How to apply for marine facilities - NERC

Who can apply?

Scientists can bid to NERC for free at the point of use access to its ships, equipment and support facilities if you have secured funding from either:

  • NERC
  • a non-NERC peer-reviewed source (like the EU or the US National Science Foundation)
  • commissioned research

If you have funding from a non-peer-reviewed source, see our policy and guidance for details of eligibility assessment.

NERC marine facilities planning cycle

The NERC marine facilities planning cycle contains some of the most important information for applicants to ensure applications are made at the right time and all the necessary paperwork is completed.

1. Submit ship time and marine equipment application form

All applicants for NERC marine facilities must submit an online Ship time and Marine Equipment (SME) application form by creating a cruise profile through the Marine Facilities Planning website.

In this form you can tell NERC:

  • the ship and equipment you wish to use
  • when you wish to use it
  • how you intend to fund your research

All costings and cruise programming will be based on the information you give on this form, so you  must complete it as accurately as possible.

Where an SME is linked to an individual NERC grant application, you should make it explicit both in the grant application and on the SME.

2. Policy compliance and funding application

  1. Submit policy and risk management documents (if necessary, for example the moorings policy) 2 months before funding application submission. You may not need to submit these. Check the funding policy.
  2. Apply for funding.

The deadline will depend on the chosen funding route and opportunity closing date.

Find out more about what to include in your application.

Discovery science: standard grants and large grants

The SME must be completed and submitted past ‘Edit SME’ by the time the grant application Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system form is submitted.

The SME profile number should be included on the grant application form under ‘Services and Facilities’. The grant application is not valid if the SME form is not complete, approved and progressed (if it is still at the ‘Edit SME’ stage).

Please note that SME forms that require superstructure costing (that is, those associated with large grant applications) must be submitted at least two months before the grant application deadline. This is to make sure there is sufficient time for the costing process to be carried out.

You should notify Natalie Powney at Marine Planning, Swindon if the SME requires costing.

Research programmes

SMEs must be submitted by the date specified in the  documents specific to your funding opportunity. You should notify Natalie Powney at Marine Planning, Swindon, if the SME requires costing.

National capability

SMEs can be submitted at any time, but if a costing is required they should be submitted by 1 February, 2 months before the marine facilities programming deadline of 1 April.

You should notify Natalie Powney at Marine Planning, Swindon if the SME requires costing.

Notify Marine Planning


Telephone: 07703 380220

3. Confirm funding on online SME application

If your funding is approved

If you are successful in securing funding, your SME must be updated to reflect this immediately. Cruises will not be considered for programming at all unless the SME has been moved past the ‘confirm funding’ stage on the Marine Facilities Planning website and will not be considered for the next financial year if this stage is not complete by 1 April.

If your funding is not approved

If your funding application is not successful and your SME is no longer valid, it should be archived on the Marine Facilities Planning website as soon as possible to avoid any confusion at the start of the programming process.

You can create a copy of your SME for future reference. You cannot reuse an SME. You’ll need a new SME for future funding applications.

Deadline: 1 April for inclusion in the following financial year’s programme.

4. Cruise programming

1 April onwards.

Following submission of an SME, confirmation of funding must be added to the online SME profile before it will be considered for a place in the NERC Marine Facilities Programme.

Funding must be confirmed by 1 April at the latest in order to be considered for a place in the programme for the following financial year.

Research grants which are approved for funding after 1 April will be programmed on an opportunistic basis if possible (if there is a space in the programme), or will be carried over for consideration at the following 1 April programming deadline. Programming is undertaken according to NERC’s prioritisation criteria.

Information on current bids to use NERC marine facilities and the cruise programme can be found on the Marine Facilities Planning website.

5. Provisional cruise dates and alterations

Spring and summer.

6. Chief scientist’s workshop

June or July.

Compulsory for all chief scientists being considered for scheduling in the programme.

See information about the previous chief scientist’s workshop.

7. Cruise programme published


Provisional cruise dates will be discussed with the chief scientists to ensure that the dates offered are appropriate for their science objectives. The cruise programme is then presented to the Cruise Programme Executive Board for sign-off and publication on the Marine Facilities Planning website.

All chief scientists offered a place in the programme will be sent an official offer document and must accept the terms and conditions as a condition of the cruise offer.

Read the cruise postponement policy.

8. Cruise planning

Ongoing from programme publication until cruise date, specific activities will depend on the ship operator.

Once a chief scientist has been offered a place in the NERC Marine Facilities Programme a number of planning activities will be undertaken, dependent on the ship operator of the cruise.

Cruises on a National Oceanography Centre (NOC) operated ship

The NOC ships are the RRS Discovery and the RRS James Cook.

The cruise planning process includes the following steps and the chief scientist must:

  1. Provide an accurate cruise track to NERC Marine Facilities for planning and application of diplomatic clearance to work in foreign waters.
  2. Attend a cruise planning meeting about 6 months before the start of the cruise to confirm equipment, sampling and survey requirements.
  3. Attend the final pre-cruise meeting about 3 months before the start of the cruise to agree the NERC Marine Facilities Supply Agreement.
  4. Note that within 3 months of the scheduled start date of a cruise, after the NERC Marine Facilities Supply Agreement has been agreed, there is minimal scope for altering technical support arrangements. Any costs resulting from alterations will need to be met.
  5. Attend a de-briefing meeting before the end of the cruise to assess planning and execution of the cruise.

