The College of the Environment operates research vessels in the School of Oceanography and at Friday Harbor Laboratories, ranging from ocean-roving ships to small boats capable of a getting into shoreline nooks and crannies. Whether towing plankton nets in the Puget Sound or charting temperature-salinity profiles in the South Pacific, these vessels offer unparalleled access to ocean waters and help scientists unlock the mysteries of the sea.

Washington research ship R/V Thomas G. Thompson in North Pacific Ocean ~200 miles west of the Washington Coast Photo by Paul Saunders | Worldfoto

Thomas G. Thompson

The University’s flagship research vessel, the R/V Thomas G. Thompson is capable of sailing to nearly any ocean across the globe. Owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by the University of Washington, the vessel is open to scientists not only from the UW, but from other academic and research institutions across the nation. The Thompson is 274 feet long and can house up to 36 scientists along with 21 crew and two technicians. The ship’s normal cruising speed is 11 knots, it has a traveling range of 12,000 miles, and it can be at open seas for up to 60 days at a time. It regularly deploys unmanned deep sea vehicles like Jason and Sentry.

barnes_newellClifford A. Barnes

Nearing the end of its service, the R/V Clifford A. Barnes has played many roles, facilitating research largely within the western waters of Washington State and British Columbia. The ship is 65 feet long and can accommodate six scientists and two crew for up to seven days. The University of Washington intends to design and build a more capable research vessel to replace the Barnes. Efforts to raise funds for construction of a new ship are underway.



Operating out of the Friday Harbor Laboratories, the R/V Centennial is a 58 foot former salmon seiner that now offers students and scientists access to the waters of the San Juan Islands and the waters of the Salish Sea. Up to 36 people can be accommodated on short day trips, and 6 can be accommodated for longer trips. A Deep Ocean Engineering Phantom II ROV is available for deployment from the Centennial.


Smaller Boats

Numerous smaller boats are operated by the College’s units, allowing scientists and students the ability to travel to nearby field locations situated within local marine and fresh waters.