Hugh R. Sharp

The University of Delaware has long been a major research institution among the 31 Sea Grant colleges funded by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Facilities are located at the main university campus in Newark, Del., and the Marine Sciences campus in Lewes, Del.

What sets the Delaware program apart from most others is the ownership of a state-of-the art research vessel to conduct experiments. Beginning in the late 1970s the university owned Cape Henlopen, and for almost 30 years this vessel was used to conduct research in the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Beginning with the 2006 season, a new vessel, Hugh R. Sharp, is tied up at the Marine Research Center in Lewes.

Hugh R. Sharp, for whom the vessel is named, sat on the board of trustees of the University of Delaware for 20 years and helped raise funds for Cape Henlopen, the university’s first research vessel. He died in 1990 at the age of 81.

Built by Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Wash., the vessel has a steel hull and aluminum superstructure. It cost approximately $18 million. Funding came from the University of Delaware, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

The 146-foot-by-32-foot research vessel serves as an all-purpose vehicle like a pickup truck, according to Matt Hawkins, the school’s director of marine operations. “Her modular design allows the vessel to support a wide range of oceanographic disciplines, including chemical, physical and biological sciences, as well as acoustics, fisheries and marine mammal research,” he said.

Able to carry 12-18 scientists on cruises up to 21 days long, the vessel is “a regional asset serving many institutions throughout the mid-Atlantic area,” Hawkins explained.


The vessel is powered by four Cummins KTA-19 D9 (M1) gensets. In addition to driving two Schottel z-drives, the diesels supply the rest of the ship’s electrical needs. [Courtesy Cummins Marine]
Hugh R. Sharp will operate in coastal waters from Long Island, N.Y., to Cape Hatteras, N.C. “Projects occasionally require the vessel to work as far north as the Gulf of Maine and as far south as Florida, and the vessel is certified to work up to 200 miles offshore,” Hawkins said.
Naval architect for the project was Bay Marine Inc., Barrington, R.I. Bay Marine’s president, Dave Bonney, called Hugh R. Sharp the most complex and technologically advanced ship design the firm has produced.
“We began the vessel design in 2001 with the development of the concept design,” Bonney said. “Then a more detailed preliminary design/bid was completed and sent to shipyards around the country. Then we created the construction design with details for construction and approval by the American Bureau of Shipping, and finally we were involved in supervision of construction at Dakota Creek Industries.”

Dakota Creek Industries President Dick Nelson said his company was interested in the contract only if it would be awarded as a “best value” bid rather than lowest price alone. “We built two 79-foot oil recovery boats designed by Bay Marine in 1998/99, so they knew what we were capable of,”Nelson said.

The three-way long-distance relationship among Bay Marine, the University of Delaware and Dakota Creek Industries worked well. “We were pleased with the quality of the vessel and the shipyard’s ability to assist in the final design and make changes on the fly without crippling us with change orders,”  Hawkins said.
While Bay Marine was primarily responsible for the design, there were several other members of the design team that brought their specific expertise to the project. Gary Cunningham of Cunningham & Walker in Florida designed the heating, ventilation and air conditioning; DC Maritime Technologies of Canada did the electrical design; and Dick Akers of Ship Motion Associates in Portland, Maine, did the sea-keeping predictions.

One of the most critical design elements of a high-tech research vessel such as Hugh R. Sharp is its low radiated noise signature. “Originally this feature was developed for Navy vessels so they would not be tracked or targeted,” Bonney said. On Sharp and other vessels doing sophisticated research, low noise greatly enhances the value of the research results.

For example, when conducting acoustic fisheries research, the vessel can be used to count the fish in the sea, rather than doing small trial trawls to access fish stocks. “Fish stocks are under intense pressure, and vessels with this new technology can only improve the science and the results,” Bonney said.

Hugh R. Sharp was designed to meet noise standards developed in 1990 by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

Very early in the design process, experts in noise control were a part of the team. Noise Control Engineering of Billerica, Mass., is one of the leading firms in ship acoustics. The company did the noise design work for the NOAA fisheries research vessels.
The cage that carries the collection bottles for measuring water characteristics such as temperature, salinity and conductivity.
Hugh R. Sharp is the second vessel Noise Control Engineering has worked on that meets the ICES criteria. The other was Oscar Dyson, built by Halter Marine Inc. in Pascagoula, Miss., for the NOAA.
Noise Control Engineering “was available for consulting on every design decision. They did all the calculated noise predictions and, in the end, the measurement of the noise signature after the vessel was delivered,” said Bonney.

