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Vessel Chartering


To protect your health and safety, WHOI has defined minimum standards for vessels used in research and education.  Some of these standards issue from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  Other standards have been established by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), of which WHOI is a member. With further questions about the UNOLS standards please contact

Compliance with these standards is required regardless of the organization that operates the vessel, how the vessel is paid for, or where in the world you are.  If you board a vessel as part of your work, the vessel must meet WHOI minimum standards.  These standards have been developed by maritime professionals and risk managers in order to protect you, your research, and our institution.

The UNOLS Vessel Chartering Standards are available on request.

WHOI has developed a policy for chartering vessels that can be found here.

Vessel Types

UNOLS vs non-UNOLS & UNOLS like vessels

  • If you are using a UNOLS vessel-- you're good to go.  The ship operating institution is responsible for ensuring compliance with UNOLS standards that meet all WHOI requirements.  There's nothing more for you to do except focus on your science.
  • If you are using a "UNOLS-like" vessel then a vessel inspection checklist is not required, but still preferred. See for a list of UNOLS-like vessels. Any questions on this contact
  • Chartering of Non-UNOLS vessels requires at a minimum the appropriate Charter Checklist completed by the vessel operator and a certificate of insurance. Both of these documents will need to be sent to the Marine Operations Department at charters@whoi.edufor review and approval.
  • If you charter a non-UNOLS vessel, then the vessel must be demonstrated to meet WHOI standards.  This is your responsibility and the requirements are defined on the chartering documents.

Vessels greater than 40 ft vs 40 ft and less

  • There are different requirements for chartering vessels greater than 40 feet in length and those 40 feet or less
  • The 40 foot cutoff comes from the US Coast Guard and National Safe Boating Council boat and equipment checklists
  • The checklist for vessels over 40ft is based on the UNOLS vessel checklist per the UNOLS Guidance document for chartering non-UNOLS vessels.
  • The over 40ft checklist must be reviewed and approved by the Port Captain
    • Pages 2 and 3 of the checklist may be waived if a current USCG Certificate of Inspection is on file
  • The checklist for vessels 40 feet and under is derived from guidelines from the Scientific Boating Safety Council (this council is very similar to the AAUS one for divers). There is a checklist to be filled out by the owners of the vessel before the cruise and an inspection list for the PI upon arrival to ensure proper safety of the PIs and their teams.
    • Please submit the PI inspection list for vessels 40 feet and under after the cruise or once you have inspected the vessel and found it to be compliant.

Vessel Charters requiring WHOI Marine Ops approval

There are several types of vessels for which charters require the approval of WHOI Marine Operations:

  • Foreign flagged – the vessel is registered outside the US and territories
  • Bareboat charters – the vessel is hired with no administrative or technical maintenance included as part of the charter agreement. The charterer takes full responsibility for the vessel including operating expenses, crew, fuel, port expenses, insurance and legal liability.
  • Vessels greater than 2,000 Gross Tons – larger vessels require a more extensive charter agreement and may be subject to additional charterer’s liability insurance premium
  • Cruise duration at sea longer than 10 days

Any of these types of vessels or situations have inherently more risk associated therefore must be reviewed for extra contract consideration and/or approval of insurance underwriters.