It should be clear that this second Glosten report evaluated bumping up the Ice Classification from D0 to C0, NOT from no Ice Classification to C0. The impact to the design from the incremental increase from D0 to C0 was far less than it would have been to C0 from no classification whatsoever.

The SOC supported the recommendation to upgrade from D0 to C0 as did NSF. As a result C0 requirement was added to the top-level requirements System Requirement Document for it seemed that for minimal additional cost, and should there be an ice classification at all, a C0 rating was far more useful than D0. Ice Classification was also added to the project's Descoping List with a pre-defined retirement date of "Phase IA" meaning that eliminating this requirement after Phase IA would not be practical under foreseeable circumstances due to the necessary costs in engineering to the design and associated stability studies. On the descoping list, it was assigned a science impact score of 7 and an operations cost of 1 meaning that, should Ice Classification be de-scoped, the impact to science would be a "moderate reduction in a major mission capability" and that it would "add no lifetime cost" respectively. There was no score available for lifetime cost savings.

Definitions of ABS Ice Classifications can be found in Part 6, Chapter 1, Section 5 of the ABS Rules, 2015.

Please send inquiries to the program administration coordinator, Hannah Rivera She'll be able to route inquiries to the appropriate RCRV team member.

OSU’s contract with Gulf Island required US produced steel prior to any discussion of tariffs on foreign steel. However, prices did fluctuate quite a bit due to the market uncertainty that resulted. Overall, the impact has been manageable.

Gulf Island Shipyard does not use the side launch technique that can result in a dramatic affair. Rather, the vessel will be transported by rail from its fabrication location into a dry-dock and then floated. Though less exciting, this method is much less violent and prevents damage.

Partner Links

NSF The Glosten Associates UNOLS