Launching into Coastal Research

Tioga is a quick hit for scientists


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s new 60-foot coastal research vessel was christened and launched on March 29 in ceremonies at Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding in Somerset, Massachusetts. After two weeks of outfitting and testing, Tioga arrived in Woods Hole on April 16.

“This marks a transition for WHOI,” said Rocky Geyer, chair of the Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department and head of the science advisory committee that oversaw design of the vessel. “Building a new ship indicates a real commitment to coastal research.”

With twin 750-horsepower diesel engines, Tioga can easily cruise at 20 knots, affording efficient and quick access to the waters of Vineyard and Nantucket sounds and Massachusetts Bay. It can range as far as 350 miles, enabling it to reach New York Harbor and the Gulf of Maine, where several WHOI scientists are conducting research.

Tioga can get to the edge of the continental shelf and back in daylight, and at a reasonable cost,” Geyer said. “This is a boon to blue-water oceanographers who are trying to get to the next level in technological innovation and need to test their instruments in deep water.”

A large A-frame on Tioga’s stern gives researchers the ability to deploy complex instrument arrays, moorings, and buoys. The versatile fantail and booms will allow testing and towing of new instrument systems.

But Tioga’s biggest impact will come in coastal studies. The boat is versatile enough to support research on everything from marine mammals and harmful algal blooms to coastal erosion and oil spills. It also will allow many students to gain invaluable research experience at sea.

The boat features special outfitting for divers—including a dive platform, dive locker, and shower—which will be a major asset for the extensive underwater activity required at WHOI’s Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO).

The boat is already achieving its designed goals. In the first few weeks of use, the vessel supported an education cruise and made several trips to MVCO to install new instruments and recover equipment for servicing. Tioga carried Brechner Owens, senior scientist in the Physical Oceanography Department, to the continental shelf break and back for deployment of a glider for a climate research program.

Tioga was built by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding, a family-operated business renowned for specialized craft such as fast ferries, police and fireboats, pilot boats, tugboats, and research vessels. The boat was designed by Roger Long Marine Architecture
of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, which recently collaborated with Gladding-Hearn to build similar vessels for the University of New Hampshire (Gulf Challenger) and Old Dominion University (Fay Slover).