RRS Sir David Attenborough

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RRS Sir David Attenborough at Liverpool Cruise Terminal 4.jpg
RRS Sir David Attenborough berthed in Liverpool, England
Flag of the Falkland Islands.svgFalkland Islands
Name: RRS Sir David Attenborough
Namesake: Sir David Attenborough
Owner: NERC Research Ship Unit
Operator: British Antarctic Survey
Builder: Cammell Laird
Cost: GB£200 million (2014)
Yard number: 1390
Laid down: 17 October 2016
Launched: 14 July 2018
Sponsored by: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
Christened: 26 September 2016
Acquired: 2 December 2020
Homeport: Stanley, Falkland Islands
Identification:IMO number9798222
Status: Sea trials
General characteristics [1]
Length: 128.9 m (423 ft)
Beam: 24 m (79 ft)
Draught: 7 m (23 ft)
Depth: 11 m (36 ft)
Ice class:
Installed power:
  • 2 × Bergen B33:45L6A (2 × 3,600 kW)
  • 2 × Bergen B33:45L9A (2 × 5,400 kW)
  • 17.5 knots (32.4 km/h; 20.1 mph) (maximum)
  • 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph) (cruising)
  • 3 knots (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph) in 1 m (3 ft) ice
Range: 19,000 nautical miles (35,000 km; 22,000 mi) at 13 knots
Endurance: 60 days[3]
  • 28 crew
  • 60 scientists
  • 2 spare berths
Aircraft carried: 1 helicopter

RRS Sir David Attenborough is a research vessel owned by the Natural Environment Research Council, to be operated by the British Antarctic Survey for the purposes of both research and logistic support.[4] In this, the ship is intended to replace a pair of existing vessels, RRS James Clark Ross and RRS Ernest Shackleton.[5] The vessel is named after broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough.


In 2014, the UK Government announced funding for the construction of a new polar research vessel for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to replace a pair of existing ships.[4] This new ship was intended not only to be fully equipped with the latest instrumentation for the purposes of carrying out research in polar regions, for which it would have an improved icebreaking capability and greater endurance over the existing polar research vessel, but also to serve as a logistic support vessel for BAS teams in inshore locations.[4]

BAS contracted Houlder Ltd to undertake the basic design in which suggestions for the final configuration of the new ship were taken. Following the consultation period, in 2015, Rolls-Royce Holdings was selected to execute the detailed design and Cammell Laird in Birkenhead was selected as the preferred bidder to construct the ship.[6] The ship cost £200m.[7]

General characteristics[edit]

The ship is about 125 metres (410 ft) long, with a beam of about 24 metres (79 ft). The draught is about 7 metres (23 ft) with a planned cruising speed of 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph) with a range of 19,000 nautical miles (35,000 km; 22,000 mi) at that speed. She is capable of carrying a helicopter and has a capacity for approximately 900 cubic metres (32,000 cu ft) of cargo. Accommodation is provided for 30 crew and 60 research staff.[4]

Sir David Attenborough has a twin-shaft hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system. The vessel's power plant consists of two 3,600 kW (4,800 hp) 6-cylinder Bergen B33:45L6A and two 5,400 kW (7,200 hp) 9-cylinder Bergen B33:45L9A main diesel generators, a Cummins KTA38-DM1 885 kW (1,187 hp) harbour generator,[8] and two 2,500 kW (3,400 hp) battery systems each of 500 kWh (1,800 MJ) capacity.[3] The power plant, which can run with different configurations depending on the mission and operating conditions, produces electricity to power four 2,750 kW (3,690 hp) asynchronous electric motors driving two 5-bladed controllable pitch propellers. This gives Sir David Attenborough a maximum speed of 17.5 knots (32.4 km/h; 20.1 mph) in open water and ability to break up to 1-metre (3.3 ft) thick level ice at a speed of 3 knots (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph).[4] At an economical cruising speed of 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph), she has an operating range of 19,000 nautical miles (35,000 km; 22,000 mi). For manoeuvring and dynamic positioning, the vessel has four 1,580 kW (2,120 hp) Tees White Gill thrusters with Teignbridge Propellers 60 inch 4 blade Rotor’s, two in the bow and two in the stern.[3]

The vessel has been strengthened according to the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) Unified Requirements for Polar Class Ships. Her ice class, Polar Class 4, is intended for year-round operation in thick first-year ice which may include old ice inclusions. However, her propulsion system is only rated for Polar Class 5 which is intended for medium first-year ice.[3][9]


The hull of RRS Sir David Attenborough just before her launch

The first steel for the construction of the ship was cut in July 2016. The keel laying ceremony for the ship, yard number 1390, took place on 17 October 2016.[10]