Testing of the radiated noise was done at a Navy test range in Washington, where it was confirmed that the vessel met the ICES standard. Noise Control Engineering also developed what became known as the ICES meter. With hydrophones and complex computer software installed in the ship the vessel operators know when their vessel meets the ICES standard, or if something, such as a bent prop, is causing the vessel to exceed the standard.

Basic to the low noise signature of Hugh R. Sharp is the propulsion plant, the noisiest piece of machinery on the vessel.

A diesel-electric propulsion system was specified for its quiet operation. A quartet of Cummins KTA-19 D9 (M1) engines power electrical generators that supply all of the power for the boat, including a pair of Schottel z-drive stern-mounted propulsion units. The Schottel units are driven by 483-kW, 600-volt direct current propulsion motors.

The flexibility of a diesel-electric drive system contributes to the low noise level in several ways. The two outboard generating sets can be shut down, enabling the boat to run in a “quiet mode” at 8 knots, rather than the normal 12.5 knots when all four diesel plants are running. All four engines have resilient mounts. The two inboard engines are mounted on a 4.5-ton, resiliently mounted floating deck. Added to that is extensive hull insulation, dampening tiles, a resiliently mounted bow thruster and pipe isolation.

“The vessel has the commercial equivalent of the type of sound-dampening systems installed on modern submarines,” said Elwood Ide, project engineer for Dakota Creek.   

In addition to advanced noise dampening, Hugh R. Sharp has many other unique features.

A 3-foot-long portion of the keel is fitted with sonar and other sensors that can be lowered several feet below the bottom of the ship, escaping the noise of the ship traveling through the water, which is greatest at the keel. This keel section travels in its own well and can be brought up through the ship to the top deck for servicing.

Other interesting design features include a room on the main deck with doors near the bow that open out the side through the hull. A custom low-profile boom was developed to allow scientists to deploy sampling equipment well away and in front of the ship so the sample is not affected in any way by the passage of the ship.

The main deck includes a large A-frame on the stern so the ship can lift heavy items such as nets or sampling equipment. Winches for the A-frame are located below main deck. Hugh R. Sharp has a large crane located on the starboard side of the main deck for loading items while in port, shifting equipment around while at sea or deploying equipment over the side.

The large, open aft deck is used mainly to accommodate two large vans that can serve as laboratories, storage, refrigerated space or even extra berthing. The vans will be tailored to the needs of the scientists conducting experiments.

In addition, the vessel has both a wet and a dry lab on the main deck adjacent to the vans. In these spaces there is also a dedicated computer room for monitoring the instrumentation onboard.

Water-column research and water sampling is done with a depth rosette to measure conductivity and temperature. The rosette holds a number of bottles in a cage deployed over the side by a crane. A new rosette system was added to the vessel in May. Manufactured by Caley Ocean Systems of the United Kingdom, it is mounted on the starboard side of the ship and is motion compensated.


The ship’s dry lab. The vessel has been designed to carry various modules allowing it to conduct a broad range of research, including fisheries and marine mammal studies.

The pilothouse has the navigation instruments facing forward including a Simrad Green DP-1 system. Dynamic positioning is useful when the vessel has to hold at a spot to collect research data. The pilothouse also has a rear-facing station so that work on the aft deck can be monitored and controlled. A duplicate set of propulsion controls is located on the aft station, including those for a Schottel 150-hp bow thruster. This deck has a small Cummins 50-kW emergency generator.

The University of Delaware is a part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, a group comprising universities in the United States that operates vessels under the auspices of the National Science Foundation. These vessels are essentially research craft of opportunity for scientists throughout the country. The scientists submit proposals to do the research on the vessel most appropriate to their work. A peer review determines which proposals are funded, which vessel will do the work and on what schedule.

Some of the early cruises studied various chemical characteristics of dissolved organic matter, its degradation by bacteria and light, and the impact on carbon cycling in estuaries.

The vessel will also have broader impacts, according to Hawkins, as an integral part of the College of Marine Studies public outreach program. “When not at sea it will be a focal point on the waterfront during Coast Day, an annual open house at the college which draws nearly 10,000 people,” Hawkins said.


Hugh R. Sharp will spend about 200 days at sea in 2006. The vessel will work 12 days for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 63 for the Navy, 20 for NOAA and 102 for the National Science Foundation.

By Professional Mariner Staff