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Project Planning

Below is an overview and estimated timeline for planning and executing a research project aboard a NOAA ship. Projects are most often organized and funded via NOAA Line Offices (LO). Projects that are organized and funded via non NOAA agencies (with some or no NOAA collaboration) are also part of the planning process but done on a case by case basis.

Requesting Ship Time

Project requirements are captured in a formal ship time request (STR) and submitted via the on-line NOAA Vessel Prioritization, Allocation, and Scheduling System (V-PASS) (NOAA login and password required). Additional project elements (i.e., “piggyback” projects) may be added as long as it doesn't interfere with the primary project. Piggyback projects should be coordinated through the Chief Scientist of the primary project, included in the STR, and fully described in the project instructions. The STR then goes through two levels of LO approval before reaching the OMAO Scheduler. The STRs are also reviewed and verified by the Atlantic, Pacific, and Pacific Islands Marine Operation Centers (MOCs) to ensure the preferred NOAA vessel can do the operational work requested. MOC verification is completed by the end of March or early April.

By mid-March, LOs have completed their project prioritization lists for the upcoming fiscal year. Those same approved and prioritized project requirements are sent to the OMAO Scheduler by the end of March or early April (the outyear requests are not approved but used for planning purposes only). An executive session of NOAA's Deputy Assistant Administrators (DAAs) convenes on or about late March of each year to accept or adjust current LO allocation percentages, present their initial priority lists and determine LO distribution for ship time requirements from a special reserved funding pool (i.e., 5% pool). This information along with other details are then used by the Fleet Working Group (FWG) and the OMAO Scheduler to develop a Fleet Allocation Plan (FAP) that will be signed by the Fleet Council in late July. A first outyear draft FAP is completed a few months later for planning purposes.

The NOAA Fleet Council is the principal advisory body to the Under Secretary for ship and aircraft platform scheduling, requirements and utilization. Fleet Council membership includes LO DAAs and is chaired by OMAO. The FWG consists of representatives from all NOAA LOs (i.e., NOAA Fisheries, National Ocean Service, NOAA Research, National Weather Service, NOAA Satellite and Information Service, and NOAA Office of Program Planning and Integration and is facilitated by OMAO. More information about the NOAA Fleet Council may be found in the NOAA Fleet Council Terms of Reference.

For additional information pertaining to requesting ship time (NOAA fleet and charter), prioritization, allocation, scheduling, or V-PASS contact the OMAO Scheduler at (301) 713-7657.

Suggested Timeline

The basic timeline for preparation and submission of project instructions and related materials, in days or months prior to project, is as follows:

Minimum 7 Months (some countries may require longer)
  • Foreign exclusive economic zone (EEZ) clearance requests submitted to the Marine Operations Program, Planning, and Services Branch at
    • It is the chief scientist's responsibility to initiate the requests for clearances for ports of call and for scientific investigations in foreign waters. Most countries require at least six (6) months notice, and the State Department likes an extra month to get their required paperwork together.
  • Consider marine sanctuary permits.  If research will be conducted in a national marine sanctuary(ies), it is the chief scientist's responsibility to request authority and provide copies of the approved permit.
  • Project perspectus (if necessary) submitted to the Marine Operations Program, Planning, and Services Branch at A project prospectus includes: project description, track line of the working area, and a brief summary describing the intended use of radioactive materials, x-ray generator devices, and seal-sources of radiation.
  • For information on technology controls, foreign national visitor access, and other "Deemed Export" issues, please review NAO 207-12: Technology Controls and Foreign National Access.
5 Months
  • Coordinate outreach. Prepare messaging (such as writing, photography, social media, blogs). Coordinate responsibility for onsite media collection (such as photography) among your team. 
3 Months
  • Submit request to use radioactive materials or x-ray generating devices aboard (see OMAO Procedure 0701-10 - Radioactive Material & X-Ray Generating Device Use Aboard NOAA Ships).
60 Days
  • Draft project instructions are completed and submitted to the ship, marine centers, labs, and other participating institutions and personnel for comments.
  • Shipments or loading of gear requiring a customs agent, shoreside crew, or crane must have their own contract in place. If you wish to use the same vendor as the ship, you may reach out to the ship one or two months prior to sailing.
30 Days
  • Final project instructions, incorporating comments and required signatures, are submitted to the ship.
  • Mission hazmat documentation is submitted, including:
    • Preliminary inventory of mission hazmat (including name of material, quantity, type of hazard and responsible individual), see NOAA Form 57-07-11 - Mission HAZMAT Inventory)
    • List of spill response materials and quantities
    • Safe handling and spill response procedures
    • Please contact the ship's Operations Officer about bulk quantities of chemicals or special fuels (in excess of 50 gal total or in a container larger than 10 gal) to determine if they can be safely accommodated.
  • NOAA Health Services Questionnaires (NHSQ) and tuberculosis screening forms for each project participant are submitted to the Office of Health Services by each individual (do not send to the Chief Scientist). The Chief Scientists may ask the Office of Health Services to provide an update confirming that all individuals are cleared for sailing. See  the Health Screening page for forms and more information.
14 Days
  • Berthing plan, prepared by the chief scientist for the scientific complement, is submitted to the ship.
Day Before Departure
  • Passports (if operations are abroad) for each project participant are submitted to the ship's Executive Officer (XO).
  • Prior to loading mission hazmat:
    • Provide to environmental compliance officer or operations officer:
      • Finalized inventory of mission hazmat,
      • Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for each chemical,
      • Spill response materials, and
      • Safe handling and spill response procedures.
    • Work with operations officer to record loading of materials, ensure safe stowage, file SDS (see NOAA Form 57-07-11 - Mission Hazmat Inventory)
    • Ensure mission hazmat is labeled properly (including a product label AND a label indicating the project identification number).
  • Copies of approved exclusive economic zone research clearances and marine sanctuary permits are submitted to the ship's operations officer.
Day of Departure
  • Pre-project meeting is held between the ship's officers and the chief scientist.
  • If radioactive materials or x-ray generating devices will be used, offer hazard communication training to all hands.
  • "Welcome aboard" meeting is held for all newly embarked scientific personnel.
  • Remove unused mission hazmat, wastes, and sample; document removal of mission hazmat on NOAA Form 57-07-11 - Mission Hazmat Inventory with Operations Officer; transport & dispose according to regulations.
  • Remove and dispose of any unused radioactive material and associated wastes; submitted usage form and results of wipe tests within 3 days of off load.
  • Provide your candid ratings and comments on how the ship met your scientific objectives.