Ask a question, or raise a specific issue about your cruise


9. Post-cruise assessment

Read the post-cruise assessment guidance.

Applying for funding to finance your request

Under the current arrangements the funding for RRS James Cook, RRS Discovery and RRS Sir David Attenborough will be provided centrally by NERC. This is provided that the research project involves international quality science (graded seven or higher) that is within NERC’s remit.

Applications for ship time can only be included in the Marine Facility Programme if they have full funding to cover National Marine Facilities or British Antarctic Survey technical support and equipment costs (that is superstructure costs).

Applications to use the RV Prince Madog must include all costs associated with use of the vessel, including any technician and equipment support provided by the National Marine Facilities.

NERC discovery science funding applications

There are 3 discovery science grant types that will cover the superstructure costs for cruises. NERC’s policy on allocation of superstructure costs varies depending on the grant type.

Standard grants

Applications for standard grants should not include cruise superstructure costs within the overall cost of the application. These will be calculated by NERC as part of the cruise programming process if funding is approved.

Find out more about standard grants.

Large grants

These have a strict maximum funding limit and applications must therefore include all cruise superstructure costs.

Find out more about large grants.

Independent research fellowships

Applications for fellowships should not include cruise superstructure costs within the overall cost of the application. These will be calculated by NERC as part of the cruise programming process if funding is approved. Ship time associated with independent research fellowships is likely to involve small bolt-on activities rather than stand alone cruises.

Superstructure costs are estimated on the basis of the information provided in ship time and marine equipment (SME) forms. Where costs are required they should be requested at least 2 months before the grant application closing date. So, for example, if you are applying for a large grant, or for research programmes, your SME should be submitted and have been approved by Marine Planning.

Marine Planning if the SME requires costing. Costs should be included in the main Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system financial tables and included in the justification for resources.

Read our grants handbook to find out more about the costing of discovery science grants.

Find out more about independent research fellowships.

Notify Marine Planning


Telephone: 07703 380220

NERC research programme funding applications

For applications for ship time in association with a NERC research programme, applicants should adhere to the advice given within the specific programme announcement of funding opportunity.

All ship time for research programmes must be costed ahead of submission of the associated grant application, unless directed otherwise by the programme. For further advice on costing of ship time in association with research programmes, contact the programme manager or NERC Marine Planning.

Notify Marine Planning


Telephone: 07703 380220

Applying to use NERC’s marine facilities

Researchers bidding for ship time or marine equipment are advised to speak to Marine Planning to discuss their requirements prior to submission of their online SME application form.

The primary purpose of this is to:

  • provide advice and resolve issues such as ensuring a realistic start date, which will affect cost indexation
  • inclusion of all relevant costs
  • confirmation that NERC can supply the required capability prior to submission of the SME

Without such a discussion, it is possible that NERC will not be able to include a cruise in the NERC Marine Facilities programme.

SME applications must be approved by Marine Planning ahead of submission of any associated grant applications. If an SME has not been approved by Marine Planning, NERC are not committed to including that cruise in the NERC Marine Facilities programme should it be funded.

The responsibility lies with the chief scientist to determine if their methodology is feasible and that there is a reasonable likelihood that the facilities will be available within the required timescale.

See our policy and guidance for details of additional policy and risk management forms that may be required as part of your ship time application.

Notify Marine Planning


Telephone: 07703 380220

Opportunistic sea time

Applications for opportunistic sea time may be made at much shorter notice. Opportunistic sea time is defined as being ship-board research which does not require additional ship time (that is  which does not delay the normal progress of the ship during a cruise or passage leg). The opportunistic work must be conducted simultaneously with the objectives of the main research cruise, and must not significantly affect the activities of that cruise.

Such research can often be carried out by National Marine Facilities or British Antarctic Survey staff, and may not require the presence of the scientist. Where the scientist does require a presence aboard the ship, the demand on scientific berths must be very low. In such cases, applicants should contact NERC and the chief scientist (if one will be onboard), requesting the appropriate support services and cooperation. Such applications should be submitted as soon as possible.

Applicants wishing to take advantage of short notice time limited scientific opportunities involving ship time should contact NERC in the first instance to discuss whether the ship time and support are available at short notice, and whether such an application is eligible for the urgency application procedure.

Flexibility in new project applications

Deep field polar support and the RRS Sir David Attenborough as a marine science platform are heavily tasked. As a result NERC are encouraging flexibility in new project applications to:

  • share resources and locations
  • focus on use of digital approaches or existing data

BAS and NERC will engage with teams to identify where interlinkages may be possible.

You must contact the NERC marine planning team or BAS operations, or both, to discuss any potential project in detail and possible timelines. You should note the likely scheduling timeline for new applications.

Email NERC marine planning team:

Email BAS operations:


Ask a question about how to apply

Natalie Powney, Marine Planning Officer


Telephone: 07703 380220

Last updated: 28 February 2023

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