The ship was constructed by combining individually fabricated blocks, much like the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. The majority of the blocks were manufactured by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead, but due to a tight schedule, the stern of the ship (named 'Block 10') was fabricated at the A&P Group on the River Tyne. The section was transported to Merseyside on a barge in August 2017. The stern section was loaded onto the barge by heavy lifting company ALE, using self-propelled modular trailers (SPMT). The same procedure in reverse was then used to get the hull segment on to the slipway at Birkenhead.[11] The hull of Sir David Attenborough was named by her namesake and launched on 14 July 2018. She was moved into a wet dock for the addition of her superstructure and fitting out.[12] The ship was originally scheduled to be completed by October 2018.[13][14] The official naming ceremony took place on 26 September 2019. A bottle of champagne was smashed across the ship's bow by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Cammell Laird's shipyard in Birkenhead. Sir David Attenborough was present at the ceremony.[15] Poet Laureate Simon Armitage wrote a poem "Ark" to celebrate the naming ceremony.[16][17] Attenborough was also present at commissioning, stating "This astonishing ship... will find the science with which to deal with the problems that are facing the world today and will increasingly do so tomorrow." [8]


RSS Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough moored at Liverpool's cruise terminal on 28 October 2020.

Sir David Attenborough was originally planned to enter service in late 2020, but in January 2020 Sky News reported that her delivery was at risk of delay, and that BAS planned to keep James Ross Clark in service for another year past her intended retirement.[18] In August, Sir David Attenborough made a brief trip to the Liverpool Cruise Terminal before returning to Cammell Laird for final fitting out ahead of sea trials scheduled for late in the year.[19]

Sir David Attenborough began her sea trials on 21 October 2020. She is scheduled to make her maiden voyage to Antarctica in late 2021.[7]

Naming poll[edit]

NERC Name Our Ship campaign, 2016
March–April 2016

LocationOnline, predominantly United Kingdom
Boaty McBoatface
Henry Worsley
David Attenborough
It's Bloody Cold Here
Shows top five suggestions[20] out of 7,034

In March 2016, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) announced that members of the public were being asked to suggest names for the ship. Names previously used would not be eligible, but otherwise it was open to suggestions.[21] The NERC stated that they would have the final say, and that the most popular name in the poll would not necessarily be the one used.[22]

Former BBC Radio Jersey presenter James Hand jokingly suggested RRS "Boaty McBoatface". This quickly became the most popular choice and was the runaway winner when the poll closed, with 124,109 votes.[20] The name has been described as a homage to "Hooty McOwlface", an owl named through an "Adopt-A-Bird" program in 2012 that became popular on the internet.[23]

On 6 May 2016, British science minister Jo Johnson announced that the choice had been made to name the ship after naturalist Sir David Attenborough, but that Boaty McBoatface would be the name of one of David Attenborough's remotely controlled submersibles.[24][25]

A petition calling for Sir David Attenborough to change his name to Sir Boaty McBoatface "in the interest of democracy and humour" soon received over 3,800 signatures.[26]

In response to the poll, the Science and Technology Committee, a select committee of the House of Lords, announced that they were to review the process by which the ship was named. NERC chief executive Professor Duncan Wingham and NERC head of communications Julia Maddock faced the committee on 10 May. Professor James Wilsdon, an outreach director at Sheffield University, told MPs that he voted for Boaty McBoatface. Despite the controversy, NERC directors felt that their poll was a successful initiative in that it generated a lot of publicity regarding their organisation and research mission among the lay public.[27]

Other leading choices in the poll were Poppy-Mai, in honour of a toddler with incurable cancer,[28] and Henry Worsley, for a British army officer who died in 2016 while attempting to complete the first solo and unaided crossing of the Antarctic.

Spanish internet trolls promoted the choice Blas de Lezo, a Spanish admiral who gave a humiliating defeat to the British Royal Navy in 1741. The organisers removed the option, which gathered more than 38,000 votes.[29]

Influence on popular culture[edit]

Trainy McTrainface at Gothenburg Central Station in 2019

On 12 May 2016, Google released a natural language parser named Parsey McParseface in reference to the boat naming contest, as part of their open-source SyntaxNet neural network framework.[30]

On 22 March 2016 the 0729 South West Trains Portsmouth to Waterloo service was playfully named Trainy McTrainface,[31] and in July 2017 the same name was chosen in an online poll for a new train on the Stockholm-Gothenburg line.[32]

In May 2017, the Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary in the UK announced that the first Humboldt penguin chick to hatch in more than a decade had been named Fluffy McFluffyface by the sanctuary staff.[33]

In November 2017, Sydney Ferries allowed the public to name its fleet of Emerald-class ferries for use in Sydney Harbour, Australia through a naming competition.[34] The most popular name was Boaty McBoatface but, as it had already been taken, New South Wales Transport Minister picked Ferry McFerryface out of his personal preference instead.[35] After the Maritime Union of Australia refused to crew the vessel in protest at the name, it entered service named Emerald 6 with a Ferry McFerryface sticker below the bridge, and in January 2018, following revelations that the name wasn't a public vote winner but selected by the minister, it was renamed May Gibbs.[36]

