RRS Discovery 1962 - 2012

The Royal Research Ship (RRS) Discovery  is the ‘old lady’ of the NERC fleet and will celebrate her 50th birthday in 2012, having originally been delivered to the National Institute of Oceanography on 17 December 1962 by Hall Russell Shipyard in Aberdeen, UK.

The RRS Discovery  follows a long line of vessels carrying the same name, the most famous of which is probably the Sailing Yacht Discovery  commanded by Captain Robert Falcon Scott during the Discovery Expedition to the Antarctic in 1901. This ship was subsequently re-designated RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery in 1923, and is the direct forerunner on the current vessel.

RRS Discovery underwent a major refit in 1992 which comprised insertion of a 10m lengthening section and a complete rebuild of her upper-works, including new laboratories, as well as greatly enhanced over-the-side handling facilities. A further major refit in 2003 installed an updated electrical winch system. These enhancements have ensured that the ship remained fully capable of supporting 20th Century marine science worldwide. However, the ship is not fitted with a multibeam echosounder, nor is it capable of dynamic positioning, while the main propulsion motor is the one fitted at build. As a consequence, NERC commenced a project to replace the vessel in 2007, which resulted in a contract being placed to build a new ship, of the same name, which will enter NERC service in 2013.



  • Single echosounder surveys
  • Integrated data logging
  • Seismic surveys
  • Clean seawater sampling
  • CTD surveys
  • Deepwater coring, trawling, and towing

General Particulars

RRS Discovery
Call sign GLNE Overall length 90.2m
IMO number 5090660 Beam 14.0m
Total Capacity: 52 Maximum draft 5.3m
Marine crew 22 officers and ratings Maximum displacement 4310 Tonnes
  Scientists and technicians 28 according to the science type Gross tonnage 3008 Tonnes
Average operating speed 10 knots Net tonnage  Tonnes
Endurance extreme 55 days Displacement 4310m3
Endurance operational 45 days Completed 1962 (rebuilt 1992)
Working areas All oceans, including ice-edge Classification Lloyd’s +100 A1, Ice C, FS, LMC, UMS, DP(AM), Research Vessel

Scientific Facilities

Equipment Handling

During the major rebuild of the RRS Discovery in 1992, the ship’s working decks were extensively remodeled and a highly capable set of handling systems installed, while in 2003 the ship’s winch suite (link to winches and gantries) was replaced.  The success of both of these innovations is marked by the fact that both the RRS James Cook and the replacement for the Discovery have been designed with similar features.


RRS Discovery  is fitted with a wide range of scientific laboratories and workshops, which undertake both wet and dry work.

Permanently Fitted Sensors & Instrumentation

Although not fitted with a multibeam echosounder, the RRS Discovery is fitted with an array of modern scientific instrumentation.

Bridge Equipment

Despite her age, the bridge equipment on RRS Discovery has been regularly updated to keep the ship fit for undertaking modern science.


Function Specifications
Diesel generators 2 x Mirrlees Blackstone ESL6
2 x Mirrlees Blackstone ESL9
Total 3.75MW
Main propulsion motors AEI MP.60/32 Double Unit Motor DC (1,500kW)
Alternators 690v/60Hz
Shaft / propeller Single screw fixed pitch prop - 160 rpm
Bow Thruster White-Gill T3 azimuthing bow thruster 360 (550kW)
Rudder Becker High Performance Flap Rudder
Diesel capacity 650m³
Fresh water capacity 208m³