Complex mid-life refit of Research Vessel Savannah completed under challenging conditions

C-Job is in the final stages of completing its role in the mid-life refit of a US research vessel, the RV Savannah. Its goal, to ensure that the ship will be an effective, safe platform for oceanographic research and education. The project took three years, due in part to the impact of Covid on the United States’ maritime industry. It was overseen by Jennifer Ryan, Director of Engineering at C-Job Houston, Texas. This program stands out for demonstrating the breadth of capabilities that C-Job can offer clients both large and small, with the company providing support and technical expertise to the RV Savannah project from beginning to end.

Owned and operated by the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, University of Georgia, the vessel is one of 18 in the Academic Research Fleet (ARF) and is a member of the University National Oceanographic Laboratories System (UNOLS).  It is chartered to scientific groups looking to conduct biological, chemical, physical, and geological oceanographic studies in estuarine and continental shelf waters throughout the southeastern US Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. The vessel was built at Washburn and Doughty Shipyard in East Boothbay, Maine, entering service in 2001.

RV Savannah was 20 years old when the refit project got underway in 2021. After so many years of continuous service there were over twenty major items on the institute’s action list to bring her up to present day standards and capabilities for a vessel of its type. Not least, the extension of the length of the vessel from 92 feet (28 metres) to 104 feet (31.7 metres). Other major items on the list included replacing the main engines, installing new generators, upgrading the bow thruster, frame modifications and alterations to the laboratories.

Working in partnership with the US naval architecture and marine engineering company Glosten, Jennifer and her team started by investigating each of the items and their requirements. “In order to be able to present estimates of the cost of each to the client, we conducted a thorough feasibility and concept review,” says Jennifer. “The process took some months, but it was vital for making the decisions as to what could be achieved within the budget available. Having completed this, we moved on to the construction bid package, producing the basic designs that would enable the tendering shipyards to estimate the costs involved.”

However, the actual rebuild was delayed by Covid with the lead times for some of the major equipment, including the engines, stretching out to a year or more. The shipyard was finally appointed in June 2023; Stevens Towing Shipyard in Charleston, SC.

Work onboard got underway in October, the start of the off-season for offshore maritime research. At this point, C-Job moved on to providing oversight on behalf of the owner and overseeing the project management. “I visited the yard regularly,” continues Jennifer. “That ensured that we quickly addressed any queries that arose during the course of the work.” Delivery of the revitalised RV Savannah took place in May 2024, ready for the new season.

Problem solving:

A major contribution to the success of the project was the problem-solving skills of Jennifer and her team. With the tight budget they worked hard to find affordable solutions. Wherever possible they considered refurbishing and reusing existing equipment. They also looked at a wide range of alternatives for each item on the list while retaining a tight focus on performance and cost. For example, the bow thruster and the main towing winch were previously both driven by a power take-off from a main engine, which meant that they could not be operated at the same time. However, a study of all the alternatives revealed that it would be both more efficient and cost effective to have one powered by electricity and the other by hydraulics.

The shipyard also went the extra mile. When the company that was going to replace the original switchboard was unable to meet the delivery deadline, they looked outside the commercial maritime sector and found an electrical integrator that normally supplied leisure yachts, but which refurbished the switchboard quickly and to an exceptional standard.

“Led by lead architect and project manager Jennifer Ryan, C-Job delivered excellent service and products that were instrumental in the success of the refit,” said John Bichy, Marine Superintendent at UGA – Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. “Jennifer and her fellow engineers were very attentive to my needs as vessel owner representative from the time the contract was executed in Sept 2021 to the completion of the shipyard period in May 2024.   This close cooperation and their ability to deliver under short time frames was critical once in the shipyard phase.  I would highly recommend C-Job to others and plan to continue our relationship for years to come.”

“It has been a very satisfying project,” concludes Jennifer Ryan. “We’re confident that the RV Savannah has at least another 20 years of operations ahead of her.”