The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) designed its first purpose-built research ship with the present, and the future, in mind.

The 93-foot Virginia replaces the converted crew boat Bay Eagle as the institute’s flagship. Virginia expands the distance VIMS students and scientists can travel from their home port in Weems, Va., on the Rappahannock River. It also brings myriad new capabilities such as midwater acoustic surveys, seafloor mapping and core sampling, and has accommodations for eight scientists.

The dynamic positioning (DP) system on Virginia makes some of these new efforts possible. The robust A-frame at the stern and J-frame on the starboard side allow for deployment of scientific buoys, plankton nets and sonar.

“No other vessel can provide the deck gear, the geophysical capabilities and the coring capabilities of Virginia,” John Wells, VIMS dean and director, said in November shortly after the vessel arrived. “It’s got the flexibility to do almost anything on the water that any of our scientists might want to do to increase understanding, now or in the future.”


“It is very comfortable, it is very quiet, and for a 93-foot boat there is a lot of room for working,” says Capt. John Olney, shown manning the helm of the new research vessel on the Rappahannock River.


Virginia’s stern-mounted A-frame has an 8,000-pound load capacity for trawling and dredging.


Courtesy VIMS

JMS Naval Architects of Mystic, Conn., designed the vessel built by Meridien Maritime Reparation of Matane, Quebec. Virginia was delivered in September 2018, and it first went to work in early 2019.

VIMS is affiliated with the state-run College of William & Mary and also handles environmental and educational projects on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Historically, the institute has worked primarily in Chesapeake Bay conducting fisheries research and environmental impact studies. VIMS is a member of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System comprised of 60 academic institutions and labs involved in oceanographic research.

VIMS, which dates back to 1938, operates more than two dozen vessels that range from 15 feet to the 93-foot Virginia. The 65-foot Bay Eagle joined the fleet in 1987 and is set for retirement within the next year or two. VIMS added the 43-foot Tidewater in 2013 to focus on surveys of juvenile fish.

Plans for the new vessel came together with extensive input from VIMS scientists, who guided JMS Naval Architects through the design phase. The institute wanted an efficient ship with improved seakeeping and range, and it wanted to stay under 300 gross tons to reduce operating costs. Perhaps most important was the ability for the vessel to adapt to future scientific needs, said Stewart Lamerdin, VIMS’ director of marine operations.

“We wanted a platform that was large enough to accommodate the work Bay Eagle was doing in addition to expanding capabilities as well,” he said, noting that the institute is raising money for an advanced sonar suite for the ship.

Two Cummins QSK19-M main engines are coupled to a Finnoy two-in/one-out marine gear, allowing Virginia to operate efficiently on one engine while on station or during slow-speed transits.

Courtesy VIMS

That work yielded an entirely new design with a striking hull plan that marries form and function. The single-chine, V-bottom hull has deep-V forward sections transitioning into a tunnel stern housing a 77-inch propeller in a Rice thrust nozzle, said JMS President T. Blake Powell. The vessel, he added, has twin skegs outboard of the propeller that provide directional stability and roll dampening.

“The plumb stem bow maximizes the waterline length, which contributes to improved longitudinal stability and creates fine forward waterlines for hydrodynamic efficiency,” he said. “The bow form also allows the bow thruster to be deeply immersed and as far forward as possible to minimize cavitation, maximize thrust and provide robust dynamic positioning capability.”

The aft deck’s size is another benefit. It is 37 feet long and 28 feet wide, providing roughly 1,000 square feet of working space for science payloads of 20 long tons. The deck is outfitted with an A-frame and J-frame, as well as hydraulic winches for deploying fishing nets and an electric CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth) winch. Virginia also can launch and recover submersible vehicles for advanced underwater research.

“It’s definitely a lot of ship in a small package,” Powell said. “One of the things that was really important to them was to have dynamic positioning capability. The propulsion arrangement was built to accommodate that as well.”

The propulsion package consists of two 660-hp Tier 3 Cummins QSK19-M engines coupled to a Finnoy 2G27-42FK two-in/one-out marine gear driving a Finnoy five-blade, controllable-pitch propeller in a Rice thrust nozzle. Electrical power comes from twin Kohler 99-kW gensets powered by John Deere 4045 diesel engines. The Beier IVCS 4000 single-station DP system uses the Veth VCG-750 omnidirectional pump jet bow thruster, controllable-pitch propeller and triple rudders to maintain position within one meter (3.3 feet).


Marine technician Joe Cope, left, and graduate student Kristen Sharpe prepare to deploy a plankton net from the aft deck of the research vessel.


Crewmembers aboard Virginia monitor the vessel’s plankton net during a tow in October 2018. The deck is outfitted with an A-frame and J-frame for deploying fishing gear and other scientific equipment.


Courtesy VIMS

Capt. John Olney, who joined VIMS in 2008 and previously operated Bay Eagle, said the DP system often exceeds those standards. “If you hold the bow into the wind, she can hold within one foot port, starboard or aft and forward in a 25-knot wind,” he said. “That has been really helpful for us.”

Specifically, Olney said, the system has made it simpler and faster to take core samples. The effort involves driving a pole into the seafloor to determine the makeup of the sediment. Prior to Virginia’s arrival, that required a five-point anchor system to hold position. Too much movement when taking samples, he explained, can damage the equipment.

While it is hard to draw performance comparisons between the 65-foot Bay Eagle and the 93-foot Virginia, Olney considers the new ship plenty efficient. The two-in/one-out marine gear allows for the capability to operate the vessel efficiently on a single propulsion engine when on station or during slow-speed transits. This reduces overall engine hours and improves fuel efficiency, minimizing the vessel’s environmental footprint.

“It is very comfortable, it is very quiet, and for a 93-foot boat there is a lot of room for working,” Olney said. “It was well thought out. JMS did a great job designing it, and the scientists that participated in the whole process did a really good job thinking about how the boat would best accommodate their needs.”

The vessel itself has a fairly straightforward layout. Forward from the working deck are wet and dry lab spaces together occupying about 500 square feet. There is a galley and lounge on the port side, with a head and pantry/food storage to starboard. Below, the engine room occupies the aft half of the vessel, while four staterooms and a head are forward. Three cabins have two bunks and one cabin has four. The captain’s quarters are located above the main deck aft of the wheelhouse.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science was founded in 1938 and is affiliated with the College of William & Mary. VIMS operates more than two dozen vessels.

Courtesy VIMS

The navigation electronics package consists of an array of equipment from Furuno, Simrad and Rose Point. Virginia also has a SAILOR 500 FleetBroadband satellite communications system with two VHF radios. Eight CCTV cameras installed throughout the ship display in the wheelhouse.

Virginia operates with three crew during voyages of 12 hours or less, and five crewmembers during 24-hour operations. Its at-sea endurance is 10 days, although that can vary. The cruise speed is 10 knots.

Lamerdin and Olney offered high praise for Meridien Maritime Reparation and JMS, which won contracts for the work based on the state of Virginia’s procurement rules. Each company was selected through a best-value rather than a low-bidder process.

The vessel has met the institute’s high expectations and won approval from scientists. Considering the diverse array of deck gear, the DP system and overall cost-effectiveness, Lamerdin said there aren’t many boats like it on the East Coast.

“It is an all-in-one platform that can function efficiently as a fisheries research vessel for stock assessments, trawling and longlining, and can simply switch over to deploy a buoy with scientific instruments,” he said. “It can also tow plankton nets and hydrographic survey equipment … and can do that all from the same platform.”

By Professional Mariner Staff