How Do I Board A Deep Sea Research Cruise?

By Luke Andrews

The ocean depths are today’s great unexplored frontier. Almost every time a submersible dives a new species is discovered. Now a group of students, spurred on by exciting finds, is asking ‘how do I get on a deep sea expedition?’

“You need to be passionate about marine biology” said Kirsty McQuaid, PhD student in Marine Biology who took part in a research cruise this year.

This passion is traditionally shown by a degree related to marine biology. If you’ve done a project about the deep sea then you have a good chance of getting onboard. Spaces are usually reserved for scientists directly related to the organisers, but extra spaces do sometimes show up.

“Places do occasionally become available, but these tend to be last minute” said Dr Nicola Foster, Project leader for the RSS James Cook research cruise.

Shortly before her research cruise departed, the crew suffered drop-outs causing extra spaces to become available. This allowed for budding new marine biologists to clamber aboard.

Among them was Kirsty McQuaid, and an undergrad student from Ireland.

Kirsty found out about the RSS James Cook Expedition, known as Deep Links, by word of mouth. The PhD that she is doing is not directly related to the crews aims; her’s is about the “spatial management of seabed mining” whilst the Cook crew were studying “how patterns of connectivity vary with depth.”

When an advert to fill the empty spaces was published, Kirsty’s supervisor emailed it to her. After sending in an application, Kirsty was lucky enough to be invited to join the RSS James Cook Expedition.

Another crew member was an undergraduate student studying Marine Science at the National University of Ireland, Galway. She also saw the advert and sent her application to the organisers.

So, how do you find these opportunities?

The best way to get onto a research cruise is to be connected to the Marine Biologist Community. Joining the Deep Sea Biology Society, signing up to the In-Deep mailing list and directly emailing cruise organisers are all advised by Dr Foster, as sure ways to get onboard.

If you are lucky enough to get a space then all you need are two certificates; the Seafarer’s Medical Certificate ENG1 and the Personal Survival Techniques certificate. Easy.

The Seafarer’s is a legal requirement to work at sea, provided by the UK Government. It is basically a brief medical check up to ensure you are seaworthy.

Personal Survival Techniques, on the other hand, is more Bear Grylls style. It’s a one day training course to equip you with all the essential knowledge of what-to-do-when-something-goes-wrong. For example, how to respond if you fall out of the boat.

During the cruise you are unlikely to leave the ship, unless you fall out. All the sampling of the deep sea is done by robots as a human’s body would be crushed by the pressure. But, you do have a chance to get your hands on strange organisms. As part of the crew, it’s your responsibility to identify what the robots collect.

Becoming a deep sea explorer is one of the most exciting opportunities around, but is not easy to achieve. A degree related to Marine Biology is an essential starting point. By developing links into the deep sea Biologist community, you’ll then be able to go on Exploration Cruises and maybe even discover a new species lurking in the deep.

Link to Deep Sea Biology Society:


Photo Credit: ‘NERC funded deep links project – Plymouth University, Oxford University, JNCC, BGS.’

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