The Story of the USGS Research Vessel (R/V) Polaris

Science Center Objects

For the past 50 years, the USGS has been conducting research in the San Francisco Bay and Delta, California and beyond. This research would not have been possible without the Research Vessel (R/V) Polaris. Many scientists who have been fortunate to work on the Polaris have come and gone, but the Polaris sailed from the South San Francisco Bay continuously from 1968 until her retirement in 2015.

The publications linked below present the fascinating history of this vessel as well as the important research that is and has been critical to understanding the San Francisco Bay and Delta ecosystem.

A Brief History of the R/V Polaris

The history of the R/V Polaris can be most effectively divided into two overarching topical areas, which relate to the 20th century history of the western United States.

The vessel belonged to Lee Allen Phillips, a prominent California businessman and land developer, from 1926 until his death in 1938. He used the Polaris as a pleasure craft and to visit his irrigation projects in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (also California Delta.). Lee Allen Phillips was a Progressive-era businessman who took a special interest in irrigation and reclamation. The vessel’s association with Phillips represents a link to the history of California. Called the Pasado Mañana at the time, the vessel was sold to John Grant, a Los Angeles oilman, in 1938. He kept the vessel until 1944 when the U.S. Army acquired it and used the vessel as a personnel transport in Puget Sound. The vessel changed hands several times after the war until it was acquired by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1966.

The USGS converted the pleasure craft into a research vessel and it has played a vital role in marine geology and water quality research in Alaska and the San Francisco Bay area. The Polaris sailed from the South San Francisco Bay continuously from 1968 until it was retired in 2015.