How to Survive Your First Research Cruise: A Guide for New Marine Biologists


Embarking on your first research cruise as a marine biologist can be an exhilarating yet daunting experience. The prospect of spending weeks or even months at sea conducting research in remote marine environments presents unique challenges that require careful preparation and adaptability. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide you with practical tips and advice to help you navigate your first research cruise successfully. From preparing for life onboard to conducting research and staying safe at sea, this guide covers everything you need to know to make the most of this transformative experience.

Quick Tips:

  • Pack Essentials: Prioritize packing essential items such as waterproof clothing, seasickness remedies, and personal safety equipment.
  • Get Acquainted: Take the time to familiarize yourself with the research vessel, crew members, and safety protocols before setting sail.
  • Stay Organized: Maintain a structured routine onboard to manage your time effectively and stay focused on your research objectives.
  • Be Adaptable: Expect the unexpected and embrace the challenges of life at sea with a positive attitude and willingness to learn.
  • Prioritize Safety: Always prioritize safety onboard by adhering to maritime regulations, following safety protocols, and staying vigilant at all times.

Preparing for the Cruise

Before you set foot onboard the research vessel, thorough preparation is essential to ensure a smooth and successful research cruise.

  • Understanding the Purpose and Goals: Start by familiarizing yourself with the objectives and goals of the research cruise. Communicate with your research team and principal investigator to gain clarity on the research questions and methodologies.
  • Obtaining Necessary Permits: Ensure that you have obtained all required permits and permissions for your research activities. Work closely with your institution and relevant authorities to secure the necessary paperwork well in advance of the cruise.
  • Packing Essentials: When packing for your research cruise, prioritize essential items such as:
  • Waterproof clothing: Invest in high-quality waterproof jackets, pants, and footwear to stay dry and comfortable in the marine environment.
  • Seasickness remedies: Pack seasickness medications, wristbands, or natural remedies to alleviate symptoms and ensure a smooth transition to life at sea.
  • Personal safety equipment: Bring essential safety equipment such as a life jacket, emergency beacon, and marine-grade first aid kit to ensure preparedness for any emergencies.
  • Research equipment: Pack any specialized research equipment and tools required for your research activities, ensuring that they are properly calibrated and functional.
  • Familiarizing Yourself with Safety Protocols: Take the time to familiarize yourself with safety protocols, emergency procedures, and evacuation plans onboard the research vessel. Attend safety briefings and training sessions conducted by the crew to ensure that you are well-prepared for any contingencies.

Getting Acquainted with the Ship and Crew

Once onboard the research vessel, take proactive steps to get acquainted with your new environment and fellow crew members.

  • Touring the Vessel: Take advantage of opportunities to tour the research vessel and familiarize yourself with its layout, facilities, and amenities. Explore common areas, laboratories, living quarters, and safety equipment to ensure that you know your way around the ship.
  • Introducing Yourself to the Crew: Make an effort to introduce yourself to the captain, crew members, and fellow researchers onboard. Building positive relationships and fostering a sense of camaraderie with your colleagues will contribute to a supportive and collaborative research environment.
  • Understanding Roles and Responsibilities: Take the time to understand the roles and responsibilities of different crew members onboard the research vessel. Communicate openly with the crew to clarify expectations and ensure smooth coordination of research activities.

Adapting to Life at Sea

Adjusting to life at sea requires adaptability, resilience, and a positive attitude. Here are some tips to help you navigate the challenges of living and working onboard a research vessel.

  • Coping with Seasickness: Seasickness is a common challenge for many researchers on their first research cruise. To minimize seasickness symptoms, consider:
    • Take seasickness medications as recommended by your healthcare provider.
    • Use acupressure wristbands or natural remedies such as ginger to alleviate nausea.
    • Avoiding heavy or greasy foods and staying hydrated to prevent dehydration.
  • Establishing a Routine: Establishing a structured routine onboard the research vessel can help you stay organized and focused on your research objectives. Prioritize tasks, allocate time for work, meals, rest, and recreation, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
  • Managing Personal Hygiene: Maintaining personal hygiene onboard a research vessel can be challenging due to limited space and resources. Here are some tips to stay clean and hygienic:
    • Use sea-friendly biodegradable soaps and shampoos to minimize environmental impact.
    • Take quick showers to conserve water and avoid long lines at the shower facilities.
    • Dispose of waste properly and follow onboard waste management protocols to minimize pollution. 

Conducting Research

Once settled onboard the research vessel, it’s time to focus on conducting your research and collecting valuable data in the marine environment.

