A research vessel (R/V) is a ship primarily constructed to carry out scientific research at sea.
Research vessels carry out a number of roles at sea. Some of these can be combined into a single vessel, others require a dedicated vessel. Fisheries science requires platforms which are capable of towing a number of different types of fishing net, collecting plankton or water samples from a range of depths, and carrying acoustic fish-finding equipment. Fisheries research vessels are often designed and built along the same lines as a large fishing vessel, but with space given over to laboratories and equipment storage, as opposed to storage of the catch. An example of a fisheries research vessel is the FRV Scotia.
Hydrographic survey vessels are used to conduct hydrographic and seismic surveys of the seabed and the underlying geology. This information is useful for both producing navigational charts for shipping, and for detecting geological features which are likely to bear oil or gas. These vessels usually mount equipment on a towed structure, for example, air-cannons, used to generate a high pressure shock wave to sound the strata beneath the seabed, or mounted on the keel, for example, a depth sounder. An example of a hydrographic survey vessel is NOAAS Rude.
Oceanographic research vessels carry out research on the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of water, the atmosphere and climate, and as such, are required to carry equipment for collection of water samples from a range of depths, including the deep seas, as well as equipment for hydrographic sounding of the seabed, along with numerous other environmental sensors. An example of an oceanographic research vessel is the R/V Thomas G. Thompson. As the requirements of both oceanographic and hydrographic research are very different to those of fisheries research, these boats often fulfil a dual role.
Due to the demanding nature of the work these ships have to deal with, research vessels are often constructed around an icebreaker hull, allowing them to operate in polar waters.