Skip to main content

Rhode Island

Saltwater Fishing

R/V Reliance

R/V Reliance: New Research Vessel to Support RI Fisheries Monitoring

By Patrick Brown, Research Vessel Captain, RI DEM Division of Marine Fisheries
Marine resource monitoring surveys are vital to understanding how fish and invertebrate populations change through time and to ensure their sustainability. For conducting such surveys, marine research vessels are needed that are specialized to carry out various types of field work to properly sample a variety of species. To improve such needs for the state, the RI Division of Marine Fisheries recently commissioned a new research vessel that will be joining the fleet in early 2021. The R/V Reliance is a 36' x 13'9" Calvin Beal design, built and finished by S.W. Boatworks in Lamoine, ME. This state-of-the-art vessel was built to replace two prior survey vessels including one that served the Department for close to 40 years. Several surveys and monitoring efforts will use this platform in the future. Perhaps the most prominent survey to operate off this vessel will be the Narragansett Bay Ventless Pot Multi-Species Monitoring and Assessment Program. This fish pot survey is a multi-year program that aims to assess population trends, seasonality, and spatial distribution of recreationally important finfish species, such as Black Sea Bass, Scup, and Tautog. With enough data, our goal is to allow for the information to be used in future stock assessments of this species and provide better insight as to how these species use Rhode Island waters. The Narragansett Bay Quahog Dredge survey will also be conducted using this boat, which assesses the populations of local shellfish. The data collected will be used to understand the stock status of these species and develop fisheries management plans. These two surveys are the primary duties for this vessel throughout the summer and winter months, but this new vessel will also allow DMF to expand its monitoring programs to improve marine resource sustainability in areas that were not possible before. One of these new programs includes the state’s first Acoustic Telemetry Array which deploys acoustic receivers throughout RI State waters to ‘listen’ for tagged fish. Fish are tagged as part of numerous research projects conducted coastwide by researchers studying a vast range of endangered, recreationally and commercially important species. More information regarding this project can be found on Who is Coming and Going?. The Division will also be starting a Winter Blue Crab Dredge Survey off this vessel that aims to understand blue crab population dynamics in RI in the face of climate change and how this emerging species may be impacting the ecosystem in southern New England. Other duties include the Division’s marine mammal response work and water quality monitoring for marine finfish habitat.

About the Build

In 2014, it became apparent that a replacement vessel was needed to fulfill the Division’s duties and needs to monitor the States vital natural resources as the ageing fleet was becoming more unreliable in maintaining survey continuity. A plan and budget were developed to start the process. Per the State of RI Purchasing Guidelines, a Request for Proposals was sent out to potential vendors. SW Boatworks created a Proposal that fulfilled the needs of the Division and secured the bid in late 2017. Due to the fine craftmanship and reliability that SW provides, the build slot was not until 2019 at which point the hull was laid. Vessel staff traveled to the facility near Ellsworth, Maine throughout the build to check on the progress and to work with the crew to tailor the design. The build continued through 2020 and the COVID-19 Pandemic, which caused disruptions in the supply chain and delayed the arrival date to 2021. Despite this, working with a reputable builder ensured there was no lack of communication while much of the nation was shut down. Weekly communication and photos documenting progress allowed the build to continue. The vessel layout was designed by DMF vessel staff with the guidance of Capt. Stewart Workman (owner of SW Boatworks) to build a unique, rugged platform capable of handling a vast number of applications. With a 550 HP Cummins Diesel Engine, a 14" Hydro-slave Pot Hauler, a PL-8 Pullmaster winch, and a hydraulically actuated swinging aluminum Gantry frame, the vessel can launch and retrieve large scientific monitoring/sampling equipment, fishing equipment, and house passengers and researchers in most weather typically found here in the Northeast. The roughly 144sq ft of deck space allows a safe, stable work area for Marine Biologists to conduct their field work. The research vessel can run multiple surveys simultaneously with minimal down time due to outfitting with sampling equipment, while continuing to sample in adverse weather conditions where previous research vessels were forced to stay at the dock.

The Origin of Reliance

The naming of ‘Reliance’ has deep meaning to the DMF. In its truest definition, reliance is “the dependence on or trust in something or someone,” which has application throughout the program. Fisheries management and science rely on sound data and monitoring to inform on species statuses, and vessel crew and field biologists that strive for collecting accurate data in a safe and efficient manner. The Division will rely on this vessel for years to come for informing us on changes in fish, fish communities, and their habitats. But the name Reliance has an even deeper meaning for DMF: it pays homage to a vessel of the same name previously owned by a long-time collaborator, Narragansett Bay naturalist, and fisherman, Al Eagles. Over decades, Al has collaborated with the Division through obtaining sample collection for laboratory studies, partaking in cooperative research surveys, providing guidance and feedback on fisheries management plans, and instilling his institutional knowledge of Narragansett Bay ecology on countless fisheries staff. Whether the DMF has needed help in science or even a tow at sea, Al has been a reliable partner. The naming of R/V Reliance serves as a tribute to fisherman lost at sea and as an acknowledgement of Al’s contributions towards the Bay’s fisheries science and management, as well as a beacon for the Division to continue striving towards sound and cooperative research with stakeholders.


Federal funds supported most of the build with 52.5% of the cost. The USFWS Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program provides dedicated funding to states to support Fisheries and Wildlife agencies. The funding is generated from motorboat fuel taxes and boating and angling equipment. Restricted receipts accounted for 34.5% which are from commercial fishing and shellfishing licenses. The Allen’s Harbor fund contributed 8% from a federal settlement regarding pollution from the Allen’s Harbor Landfill and was directed to address losses of shellfish. Recreational saltwater fishing license sales contributed an additional 5% to the vessel build costs. For more information regarding the R/V Reliance or the Fisheries surveys conducted please visit: