Marine Operations

U-Sea Fund

A pilot program designed to stimulate waterborne classes at UMass Boston and support faculty development in the marine and environmental sciences, this program, called the “University Sea Education Experience” (U-Sea) program of the University of Massachusetts Boston will bring more students into contact with Boston Harbor aboard university vessels.  While aboard the vessel, program participants would conduct and learn about a series of research activities examples of which are sediment sampling, salinity measurements, pH tests, temperature measurements, plankton tows, water clarity measurements, and marine life examinations. Other learning opportunities include Boston Harbor history, Native American history, climate change, alternate energy, commercial fishing, marine transportation and many other classroom topics. 

The demand for vessel-based educational programs and the current lack of such opportunities around Boston Harbor suggest that there is a niche that UMass Boston and our vessels could fill.  This program will provide educational opportunities and take advantage of the location of UMass Boston, the only University of 35 in the Boston area to be located on the ocean.  Given the University’s resources (the docks, the vessel, the proximity to ideal research locations, the on-campus expertise, the potential for student involvement, etc.), the University is in an excellent position to meet that need by offering marine-themed educational programs aboard our vessels.

In addition to providing students with the opportunity to learn about the marine environment by taking water samples, viewing marine life, and conducting a variety of research activities, this educational opportunity could also serve as a recruitment tool for the University for people who might otherwise miss out on an UMass experience. UMass Boston literature could be made available on the boat; program participants would have contact with University staff and students; and if space is available, program participants might meet somewhere on campus prior to boarding the boat, thus provide them with a closer look at the campus. 

Advertising and outreach for the program would carry the UMass Boston brand to new audiences, serving as yet another opportunity to highlight the University and its offerings.

Please find the application form for the U-SEA Program here.

Steering Committee

To be made up of no more than 10 members including faculty and staff and one program evaluator.  Meet 2 x years to discuss progress, evaluate spending priorities and make recommendations.


  • Chris Sweeney, Division of Marine Operations
  • Dr. William Hagar, Associate Dean, College of Science and Mathematics
  • Jack Wiggin, Director Urban Harbors Institute
  • John Duff, EEOS, Prof, Graduate Program director
  • Joe DeMedeiros, Asst Vice Chancellor for Alumni Relations
  • Dr. Alan D. Christian, Biology, Prof, Director of the Environmental Studies Program
  • Michael Todorsky, Director of Adm and Fin, Division of Enrollment Management
  • Dr. Allen Gontz, EEOS, Prof
  • Dr. Wichian Rojanawon, Director OLLI, John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies.

Goals and Objectives:                                                                                                               

To develop and implement a high quality vessel-based education opportunity for students that is aligned with the university's Strategic Goals.


  • Experimental learning with hands on opportunities
  • Introductory courses in science and navigation
  • Showcase the beauty of the marine environment to urban areas
  • Environmental training that provides a strong  base for greater sustainability
  • Serve as a recruitment and retention tool for prospective UMass Boston students, faculty and alumni.

Program Options

  • Science at Sea: Participants would meet at UMass Boston and board one of our vessels at Fox Point dock.  From Fox Point, participants would be taken to a pre-determined location within Boston Harbor to conduct a variety of research activities.  As groups travel to the research site, they would learn about the boat (with a focus on its “green” components) and the Harbor.  Once at the research site, students would take salinity, pH, density, temperature, and water clarity measurements.  Students could also collect sediment samples, use a plankton net to capture and examine plankton, and perhaps even pull an UMass Boston-owned lobster pot aboard to examine its contents.  Some would have the opportunity to meet the Captain and learn about navigation techniques.  After conducting these research activities, groups would be taken back to Fox Point, using the return trip as an opportunity to discuss what they learned. 
  • Salt Water vs. Fresh Water:  groups could make two research stops – one at the mouth of the Neponset River, and one within the Harbor.  By comparing the test results obtained at both unique locations, participants could learn about the differences between salt, fresh, and brackish environments.

  • Island Exploration: Given the proximity to the Boston Harbor Islands and the good working relationship that UMass Boston has with the National Parks Service, the program could include a stop at many of the 34 islands that make up the park including Spectacle Island, Lovell’s Island for some tide pooling/beachcombing, or George’s Island for a lesson about the Boston Harbor history.
  • Narrated Harbor Tour:  guest narrators could be brought aboard to focus the audience on one or more facets of Boston Harbor such as the clean-up efforts from what was once one of the dirties harbors in America; revolutionary war history discussion as the vessel sails past notable landmarks such as USS Constitution; Old North Church and Bunker Hill Monument; Native American culture and influence on the region.

Program staff would maintain a database of the research findings so that program participants could see how their results compared to other groups’ findings.  Classes would also be able to use this data in in-class discussions and activities.

Potential Participants

Interested graduate and undergraduate classes, focused on, but not limited to the marine environment.  University Advancement and Admissions Offices could use this fund for alumni development and enrollment services; College of Education and Human Development for teacher/faculty training and Professional Development credits.  During the summer months, U-Sea would primarily service summer classes though Continuing Education and possibly teacher training or Professional Development.  These trips could be half-day (approximately 2 hours) or full day (approximately 5 hours) excursions.  Participants would have the opportunity to conduct a variety of research activities while on the water.  Those activities could include, but not limited to:     

  • Salinity measurements
  • pH test
  • Density measurements
  • Temperature measurements
  • Water clarity measurements
  • Sediment sampling
  • Plankton tows
  • Marine life examinations

During the spring and fall, U-Sea would primarily serve university students.  Similar to the summer programs, university classes could choose from a full or half-day program, conducting the same research activities.  Classes with greater flexibility in their schedules and limited resources can elect to partner with other classes in a shared trip (see Vessel Request form).

Faculty would receive some educational information and activities to use with their students before and after their U-Sea experience.  While many of the onboard activities would be common regardless of the age of participants, the program and discussions would be tailored to meet the needs and abilities of those involved.

Throughout spring, summer, and fall, private citizens (not affiliated with a camp or school group) would be encouraged to participate in U-Sea programs for a reasonable fee.   


This program could be run with the existing employees of the Division of Marine Operations (DMO), who are licensed to operate the university vessels, from the first year.  Each trip would involve meeting with the faculty before departure to discuss the objectives of their class.

University undergraduates and graduate students could be hired to serve as the onboard instructors, and would be trained to go into classrooms to provide pre and post-trip programs.  In later years a graduate student might be hired to take charge of scheduling programs and staff.  As U-Sea expanded, a part or full-time Coordinator might be necessary to meet the demands of the program.

Projected Results/Products

This project will produce the following:

  1. Stimulate active on-the-water programming
  2. Enable faculty to pilot new classes
  3. Provide a mechanism for matching grant proposals
  4. Potential VDC intersect with partner organizations
  5. Annual report
  • This can also serve as a demonstration of the capabilities of UMass as a potential contract agency for similar projects and research in the area.

Academic Value/Justification

UMass Boston can establish itself as the premier ocean science research university in Massachusetts.  The program not only involves detailed scientific research, but broader applications to society.  This program will provide an excellent multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary project for a Doctoral student in EEOS.  Linkages between Marine Operations and Academic units will also benefit the student through exposure and increased understanding of the logistics and inter working of the operations side of all aspects of marine research.


UMass Boston vessels need to be self-supporting and must charge for services to support maintenance and staffing which can conflict with fledging programs objectives and identifying these funds can be a major distraction from the real work of teaching students.  This proposal asks for an annual appropriation from a combination of Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance, DMO auxiliary trust fund account, grants, etc. to.  This is no different than an investment in say a ‘smart classroom’ upgrade on campus, the intent is to enhance the student experience by investing in a ‘floating classroom’.

Fee Schedule

Charter rates are based on the published annual rate per vessel, U-Sea participants will receive a discount of 10% on all vessel reservations.

Vessel Reservations/Request for Funds

All vessels specifications can be viewed off of our website homepage and can be reserved by going to this link: U-Sea Fund Application.  Once you submit request via mail, the request will be evaluated to see if it meets the program Criterion above, you may be contacted by a staff member seeking additional information or alternative trip dates.  We ask that you submit your request at least 2 weeks before your preferred reservation date so that we may process your request in a timely manner.

Budget Justification

  • Ship Time

  • M/V Columbia Point an all weather 110 passenger, 64ft U.S. Coast Guard certified vessel used to provide support in the areas of academic research, K-12 educational programs and marine transportation charters.
  • R/V John F. Looney Jr. can be used as a platform for sediment coring.  Coring requires a vessel with vertical lift capabilities in excess of 2 tons and a large working platform.  Coring operations are conducted as part of several existing EEOS classes.  Estimated use is 18 hours/year.
  • Landing Craft can be used to conduct shallow water operations such as beach landing for small groups on outer Harbor islands; high-resolution CHIRP seismic reflection profiling (CSRP) and side scan sonar (SSS) surveys. 
  • Head of the Harbor, the newest vessel in the fleet, owned by the City of Boston and under contract with UMass Boston for 5 years this vessels primary mission is servicing the No Discharge Area of Boston Harbor but when not in this use she is available for charter.
  • Personnel

Support is requested to fund one grad student in years 2 through 5. The Graduate student will be used to liaison with class work, work on board vessels as deckhands, narrators and technical experts, conduct surveys, analyze the data and develop written and oral presentations and reports to the Steering Committee.  A 12-month stipend for years 2-5 is requested including tuition and fee waivers.

  • Equipment

In order for the ship to provide affordable and state-of-the-art educational opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and K12 students, it must be properly equipped with robust sampling and observational equipment.  The equipment in the ‘floating classroom’ will be maintained by Marine Operations staff.

  • Plankton Net, a large double, ocean ready unit is needed for a variety of researchers and is considered a staple classroom tool. 
  • Power Inverter, converts DC current to AC for use with standard plug ins such as laptops, sampling pumps and small tools. 
  • Underwater video camera.  An underwater video camera is requested to “ground-truth” geophysical imagery and identify specific objects on the seafloor.  We have on-board capability to project live images from camera onto screen in cabin of M/V Columbia Point, this is a good non-invasive look at marine life below.
  • Mini-CTD, cast-a-way.  This devise is small enough to transport and loaded with features such as salinity, oxygen and temperature readouts which are commonly used by researchers as water quality indicators.

  • Administration

9% TFA charged to earned income.  Some monies needed to promote this project and get it off the ground in first year, subsequent years should require less funds here.