first research cruise
Careers,  Education,  How-To's,  Research

How To Survive Your First Research Cruise In 10 Easy Steps

Gusty sea breeze, rippling seawater, swaying seaweed—your first research cruise will be a memorable milestone. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before you embark on your sea voyage.

Whether you’re a student on a field trip or a researcher performing fieldwork, there are many reasons why you may be on a research cruise. For example, you may be out to collect fish for a class or maybe you’re working on a research paper and need plankton tow samples.

The duration of your research cruise may differ as well. While some researchers may be at sea for a day, others may be out for weeks or months. For instance, I’ve been on several research cruises, but none of them have been longer than a day. The longest day I was out lasted from about 6 am to 12 am.

To ensure the best possible experience, follow these quick tips, keep a positive attitude, and enjoy the awe-inspiring views.

first research cruise
Photo by NOAA

1. Consider Dramamine.

Even if you’ve never been seasick before, it can strike without warning. Sometimes the waves will start rolling in just the right way or the air will start feeling uncomfortably muggy. Because of this, you might find yourself below deck getting far too comfortable with the nearest toilet or trash can. I’m not someone to get seasick or carsick, but when I see people getting ill, my stomach turns. Don’t let this be you.

Planning beforehand is key. If you suspect you might get sick, consider taking some over-the-counter Dramamine (always talk to your doctor first.) One possible side-effect can be drowsiness. In my experience, I took some Dramamine at the beginning of a research cruise and fell asleep for a solid 2-3 hours on deck. So, be mindful when taking Dramamine because napping can take away from sea gazing and other activities.

If you’re looking for a natural alternative, consider trying ginger or the acupuncture band Sea Band. To learn more about ginger and its anti-nausea properties, check out this research article. No one wants to feel drowsy on their first research cruise, and these methods may help you avoid that dreaded grogginess.

2. Refrain from drinking alcohol the night before your research cruise.

No one wants to start their first research cruise feeling gross and dehydrated. I’d recommend against drinking the day before, so you can feel your absolute best. Out on the water, the elements can be unpredictable. With dramatic shifts in weather, you don’t want to feel restless, especially if you’ll be working all day long.

Eat a well-balanced dinner the night before your research cruise, and remember to eat breakfast that next morning.

3. Bring a camping chair for lounging.

This one might sound a bit weird, but, sometimes, there’s little to no seating on the deck of the ship. In that case, you’re going to want a collapsible camping chair for mealtimes and downtime. Don’t have a camping chair? Check out what’s available through REI.

If you’re feeling tired, this camping chair might also be your napping spot. On some of the cruises I’ve been on, I’ve also seen people bring along beach towels and use them as blankets. It can get cold on deck, so this might help you feel a little more at home.

first research cruise
Photo by Beth Macdonald

4. Dress for unpredictable weather.

One second it may feel like you’re floating in a tropical paradise, but the next second it might feel like your braving the weather from the Deadliest Catch. To combat sporadic weather, wear plenty of layers, keep a hat handy, and wear weather-proof shoes.

Firstly, the layers will help you dress up or dress down depending on the temperature. Also, having a hat with you will work wonders to keep the sun out of your face. Lastly, slipping on a ship can be dangerous, so you’ll want to wear safe shoes that can handle water and keep your feet warm.

5. Stay hydrated, and pack snacks.

Your first research cruise may require some demanding work, so stay hydrated. I’d recommend bringing your favorite reusable water bottle, such as that sticker-filled Hydroflask sitting on your desk.

Oftentimes when you’re on a mid-size to large-size ship, there will be a kitchen on-board. However, your snacking abilities may be limited, so make sure to keep snacks on you. I’d recommend carrying snacks in a small backpack or fanny pack.

For the long day ahead, I’d recommend packing nutritious snacks, like granola bars, trail mix, apples, oranges, or jerky.

6. Keep sunscreen and sunglasses on you.

When the sun’s blazing down on you, don’t underestimate how brightly the light reflects off the ocean. To protect your skin and avoid hurting your eyes, bring along sunscreen and sunglasses.

Some of my favorite sunscreens, include Sun Bum and Bare Republic. Both brands make sunscreens without oxybenzone and octinoxate, which helps protect coral reef ecosystems.

first research cruise
Photo by Sergey Chuprin

7. Snap some pictures.

Who knows what you’ll see. On the cruises I’ve been on, I’ve seen whales of all sizes, dolphins jumping through the water, seals and sea lions doing impressive acrobatics, and seabirds swooping in on us to check for fish and potato chips. You’ll want to have a memento or two from this journey, so bring along a camera.

Even though it might be tempting to bring along that cool Polaroid camera you just got through Urban Outfitters, it might be easier and safer to use a disposable camera or digital camera.

8. Keep your eyes peeled with a pair of binoculars.

Your first research cruise will be a prime opportunity to whale watch. Bring along some binoculars, and you may be pleasantly surprised. Chances are your research cruise might come across whales, dolphins, sea lions, or seals.

On multiple research cruises, dolphins have rode the wake from our ship, and sea lions and seals have swam right up to us. This might be a perfect opportunity to pull out that camera you packed!

9. Bring a field notebook and pencil.

Keeping field notes is a fun way to remember your trip and keep detailed information about what you did. Because there might be sea spray or occasional rain, it’s best to keep a weather-proof notebook. I’d recommend using a Rite in the Rain notebook.

Take advantage of the space in your notebook, and maybe try drawing some of what you see. Your observations will be useful, but a drawing can sometimes be a far better way to capture a moment and visualize your observations.

first research cruise
Photo by Jordan Madrid

10. Snuggle up with a book

Packing a book will help with the downtime between sample collections. Some favorite marine biology books of mine include:

After all the fun you have on your first research cruise, check out this article to learn even more about marine biology—this time from the comfort of your couch.

Hi, I’m a San Diego-based blogger who's passionate about marine biology, finance, and science communication. Having recently graduated from UC San Diego with a bachelor's in marine biology, I am now working on a certificate in science communication. Over the years, I’ve worked in laboratory research and science outreach at aquariums, zoos, and environmental research centers. When I’m not writing, you can find me home brewing, tide pooling, skydiving, playing DnD, or hanging out with my two adopted guinea pigs. Reach out to me anytime, and follow Sand Dollar Wallet!


Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.