RRS Sir David Attenborough (aka ‘Boaty McBoatface’) leaves the River Tyne

RRS Sir David Attenborough (aka ‘Boaty McBoatface’) leaves the River Tyne

Yesterday the stern section of the new polar research ship for Britain, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, was transported by barge from Hebburn-based shipyard A&P Tyne (Newcastle) to Cammell Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead.

While the project marks a large government investment in ‘frontier science’ actually moving the stern was a major feat of engineering in and of itself.

SDA Block Overview new
Image: Modern ships are constructed in ‘blocks’.

The RRS Sir David Attenborough was commissioned by NERC, and built by Cammell Laird Shiprepairers & Shipbuilders Ltd to a Rolls-Royce design and she will be operated by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) when the ship enters service in 2019.

“We’re really excited at seeing our new ship taking shape. The ship represents an important partnership with UK industry to deliver world-leading science for the UK and beyond. The loadout of the stern section is another incredible milestone in this amazing project. We cannot wait to take delivery of this fantastic ship.” Paul Fox, Chief Operating Officer, NERC, and Senior Reporting Officer, New Polar Research Vessel


The stern is essentially an 899-tonne steel block (known as Block 10). Moving her is equivalent to moving 71 London double decker buses. The block is more than 23 metres long and 24 metres wide.

The operation was a collaboration between Cammell Laird and A&P Group, and the team behind the project believe it acted as a demonstration of the benefits that a flexible and coordinated effort brings to the construction of the RRS Sir David Attenborough and to the UK shipbuilding industry.

Block 10 was be loaded onto a barge using self-propelled modular trailers. A series of hydraulic ballast pumps then kept the barge level while the heavy load moved onto it from the slipway.

RRS Sir David Attenborough – The Stats

  • Length: 128; beam: 24m; weight: 15,000gt
  • Scientific cargo volume of approximately 900m³
  • Endurance – up to 60 days (Polar Regions)
  • Range 19,000nm at 13 knots (24 km/h) cruising speed; more than enough for a return trip from England to Rothera Research Station, or to circle the entire Antarctic continent twice!
  • Ice breaking capability – up to 1m thick at 3 knots (5.6 km/h)
  • Bow and stern thrusters for excellent dynamic positioning in challenging conditions
  • Launch and recovery of aerial and ocean robotic systems
  • Crew approx. 30
  • Accommodation for up to 60 scientists and support staff
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