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Construction of MBARI’s new flagship research vessel reaches major milestone

Following the vessel's launch, the shipbuilders at Freire will begin outfitting the interior of the R/V David Packard, including the internal science and engineering systems. Image: ⓒ 2022 Freire Shipyard

Construction of MBARI’s new flagship research vessel reaches major milestone

Construction of MBARI’s new flagship research vessel reached a major milestone last month. The new state-of-the-art ship, the R/V David Packard, is currently being built at Freire Shipyard in Vigo, Spain. Constructed in prefabricated blocks, the ship’s exterior frame is now complete, and shipbuilders transferred the R/V David Packard into the water on October 27, 2022.

Much work still remains for the ship following its launch into the water. Next, the Freire team will begin outfitting the ship’s interior, transitioning their focus to the vessel’s internal science and engineering systems.

“The R/V David Packard will expand MBARI’s research capabilities as a multi-mission vessel that can support not only remotely operated vehicles to observe life in the ocean but also various types of autonomous systems to assess ocean health. We’re excited to reach this important milestone in construction and look forward to welcoming this new ship to our fleet next fall and the exciting new science it will enable for our team,” said Michael Kelly, MBARI’s director of marine operations.

Representatives from MBARI, Freire Shipyard, and Glosten gathered for the launch of the R/V David Packard at Freire’s facilities in Vigo, Spain, on October 27, 2022. Image: © 2022 Freire Shipyard

Kelly attended the launch of the R/V David Packard with the future captain of the vessel, Andrew McKee. They were joined by vessel construction supervisor William Moon and vessel construction coordinator Isabel Goñi-McAteer from Glosten, the naval architecture and marine engineering firm that MBARI engaged to refine design specifications for the new ship.

“The construction of an oceanographic research vessel for an esteemed organization like MBARI is a significant accomplishment. The R/V David Packard features advanced technology to support ROV operations and other scientific activities. For the past year, an extended team of shipyard staff and suppliers have worked together to bring us to this major milestone in construction,” said Maros Freire, general manager at Freire Shipyard.

“Glosten has a long history of supporting MBARI vessels, including the R/V Western Flyer, the predecessor to the R/V David Packard. We’re grateful to be able to continue our relationship with MBARI through the design and construction of their new research vessel. A lot of work and planning has gone into the project, so it’s great to see it hit the water. We look forward to the delivery of the R/V David Packard and the impact it is sure to make as a state-of-the-art platform for scientific research,” said Tim Leach, director of engineering at Glosten and principal-in-charge of the project.

MBARI’s new research vessel will honor founder David Packard’s vision for the institute to serve as a next-generation hub for groundbreaking science and innovation. Image: © 1994 MBARI

MBARI’s new research vessel honors the legacy of the institute’s founder, Silicon Valley innovator David Packard. Packard encouraged MBARI to leverage technology to better understand the ocean. From autonomous DNA-detecting robots to cutting-edge artificial intelligence, the technological innovations at MBARI are transforming our understanding of the ocean. The R/V David Packard will enable continued exploration of the deep sea—the largest living space on Earth, but an environment we still know very little about.

The R/V David Packard will be 50 meters (164 feet) long and 12.8 meters (42 feet) wide with a draft of 3.7 meters (12 feet). The ship will have capacity for 30 people, including a crew of 12 and a science crew of 18. As the command center for the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts, the David Packard will allow researchers to continue exploring the deepest reaches of the Monterey Canyon and beyond. The new ship will also be capable of deploying a variety of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), robots that can conduct visual and acoustic surveys, sample seawater, and map the seafloor.

Construction of the R/V David Packard began in November 2021 with the ceremonial laying of the keel, essentially the backbone of the ship. Construction will be complete in summer 2023, then the vessel will sail from Freire’s shipyard in Spain to MBARI’s research facilities in Moss Landing, California. MBARI will begin science operations in late 2023.


The R/V David Packard will replace the R/V Western Flyer, which completed its final mission on October 6, 2022. The Western Flyer will soon begin a new chapter as a sailing classroom for the Florida Institute of Oceanography, providing an opportunity for students who dream of a career in marine science, engineering, and operations to learn about the ocean. The Western Flyer was an integral part of MBARI’s work and leaves behind a rich legacy of accomplishments. The David Packard will continue this legacy when it joins MBARI’s fleet of research vessels in late 2023.

For continued updates on the construction of the R/V David Packardfollow MBARI on social media and subscribe to MBARI’s newsletter.

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