Since the early days of our nation, NOAA and its predecessor agencies have utilized fleets of ships and boats to survey America’s oceans and coasts, ensuring the safe and steady flow of commerce and traffic on America’s “marine highways.”
Today, NOAA operates three large survey ships: Fairweather, Rainier, and Thomas Jefferson. Each vessel is equipped with sophisticated echo sounding technology that measure water depths and identify submerged hazards to navigation. The vessels have 2-6 smaller boats (launches) that are lowered into the water to conduct survey work in shallow areas.
A research survey vessel, Bay Hydro II, is based in the Chesapeake Bay area. It has many of the features of the large vessels, but is easily deployable to conduct emergency surveys following a shipping accident, vessel grounding, or hurricane in the Mid-Atlantic.
NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey also deploys six navigation response teams, with small boats trailerable by truck to any destination in the continental United States. These vessels are operated by two- or three-person teams and are always on stand-by to respond to natural and shipping disasters that could threaten the safe flow of marine traffic into America’s ports and harbors.