Yachts for Science: Can You Make a Difference?

30 March 2021By Oliver Steeds
Courtesy of Nathan Lane/Straights Times

Yachts for Science matches marines scientists with yachts around the world. Here's how you can get involved...

Want to support ocean conservation and help scientists understand our oceans? Oliver Steeds, CEO of Nekton, a marine research institute, outlines the changes you can make to turn the boat from a superyacht to a marine science research vessel with the Yachts for Science program. The program has been set up to be the match-makers — a partnership between Nekton, BOAT International, Arksen, and the Ocean Family Foundation.

The ocean is our planet’s life support system. It regulates our climate and it provides both food security for billions and essential medicines — including the first diagnostic tests and treatment for COVID-19. The ocean produces more than half of our oxygen, captures most of our anthropogenic heat, and is the largest carbon store on our planet. But it remains the least-protected part of our planet — only 2.5 percent is currently highly protected. Increasingly, scientists, climate change experts, and governments are calling for 30 percent protection by 2030.

“With endurance to operate in coastal or remote locations, diving capability, tenders, small cranes and accommodation, the private yacht fleet can provide access to the sea to enable and empower marine scientists to work on the frontlines of our changing planet,” explains Mike Pownall, Nekton’s head of marine operations and a veteran of planning, implementing, and leading complex offshore and subsea operations.

With some deck space, autonomous underwater vehicles, small “suitcase ROVs,” drop cameras or baited cameras, sensors, hydrophones, and buoys, even water collection systems can all be readily deployed. Add a slightly larger crane and you can deploy submersibles, and even a larger ROV if the vessel can hold station.

Research teams vary in size, from one up to a dozen or more depending on the goal. Critical research can be done on ocean transits, while wildlife and surface observations, coral reef research, or a range of physical, chemical, and biological research activities can be achieved at most locations visited by yachts.

With more available deck space, a modular or containerized system can be considered to house dive systems, submersible operations, or even a lab. Using a tender or the yacht — with a hull-mounted or “over the side” pole mount multibeam echosounder — you can map the uncharted depths and discover new subsea mountains, trenches, ridges, and features. With meteorological logging equipment, yachts can provide vital data to inform weather and climate science.

It’s relatively straightforward. All it takes is the willingness from yacht owners to invite scientists on their vessels. One of those is Jing-Yi Wee, the owner of S/Y Dunia Baru, which participated in the Yachts For Science initiative in January 2020. “Dunia Baru has a history of contributing and giving back to her community — from providing earthquake relief in Lombok to building a learning center for children in Raja Ampat,” she says. “After reading about the Yachts for Science program through BOAT International and Erika Gress’s search for a vessel in the Raja Ampat region to engage in black coral research, we thought it sounded exciting and felt Dunia Baru was well equipped to support and contribute to this effort.” The research was led by Dr. Erika Gress and her team of four marine biologists.

Wee noted that the crew knew the area well and their dive facilities were excellent, so they were happy to be able to assist in the research. “I believe that by the end of the trip, a greater understanding was formed; from us and the crew for the hard, patient work that marine scientists do to advance our understanding of the oceans and from Erika and her team the effort and dedication from the crew each and every day to maintain a yacht such as Dunia Baru,” Wee says. “It was a wonderful experience to be able to give back to the community through facilitating scientific research and [we] would certainly do it again.”

Currently, Yachts for Science has several projects under way:

Project Searching for Giant Manta Rays: Looking for two to four berths in the Maldives for two weeks in early 2021/2022 to look for oceanic manta rays, or year-round for reef manta rays. (A manned submersible would be a plus.)

Project: Deep Scattering Layers – Studying a Critical Ocean Ecosystem: Looking for one or two berths for a month, ideally, in the Med or Caribbean.

Project: Studying Submerged Ocean Waves with an Ocean Glider: Needs two berths in The Bahamas or Turks and Caicos for 14 days from September 2019 to summer 2020.

Project: Coral Reef Ecology Post-Hurricanes in the Caribbean: Looking for a minimum of four berths, but ideally six, for a minimum of two weeks in Great Thatch Island and Guana Island in the BVIs.

For more details on the projects and how you may help, go to