Division of Ocean Sciences - Fall 2002 Newsletter
NSF 04-003
(Replaces NSF 03-014)

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Ship Time Requests –
What? When? Why? How?

by Michael Prince and Linda Goad

Proper submission of Ship Time Requests is imperative to the successful and timely conduct of field work associated with a funded research project. The information below is intended to provide background on the scheduling process as well as helpful instructions on submitting and monitoring Ship Time Requests.

Ship Time Request System - the heart of equal access to ocean research facilities

Ship Time Requests submitted through the UNOLS system are at the core of a system designed to provide equal access for all ocean science researchers to the appropriate research vessels and facilities.

By correctly filling out your Ship Time Request and by keeping it up to date, you enhance the ability of the schedulers and program managers to effectively schedule your project.

Understand the timing of the scheduling process

In order to create schedules based on funded projects, NSF has determined that proposals must be submitted by the February deadline in order to be scheduled in the following calendar year. Proposals submitted later, such as for the August deadline would be approved for ship time no earlier than January of the year after the following calendar year (e.g., an August 2004 proposal, if funded, would go to sea no earlier than January 2006).

UNOLS research vessels are scheduled on a calendar year basis, with preliminary schedules created in the previous summer. Every attempt is made to finalize schedules by the end of September for the following year, but late funding decisions, changing requirements and other factors have made this increasingly difficult. Major projects requiring large ships, multiple ships and facilities, or operations in the remote regions of the world, should be submitted as early as possible and should be planned with as much flexibility as possible for the actual scheduling of field work.

Accurately tie the Ship Time Request to proposal information

To ensure that projects are tracked correctly by program managers and schedulers and are scheduled according to approved funding levels, it is extremely important that the identifying information on the Ship Time Request is reflective of the proposal (or proposals) submitted to NSF. This is especially important for collaborative proposals. There have been several occasions in the past when a funded project was not recognized and scheduled properly because the information provided differed from that in the proposal.

Ship Time Requests should be submitted under the name of the lead PI on the proposal for which ship time will be approved. Co-PI’s, collaborators and prospective Chief Scientists can be listed in the appropriate sections of the Ship Time Request but should not be listed as the PI. The request can be entered into the system by someone other than the PI with their own contact information noted, but the PI should still be listed as such for purposes of tracking the request with the proposal.

Once the proposal has been submitted through Fastlane and a proposal number has been assigned, go back and edit the Ship Time Request to show the NSF proposal number (i.e., OCE number). This cannot be done automatically under the current system. The correct proposal number helps track the request and is required by the ship operators. Temporary numbers do not help and should not be included. Institution numbers are only needed if they are useful to the PI or institution.

Include the Ship Time Request as the last page (in the supplemental documents section) when you submit your proposal, but continue to edit the online version as changes become necessary during the review and approval process.


Keep your Ship Time Requests current and remove unnecessary requests

Create a new Ship Time Request when submitting a new proposal, including resubmission of a proposal that was previously declined. If you use an existing Ship Time Request that the schedulers and facilities program managers associate with a declined project, it could get lost in the process. A new Ship Time Request will ensure that it is associated with the new proposal.

Use more than one Ship Time Request if your project requires more than one ship doing substantially different work, especially when the work area will be very different. Also, use more than one request when the number of years or cruises exceeds the limits of the form. Divide the requests in any logical way. Keep the requests up to date when requirements for timing, type of equipment or type of ship change. Remove requests from the system that are no longer required because the work has been completed or the project was not funded.

Make sure when you create a new request or make changes to an existing request that you click on the “Final Form Submission” button, which will transmit your request to the facilities program managers, schedulers and yourself. It will also enter the request into the searchable database used by schedulers. If you need to save your work and make changes before submitting the request as final, you can use the “submit as draft” button, but remember that this will not put the request in the system and make it available to schedulers. The email you receive at that point is for your records only and does not go to anyone else.

Use a password that you can easily remember so that you can return to edit your request in the future. Contact the UNOLS office if you need help with your password.

Changes are planned to enhance and improve the system to make it easier to use and a more effective tool for scheduling, cruise planning and reporting.

Over the next year, the UNOLS office, working with the Ocean Information Center (OCEANIC), will create an updated version of the Ship Time Request system. The current system has been in existence for over ten years and is based on text files and scripts. Although effective in making sure that a PI located at any institution or location can make their research vessel and facility requirements known to program managers and schedulers, the system can be awkward and difficult to use and to keep up to date.

A newer system built on an SQL relational database with a web based front end will be designed. This will allow PI’s to create an account through which they can manage their Ship Time Requests and track the associated research vessel schedules by logging in with a single password. Requests will be automatically tied to the PI’s contact information and to project specific information. New projects and new requests can be created by duplicating and then editing older records. Schedules will be tied directly to requests, as will reports and cruise planning information.

The committee working on this project would appreciate your input. Any suggestions that will be useful in creating the new system can be sent to the UNOLS office office@unols.org.


All investigators submitting proposals to the Division of Ocean Sciences that include sea-going field work must also submit an electronic research ship request form and include a copy with the proposal. Electronic ship request forms are available on the UNOLS Home Page web site (http://www.unols.org). In addition, investigators submitting proposals that require use of a UNOLS ship to NSF programs other than Ocean Sciences must follow the same procedure.

Please note that ship time requests must be received by the Feb. 15 target date to be considered for ship time in the following calendar year.

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