  • Collaborating with Others: Collaborate closely with fellow researchers, crew members, and support staff to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your research activities. Communicate openly, share resources and expertise, and work together towards common research goals.
  • Operating Research Equipment: Familiarize yourself with the operation and maintenance of any specialized research equipment and instruments onboard the vessel. Follow manufacturer’s instructions, calibrate equipment as needed, and troubleshoot any technical issues promptly to ensure accurate data collection.
  • Adhering to Research Protocols: Adhere to established research protocols, methodologies, and ethical guidelines throughout your research activities. Record data accurately, document observations, and maintain detailed research logs to facilitate data analysis and interpretation.
  • Troubleshooting Common Issues: Be prepared to encounter technical difficulties or challenges during your research cruise. Develop problem-solving skills, seek assistance from experienced crew members or support staff, and remain flexible and adaptable in finding solutions to overcome obstacles.

Overcoming Challenges

Research cruises present a myriad of challenges, from unpredictable weather conditions to technical difficulties with equipment. Here are some strategies to help you overcome common challenges encountered at sea.

  • Dealing with Unpredictable Weather: Weather conditions at sea can change rapidly and unpredictably, posing challenges to research activities. Monitor weather forecasts regularly, plan research activities accordingly, and prioritize safety when adverse weather conditions arise.
  • Addressing Technical Difficulties: Technical issues with research equipment or instrumentation can disrupt data collection and research progress. Troubleshoot technical problems systematically, consult equipment manuals and technical support resources and collaborate with onboard technicians or support staff to resolve issues promptly.
  • Resolving Conflicts: Conflicts or misunderstandings among team members can arise during extended periods at sea. Practice effective communication, active listening, and conflict resolution strategies to address differences constructively and maintain positive working relationships onboard.
  • Maintaining Morale: Long periods at sea can take a toll on morale and motivation. Stay connected with friends and family ashore, engage in recreational activities during downtime, and support each other emotionally to maintain morale and mental well-being onboard.

Staying Safe

Safety is paramount onboard a research vessel, and it’s essential to prioritize safety at all times to minimize risks and ensure the well-being of all crew members.

  • Following Safety Procedures: Familiarize yourself with onboard safety procedures, emergency protocols, and evacuation plans. Attend safety briefings, participate in safety drills, and be vigilant in identifying and addressing potential safety hazards onboard.
  • Practicing Good Seamanship: Practice good seamanship principles to ensure the safe operation and navigation of the research vessel. Follow maritime regulations, adhere to navigational rules, and maintain situational awareness to avoid collisions or accidents at sea.
  • Being Mindful of Hazards: Be mindful of potential hazards onboard the research vessel, such as slippery decks, moving machinery, or hazardous materials. Take precautions to prevent accidents, wear appropriate personal protective equipment, and report any safety concerns to the appropriate authorities.

Making the Most of the Experience

Despite the challenges and uncertainties, participating in a research cruise can be a transformative and rewarding experience that enriches your scientific knowledge and skills.

  • Networking Opportunities: Take advantage of networking opportunities with fellow researchers, crew members, and industry professionals onboard. Build professional relationships, exchange ideas, and explore potential collaborations to enhance your research and career prospects.
  • Appreciating the Marine Environment: Take time to appreciate the beauty and diversity of the marine environment surrounding you. Observe marine wildlife, enjoy breathtaking sunsets, and immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring wonders of the ocean to cultivate a deeper appreciation for marine biology and conservation.
  • Reflecting on Lessons Learned: Reflect on your experiences, challenges, and achievements during the research cruise. Identify lessons learned, areas for improvement, and opportunities for personal and professional growth to inform future research endeavors and career development.
  • Planning for the Future: Use your experience on the research cruise as a springboard for future research projects, expeditions, and career opportunities in marine biology. Apply newfound knowledge, skills, and insights gained from the cruise to advance your scientific goals and contribute to the field of marine biology.

Things to Purchase:

Item Price Range
Waterproof Clothing $50 – $200
Seasickness Remedies $5 – $30
Personal Safety Equipment $50 – $200
Research Equipment Varies
Sea-friendly Biodegradable Soaps and Shampoos $5 – $20
Waterproof Cameras $100 – $500
GPS Devices $50 – $200
Marine Radios $100 – $300
Life Jackets $50 – $100
Emergency Beacons $100 – $300
Marine-grade First Aid Kit $50 – $100
Portable Chargers $20 – $50

Note: Prices are approximate and may vary depending on brand, quality, and retailer.

By investing in these essential items, you can enhance your preparedness, safety, and comfort onboard your first research cruise as a marine biologist.


Surviving your first research cruise as a marine biologist requires careful preparation, adaptability, and a willingness to embrace challenges. By following the tips and strategies outlined in this guide, you can navigate the complexities of life at sea with confidence and success. Remember to prioritize safety, collaborate with fellow researchers, and make the most of this transformative experience to further your scientific endeavors in marine biology.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *