Research Vessel Cape Fear

R/V Cape Fear

Owned and operated by the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the 70-foot Research Vessel (R/V) Cape Fear is designed for research, training, and educational cruises in waters from the near shore out to the continental slope. With a home port in Wilmington, North Carolina, the R/V Cape Fear operates from the Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico on either day trips or for extended operations up to five days at a time.

Scientific Operations

Collecting samples

The R/V Cape Fear is equipped for a wide range of scientific sampling. Image courtesy of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Oceanographic sampling equipment deployed from the R/V Cape Fear allows scientists to develop a detailed picture of the water column based on a range of properties. Two Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers can be used to measure how fast water is moving across an entire water column. The ship also has two Conductivity, Temperature, Depth profilers to measure temperature and salinity at depth. Several tools, including side scan sonar and a seismic sub-bottom profiler, are available to create detailed profiles of an area’s bathymetry (bottom topography).

The R/V Cape Fear has a dive platform at water level to provide divers and smaller vessels easy and safe access to the water. Hydraulic connections, an A-frame, a winch, and a mixing station for nitrox provide additional capabilities for scientific research projects. A steering station on this deck allows the vessel captain to maneuver the vessel to accommodate science operations.

Navigation and Communications

While the ability to successfully carry out a range of ocean-based operations is important for any research vessel, even more critical is the safety of the ship’s passengers and crew. For navigation and communication, the Cape Fear relies on a suite of systems. To assess latitude and longitude, standard navigational charts are augmented with a DGPS (digital geographic positioning system) and radar with a 72-mile radius. A colorscope fathometer provides continuous information about bottom depth and type (e.g., sand, boulders). This information is critical when the ship is operating in unknown or near-shore waters. Increasingly, satellite phone is used for offshore communications and a cellular phone can be used when the vessel is operating close to land.

With a cruising speed of 13 knots, the R/V Cape Fear has berthing for seven scientists and three crew members for extended trips; larger groups, such as classes, can be accommodated for day cruises within twenty nautical miles of land.


To learn more:

R/V Cape FearExternal link, University of North Carolina-Wilmington Center for Marine ScienceExternal link