In 2020, rocket manufacturer and satellite broadband internet provider SpaceX named their Starlink user ground terminal Dishy McFlatface.[37]


  1. ^ Planet ice and the dual-functional Attenborough. The Naval Architect, January 2017. Pages 37–38.
  2. ^ RRS Sir David Attenborough, Technical Features. British Antarctic Survey.
  3. ^ a b c d e Polar Research Vessel. Cammell Laird Shipyard. Retrieved 2017-10-15.
  4. ^ a b c d e "The next generation of polar research vessel". British Antarctic Survey. Archived from the original on 9 May 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  5. ^ Amos, Jonathon. "Sir David Attenborough polar ship set for launch". BBC News Online. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  6. ^ "Merseyside beats global competition to build £200 million polar research ship". UK Government. 12 October 2015. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Britain's new polar ship, the Sir David Attenborough, set for sea trials". Reuters. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  8. ^ a b https://www.cummins.com/case-studies/rrs-sir-david-attenborough
  9. ^ Unified Requirements for Polar Class ships Archived 11 September 2012 at WebCite. International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), April 2016. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  10. ^ Amos, Jonathan. "Ceremony to mark start of Attenborough polar ship construction". BBC News. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  11. ^ Amos, Jonathan. "RRS Sir David Attenborough's stern on the move". BBC News. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  12. ^ Houghton, Alastair. "Live: Launch of major new ship the Sir David Attenborough at Cammell Laird". Liverpool Echo. Reach PLC. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  13. ^ British Antarctic Survey (4 January 2018), British Antarctic Survey, retrieved 24 January 2018
  14. ^ "The RRS Sir David Attenborough: Polar preparations progress". United Kingdom. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  15. ^ Amos, Jonathan (26 September 2019). "Champagne smash for Sir David Attenborough polar ship". Birkenhead: BBC News Online. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  16. ^ "Ship is named with royal ceremony". British Antarctic Survey. 26 September 2019. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  17. ^ Armitage, Simon. "Ark" (PDF). Simon Armitage. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  18. ^ "Sir David Attenborough research ship facing launch delay". Sky News. 12 January 2020. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  19. ^ "RRS David Attenborough crosses the Mersey ahead of departure for Antarctic". Liverpool Echo. 5 August 2020. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  20. ^ a b "'Boaty McBoatface' tops public vote as name of polar ship". BBC News. 17 April 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  21. ^ Amos, Jonathan (17 March 2016). "Name sought for new UK polar ship". BBC News. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  22. ^ "Boaty McBoatface instigator 'sorry' for ship name suggestion". BBC News. 21 March 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  23. ^ Tom Whipple (16 April 2016). "Boaty McBoatface tops poll but will vote be scuppered?". The Times. Retrieved 11 April 2018. Yet the runaway winner was RSS Boaty McBoatface, itself an homage to the owl that was named Hooty McOwlface after a similar exercise.
  24. ^ "£200m polar research ship named in honour of Sir David Attenborough". NERC. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  25. ^ Knapton, Sarah (6 May 2016). "'BoatyMcBoatface' to live on as yellow submarine, science minister Jo Johnson announces". The Telegraph. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  26. ^ "Petition for David Attenborough to be renamed 'Boaty McBoatface'". ITV News. 8 May 2016. Retrieved 10 May 2016. The author, Mr Jackson, wrote: ... "Wouldn’t it be great if Sir David changed his name to Sir Boaty McBoatface in the interest of democracy and humour?".
  27. ^ Bloom, Dan (10 May 2016). "'I voted for Boaty McBoatface' Top scientist stuns MPs with surprise confession". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  28. ^ Graham, Chris (4 May 2016). "Poppy-Mai Barnard, whose name came second behind Boaty McBoatface in competition, dies after cancer battle". The Telegraph. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  29. ^ Cereceda, Rafael (31 March 2016). "How Spanish trolls tried to sink a British boat competition". Euronews. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  30. ^ "Announcing SyntaxNet: The World's Most Accurate Parser Goes Open Source". Google Research Blog. 12 May 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  31. ^ Lewis, Kayleigh (23 March 2016). "Trainy McTrainface pulls into Waterloo". The Independent. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  32. ^ Hern, Alex (19 July 2017). "Trainy McTrainface: Swedish railway keeps Boaty's legacy alive". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  33. ^ "Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary's first Humboltd penguin chick in decade". BBC. 20 May 2017. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  34. ^ Visentin, Lisa (22 July 2016). "Ferry McFerryface? NSW government launches naming competition for new ferries". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  35. ^ "Ferry McFerryface saga not over yet for Transport Minister Andrew Constance". amp.smh.com.au.
  36. ^ Ferry McFerryface wasn't public pick for new ferry name until Andrew Constance's captain's pick Daily Telegraph 30 January 2018
  37. ^ "Dishy McFlatface User's Manual". Reddit User Contribution. 28 October 2020. Retrieved 18 November 2020.