What you need to know before sailing on a UW vessel

Stay safe out there and keep your shipmates safe!

Before you embark on a UW vessel, please read this as well as the Research Vessel Safety Standards (RVSS) mentioned at the end. Especially if you are new to either the sea, or the research mission, this is a must read. If you are a returning sailor, at least skim through it as a refresher. Included is information about the authority, responsibilities and roles of the Master, Chief Scientists and Lead Marine Technician; prohibited items, security, customs, as well as safety, and drills. Notice you also need to be familiar with the RVSS, the link provided below.

Master, Chief Scientist, Lead Marine Technician

The sole purpose for operating a research vessel is to provide a seaborne platform from which scientists can accomplish oceanographic research. To assure that the research is conducted safely and with maximum probability of success, certain traditional laws of the sea and rules and regulations must be observed. Crucial to the success of any cruise is a clear understanding of the roles of the Master, Chief Scientist and Lead Marine Technician.

Authority of the Master  The Master is ultimately responsible for the safe operation of the vessel and for preventing pollution. The Master is empowered in all situations with overriding authority to act decisively and according to best judgment to protect the vessel and other vessels or property from damage, and to prevent pollution and protect the environment. The Master may request assistance from any appropriate resource of the University of Washington in order to fulfill these responsibilities.
Because of this responsibility, they have full authority over all operations and personnel, both crew and scientific party. If circumstances require alterations in the cruise plan for safety or legal reasons, they shall keep the Chief Scientist apprised of matters affecting their decision. Irresolvable disagreements between the Master and the Chief Scientist shall be expeditiously referred to the School of Oceanography for resolution. However, in all decisions regarding safety, the Master's authority is absolute.

Responsibility of the Chief Scientist  One member of the scientific party will be designated Chief Scientist. This designation is required to provide a clean line of communication between the operating crew and the scientific party. This individual is responsible for not only for their own program but also for the projects of all scientists embarked. In addition, the personal conduct of the scientific party is under the purview of the Chief Scientist, under the overall supervision of the Master.

Role of the Lead Marine Technician   The UW Marine Technicians report to the Master; however, their primary purpose aboard is to maintain the ship's scientific equipment, assist the scientific party in its operation, and facilitate expectations between the science party and the crew, in the labs as well as on deck. They are critical in assisting the science party to communicate their procedures, missions, and goals to the Master and the crew both before and during all science operations. The marine technicians also assist the Master by ensuring that scientific uses of hazardous materials or radioisotopes comply with applicable University of Washington policies and procedures for safety, waste disposal, and regulatory compliance.

The Chief Scientist should consult daily with the Master on the details of the total program. Authority for modifications to the cruise track within the general working area is contained in school policy documents and is stated in all sailing orders. The Chief Scientist and the Master shall discuss such changes in track, station location, or other deviations from the pre-cruise plan prior to their implementation. The Manager of Marine Operations shall be notified immediately of any major deviations in program accomplishment or in schedule.

Prohibited Items
The following are not permitted on board UW research vessels:
1. Alcoholic beverages
2. Narcotics and other controlled substances
3. Pets
4. Firearms
Under certain circumstances with advance coordination, prohibited items may be allowed onboard TGT with the Master’s permission. These items must be immediately turned over to the Master to be held in bonded stores until the owner of that item is discharged from the vessel. Be sure to ask in advance!

Summary of Drug & Alcohol Policy 

To help ensure the safety and well-being of faculty, staff, students, and the general public, the school is committed to maintaining a shipboard environment that is free of illegal drugs and of drugs and alcohol that are used illegally. Accordingly, the school prohibits consuming alcoholic beverages on a school vessel. The school also prohibits the unlawful possession, use, distribution, or manufacture of alcohol or controlled substances (as defined in Chapter 69.50 RCW) on school vessels. Violation of the school's alcohol and drug prohibitions is cause for disciplinary or other appropriate action.

Crewmembers and members of the embarked scientific party are subject to drug and alcohol testing requirements found in Title 46 Code of Federal Regulation for reasonable cause and in the event of a “Serious Marine Incident” at the discretion of the Master.

Summary of Harassment & Personal Relationships Policy 

UW School of Oceanography is committed to maintaining a positive working, research and learning environment free of illegal discrimination, harassment, intimidation and the perception thereof. All personnel, including crew, scientists, students, marine technicians, and anyone else involved, both shoreside and on board, are expected to support this goal. It is important that a professional atmosphere is maintained at all times through mutual respect for all your shipmates. For more information, see section 6.2 in the Safety Management Manual (SMM) here. 

Additional environmental and safety policies may also be found in the SMM. 

Summary of Security Policy

1. Science cargo will only be accepted aboard the ship if the Chief Scientist, their designee, or a crewmember, physically verifies that it is part of the group's expected shipment and that all is normal, such as checking any seals placed on containers and crates are intact.
2. Depending on the circumstances and any security level or threat, all Science Party member's baggage may be subject to search before being brought on board. The Master has the authority to change the vessels security posture, and shall keep the Marine Superintendent fully informed of any concerns or changes.
3. All unaccompanied baggage may be inspected and physically searched and the baggage's origin shall be verified upon being brought on board.

