Work will officially begin today on the RRS Sir David Attenborough. The polar research ship was almost named Boaty McBoatface after the public overwhelmingly voted in favour of the name.

17 October

Construction on a new state-of-the-art polar research ship, RRS Sir David Attenborough, will begin today (17 October 2016).

A ceremonial keel laying ceremony will be held at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Liverpool.

An online poll by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to name the ship attracted controversy earlier this year when the most popular name, Boaty McBoatFace was rejected in favour of the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

The NERC later announced that a state-of-the-art subsea vehicle will be known as Boaty McBoatface in recognition of the public vote.

World-renowned naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough will start the keel laying process of the ship by initiating the lifting by crane of the first hull unit, weighing approximately 100 tonnes, on to the construction berth.

The NERC said the £200 million ship is set to transform the UK’s polar research capability.

When it becomes operational in 2019, the RRS Sir David Attenborough will provide a research platform from which scientists will tackle issues such as climate change, future sea level rise and the impact of environmental change on marine biodiversity.

The subsea vehicle, Boaty McBoatface, will be operated by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and will be deployed from the polar research ship.

Oceanographers will use it to measure ocean and seabed properties over ocean scales.

Boaty McBoatface will also be the focal point on a new £1m government-funded Polar Explorer Programme.

This educational initiative aims to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and citizens by engaging young people with the RRS Sir David Attenborough and polar science.

Speaking ahead of the ceremony, Sir David Attenborough said it was an honour to be invited to take part.

“The polar regions are not only critical for understanding the natural world but they also have an enormous appeal for journalists, broadcasters and the public,” noted Sir David.

“I have had several opportunities to experience the power of these places first hand. This new ship will ensure that scientists have access to these enigmatic regions to uncover secrets that we can only imagine at this point,” he continued.

“Scientists working on this new ship will inform everyone about our changing world for generations to come,” added Sir David.

The RRS Sir David Attenborough was commissioned by NERC and will be operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

Professor Jane Francis, director of BAS, said the ceremony is a “very exciting moment” for BAS scientists, engineers and operational support teams.

“It is particularly exciting for our ships’ officers and crew because the new ship will not only be their place of work but it will also be their home for several months each year,” she explained.

“This £200 million government investment in the new research ship, and a suite of infrastructure projects that will support it, will be a huge transformation in the way that BAS delivers its science programmes and its provision of operational support to the UK science community,” noted Professor Francis.


12 May

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee began hearing evidence this week on whether the controversial Boaty McBoatface poll was a success or a failure.

The issue was examined as part of hearings into science communication.

There was outcry when the Science Minister, Jo Johnson announced on 6 May that the new polar research ship would be called the RRS Sir David Attenborough and not the overwhelmingly popular Boaty McBoatface.

Following the debacle, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) announced that one of the Attenborough’s remotely-operated submarines would be named Boaty McBoatface.

Appearing before the Science and Technology Committee on 10 May, the chief executive of the NERC, Professor Duncan Wingham said this was an “eloquent compromise”.

He argued that rather than harming the NERC, the public interest in the Boaty McBoatface poll had put the spotlight on the council’s work.

“We could make the claim that we are probably the best-known research council in the world,” he said.

“We could make the claim that because of that there are hundreds of thousands of people, not only in the UK but around the world, who know about us and the science that we have done,” added Professor Wingham.

He said:”In many ways we feel this has been an astonishingly great outcome for us. In addition, it has put a smile on everyone’s face.”

Professor Wingham said the NERC would be happy to hold a similar poll in the future, although there are no plans in the immediate future.

6 May

The Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) new polar research ship will be named the RRS Sir David Attenborough. This is despite the public overwhelmingly voting to name it Boaty McBoatface.

The announcement was made by the Science Minister, Jo Johnson via Twitter on 6 May.

David Attenborough wearing glasses

The online poll to name the vessel attracted huge interest, with around 7,000 names put forward.

Boaty McBoatface won the poll with 124,000 votes, clearly beating the second most popular choice, Poppy-Mai, which had 34,371.

Third was RRS Henry Worsley, named after the British explorer who died in January as he attempted to cross Antarctica. It won 15,231 votes. RRS It’s Bloody Cold Here came fourth with 10,679 votes. RRS David Attenborough came fifth with 10,284 votes.

Boaty McBoarface Tweet by Science Minister

The announcement was made by the Science Minister via Twitter. Credit Jo Johnson/Twitter


The announcement comes as the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee prepares to discuss next week whether the poll was a success or a failure.

