Research Vessel Western Flyer

R/V Western Flyer. Image courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Image courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

The Western Flyer, named for the famous boat that John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts took on their expedition to the Sea of Cortez, is one of several ocean exploration vessels operated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

Science and Research Support

The Western Flyer is a 117-foot small water-plane-area twin hull, or SWATH, vessel. This catamaran-like design creates an exceptionally stable platform for ocean research. This is important for deploying, operating, and recovering the tethered remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts to depths of 4,000 meters. While general ROV operations are the vessel’s primary missions, the vessel is equipped for other oceanographic activities, such as the use of Conductivity Depth Temperature equipment.

The ROV Doc Ricketts is carried within the belly of the Western Flyer, and is launched through the “moon pool” – a large doorway located on the bottom of the ship’s hull, between her struts. For launch, the moon pool doors are opened, and the ROV is lowered into the water by one crane while a specially-built motion-compensated crane maintains the tether between the Western Flyer and Doc Ricketts.

Once in the water, the ROV is controlled from an on-board control room in the Western Flyer. Pilots and scientists seated in the control room get real-time video images from several cameras on the ROV, as well as data from various sensors. The pilots fly the ROV to the target site and perform all the delicate tasks of maneuvering the ROV, collecting samples, and deploying equipment needed for the research tasks at hand.

Navigation and Communications

The engines that drive the Western Flyer are housed in torpedo-like pontoons that float below the water surface at the end of long struts, which hold the body of the ship above the water. Because most of the vessel’s hull is above the water, the Western Flyer is much broader than a typical V-hull ship – creating more working space for laboratories and ROV operations.

The Western Flyer can accommodate 10 crew members and 16 scientists in 14 staterooms located on the upper deck, bringing the total vessel complement to 26. Vessel operations typically consist of three to seven-day voyages. Extended voyages of two to three months’ duration are planned once a year. Extended voyages are made up of several legs which vary in length up to a maximum of 12 days per leg.

The R/V Western Flyer is, on occasion, temporarily redeployed to a new home port for extended voyages. Successful operations have been staged out of Honolulu, Hawaii, Newport, Oregon, Eureka, California, and La Paz, Mexico.


To learn more:

R/V Western FlyerExternal link, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research InstituteExternal link