Customs Clearance

US and local customs laws apply to all cargo shipments and personnel movements. The Master is responsible for compliance. This can sometimes delay sailing and arrivals. This will be addressed in detail during cruise planning. The UW School of Oceanography will pay certain customs and agent fees associated with the normal, routine operations of the ship. All other fees deemed outside normal ship operations by the Manager, Marine Operations may be the responsibility of the Chief Scientist.

Safety at Sea

Conducting research at sea is inherently risky. It is imperative that each individual be safety conscious at all times. Any situation or condition that might constitute a safety hazard shall be corrected at once either by the scientific party, if within their purview, or by reporting the condition to the watch officer on the bridge for further action. Each person is responsible not only for their own safety, but also that of their shipmates!

Each person should learn the locations and uses of all life rings, life jackets, and safety clothing. Work vests should be worn when working near open deck edges such as between bulwarks, on weather decks in heavy weather, any other time there is a risk of falling overboard or when instructed by the crew; hard hats when working with the crane, or any other overhead lifts. Proper closed toed and heeled footwear is required to be worn on board in common work areas or lab spaces without exception.  Off duty, closed toed sandals are acceptable away from work areas.  Additionally, safety boots/shoes are required when working on deck with any weight handling gear. A limited supply of boots will be available.  No flip-flops or sandal style shoes shall be worn anywhere on the ship other than in the personal berthing rooms. 

Stand clear of all wires, ropes and blocks that are under load or are moving; do not let yourself get caught between a moving object and a stationary part of the ship. Be aware of all activities going on while on deck, and always look up as you go out on deck for overhead loads. Be careful when passing through doorways and hatches. Keep fingers away from the knife edges of watertight doors. All doors and hatches must be secured either open on their hooks, or completely closed and dogged. You should return doors to either open or closed unless you have a crew member’s authorization to leave it open. Doors shall never be allowed to swing freely with the roll of the ship.

Swimming/diving is not permitted from the ship at any time unless it is part of the requirement of the science mission and has been approved by the Manager of Marine Operations during the cruise planning phase.

Permission must be requested from the Watch Officer each time before working aloft. The ship's motion makes working aloft hazardous, and radio/navigation equipment emitting RF and microwave energy is dangerous to human health. The ship will provide safety belts, as well as a safety brief. Do not go up the masts unless you have a specific job to do and obtain prior authorization. NOTE: Workvests must be worn when working near the edge of the ship or when equipment is being deployed or recovered. Hardhats must be worn in designated HARD HAT AREAS.

Ship's tools are available to all personnel while at sea. They may be obtained by contacting the ship's Engineers or Watch Officer. Return all tools immediately after use. Consult the ship's crew if you wish to use a piece of equipment with which you are not familiar.

Fire & Boat Drills

The Coast Guard requires the ship to have a monthly fire and boat drill. For all drills, you will be assigned a muster location and possibly other duties.  Be sure you understand your emergency muster location and duties.  There are typically specific instructions for drills, if you have any questions, ask a crewmember for guidance.  These details will be addressed during the safety orientation. 

• Fire & Emergency:  Not less than 10 seconds, sounding of the Ship's Whistle and General Alarm Bells. 
• Abandon Ship:  More than 6 short followed by one long, sounding of he Ship's Whistle and General Alarm Bells. 
• Man Overboard:  3 long repeated 4 times, soundings of he Ship's Whistle and General Alarm Bells

Members of the scientific party who are on watch may be excused from attending drills only if an interruption will jeopardize ongoing observations. The Master will, in any event, ensure that all members of the entire complement are accounted for at each drill.

Heavy Weather

When the captain decides that heavy weather procedures are warranted, deck access restrictions will be passed.  If it is absolutely necessary that you go outside, obtain permission from the bridge, wear a workvest or life jacket and have a partner to monitor your activity. Depending on the conditions, you may also need a tag line. When you have finished your outside business notify the bridge that you are safely back inside.

Other General Safety

There are a many ways to bump your head, stub your toes or smash your fingers on a ship. Pay attention to what you are doing at all times, and “keep one hand free for the ship” so you can keep your balance and hold a rail.

Be very careful with heavy watertight doors. Do not lose control when passing through and be sure you properly dog the door shut once you have passed through.

Make sure all your equipment is secured before the ship leaves the dock. It doesn't take very long to find out what you forgot to tie down so double check everything. Expensive equipment can be damaged beyond your ability to repair it in a matter of seconds. For the success of your scientific cruise ensure that you take the extra time to SECURE EVERYTHING properly. If you need help, ask a crew member.

Get permission from the bridge before putting ANYTHING over the side.  The Garbage Plan can be found on the Facilities & Living Aboard page. 

Smoking is NOT permitted in the interior of the ship. The Master sets the smoking policy. Smoking may be allowed outside on the weather decks, ensure you know the rules before you light up.

For more information about UNOLS research vessel safety, go to RVSS for a link to the most current version of the Research Vessel Safety Standards.  If you have not been to sea, it is recommended that you read chapter one of the RVOC Safety Training Manual.  


Updated by SSSG Supervisor 2022 May 16


Stay safe out there and keep your shipmates safe!