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The USGS Great Lakes Science Center recently added a new vessel to its fleet: the 77-foot research vessel (R/V) Arcticus, which supports fishery research in Lakes Michigan and Huron.

A research boat sits at a dock.
The research vessel (R/V) Arcticus at its homeport, the Cheboygan Vessel Base in Cheboygan, Michigan.

The vessel’s primary field-sampling capabilities include bottom trawling, plankton and benthic invertebrate sampling, hydroacoustics (use of sound waves to detect fish and assess their abundance), gill netting, and collection of environmental data, such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, and water transparency. The Arcticus offers greater research capabilities, increased fuel efficiency, improved health and safety features, and lower maintenance costs than its predecessor, the 75-foot R/V Grayling, a vessel that had served the USGS well since its construction in 1977 but was nearing the end of its effective service life.

In a nod to the legacy of the Grayling, which was instrumental in sampling deepwater ecosystems of Lakes Michigan and Huron, the name Arcticus was drawn from the species name for the arctic grayling, Thymallus arcticus, a cold-water fish once native to Michigan. The new vessel is a versatile platform with the capacity to continue historical lake-wide fishery surveys while also providing state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation to support USGS research. “The new vessel includes 21st-century technologies to advance the fishery science conducted by the USGS Great Lakes Science Center and its partners,” said Center Director Russell Strach.

Research vessels are floating scientific laboratories that play a critical role in the mission of the Great Lakes Science Center. With a research vessel stationed on each of the five Great Lakes, USGS scientists are able to conduct cutting-edge research and track long-term trends in the ecology of these vast and valuable ecosystems.

The Arcticus was designed by JMS Naval Architects of Mystic, Connecticut, and built by the Burger Boat Company in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The design-build process began in July 2013, and the new vessel was “splashed” and took its maiden voyage on September 29, 2014, off the shore of the city of Manitowoc. View a video of the vessel’s launch.

Video Transcript
Having completed the build, the R/V Arcticus is launched and is now ready for its sea trials. Watch video at full size.

The Arcticus plied the open waters of Lake Michigan for the very first time as part of its “sea trials.” Sea trials for a new vessel take place when construction is complete but before final delivery to the owner in order to work out all the remaining bugs and ensure the vessel meets expectations. The vessel was evaluated based on a variety of criteria, including maneuverability, engine performance, and speed. The Arcticus passed its sea trials on October 14, 2014.

The bottom, or hull, of a boat hangs upside down in large cables suspended from cranes with workers on the dock looking on.
It turns out that the best way to build a research vessel is to start from the bottom up, with the bottom, quite literally, up. For months the R/V Arcticus hull took shape upside down on the floor of the Burger Boat Company construction bay. On March 10, 2014, the 67-ton hull module (more than the weight of 30 minivans) was rolled to its upright position, making it ready for the addition of the upper decks.

The Great Lakes Science Center took possession of the Arcticus on October 17, 2014, and the Arcticus arrived at her homeport, the Cheboygan Vessel Base in Cheboygan, Michigan, on October 20. She began her service to the USGS immediately, deployed to conduct a lake trout spawner survey in northern Lake Michigan on October 24. Her performance was outstanding.

The final step for the Arcticus will be her christening and commissioning in summer 2015 at her base in Cheboygan, Michigan, when she will officially begin her service to the U.S. Government.

The building of the Arcticus has been chronicled in a multipart video series filmed by Great Lakes Science Center scientist Jean Adams. Major milestones include the arrival of materials, construction and assembly of hull modules, rolling of the completed hull, installation of the pilot house, sea trials and delivery to the vessel’s homeport in Cheboygan, Michigan, and the formal christening and commissioning.

The Arcticus at-a-glance:

  • Length: 77.5 feet
  • Breadth: 26 feet
  • Draft: 8.9 feet
  • Full load displacement: 205 tons
  • Cruising speed: 9.5 knots
  • Maximum speed: 10.2 knots
  • Builder: Burger Boat Company (Manitowoc, Wisconsin)
  • Designer: JMS Naval Architects (Mystic, Connecticut)
  • Architect: Gregory C. Marshall, Naval Architect, Ltd. (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada)
  • Design and construction cost: $5.6M

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