The issue is being discussed by the Commons committee as part of hearings into science communication.

The chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Professor Duncan Wingham will appear before the committee on Tuesday to answer questions from MPs.

Speaking to the BBC, the committee chair, Nicola Blackwood said: “Hundreds of thousands of people took part in Nerc’s competition to name a new polar research vessel. And they’ll want to know whether there’s going to be a ‘Boaty McVolte-face’ on the name.”

“My committee wants to explore this as an example of science communication,” she continued.

“Was it a triumph of public engagement or a PR disaster? We’ll also want to know how Nerc intends to build on the mass coverage they’ve attracted and engage people with the vital polar science that Boaty will be enabling.”

19 April

The Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) Name Our Ship online poll closed on midnight on 16 April with around 7,000 suggestions.

Topping the poll was Boaty McBoatface with 124,109 votes. The second most popular choice, Poppy-Mai, had 34,371.

However, despite the public’s clear preference, the final decision will be made by the council.

A spokesman for the NERC thanked all those for supporting the campaign to name the UK’s next world-class polar research ship.

“NERC will now review all of the suggested names and the final decision for the name will be announced in due course,” said the spokesman.

The vessel is due to set sail in 2019. It is being built at the world-famous Cammell Laird shipyard on Merseyside and is backed by £200 million of government funding.

Tonne-for-tonne, the ship – together with NERC’s existing two blue water research ships – will provide the UK with the most advanced floating research fleet in the world.

The NERC says this will help put the UK at the forefront of ocean research for years to come.

The top five suggestions in the poll were:
RRS Boaty McBoatface – 124,109
RRS Poppy-Mai – 34,371
RRS Henry Worsley – 15,231
RRS It’s Bloody Cold Here – 10,679
RRS David Attenborough – 10,284

21 March

Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has invited the public to suggest names for their new polar research ship, and Boaty McBoatface is currently leading the online poll.

Science minister Jo Johnson opened the naming campaign on 17 March, and it didn’t take long for the public to come up with silly suggestions. By 18 March, Boaty McBoatface had taken over the top spot, and as of last night it was far ahead of the nearest competitor.

It’s not exactly what the NERC had in mind when they set out the conditions for naming the ship:

“What sort of name do we need? We will apply to register the ship as a Royal Research Ship (RRS), so the name must be in the format RRS NAME. Secondly, we would like the name to be inspirational and about environmental and polar science, to help us tell everyone about the amazing work the ship does. Finally, we don’t want it to be a name we have already used for one of our science ships (James Cook, Ernest Shackleton, Discovery and James Clark Ross).”

There have been serious suggestions, including explorer Henry Worsley, naturalist David Attenborough, and Pillar of Autumn. However, names like ‘Boatimus Prime’, ‘Usain Bolt,’ ‘Clifford the Big Red Boat’ and ‘Boat Marley and the Whalers’ have also made their way onto a growing list of more than 4,000 entries.

In fact, the campaign has become so popular with the public that the NERC website has been flooded with traffic and, at times, unable to cope with the demand.

The NERC is welcoming the attention in spite of the silly suggestions, according to a report in the Guardian that quoted NERC Director of Corporate Affairs, Alison Robinson as saying the organisation was excited by the public’s “enthusiasm and creativity” for the campaign.

Robinson reportedly declined to offer an opinion on the current leading contender, Boaty McBoatface.

The suggestion, which has spawned its own twitter site, was reportedly made by a former BBC presenter, James Hand, who has since “apologised profusely” to the NERC, according to the BBC’s website.

Hand said he had found the list of possible names funny and decided to throw his own suggestion into the ring.

The NERC is not required to accept the name with the highest number of votes in the campaign. The final decision is in the hands of the organisation’s chief executive.

The Royal Research ship is set to sail in 2019 and backed by £200m of government funding. The ship is set to be built at Cammell Laird shipyard, Merseyside, and expected to create 400 jobs and 60 apprenticeships.

NERC’s chief executive, Duncan Wingham, said: “NERC’s new ship will help put the UK at the cutting edge of polar research, as part of this extensive polar programme with £200m investment from the government. Built in the North West of England, she will help bring an economic boost to the region and to the UK ship building industry. Today we are launching our campaign to bring our ship to the UK people, asking for their help to find her a name that encapsulates her role at the forefront of UK science. We are excited to hear what the public have to suggest and we really are open to ideas.”