The Good Ship “Boaty McBoatface”

The British Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is in the process of designing a new Polar Research Vessel, for launch in 2019. They decided to have a naming competition open to the public. Previous ships have been named after famous explorers, such as Robert Falcon Scott, or Earnest Shackleton. So imagine the embarrassment in some quarters when the name “Boaty McBoatface” is the current favourite. In fact, the NERC site is so popular at the time of writing this article that it’s difficult to access it. It has captured the public imagination.

Obviously Boaty McBoatface will not be chosen, as the final decision rests with the Director of the NERC. It is highly unlikely that we will hear the Queen intoning “And I name this ship Boaty McBoatface” at the launching ceremony. There are a few commentators who must have had a sense of humour bypass operation and are getting het-up about the lack of dignity of the whole thing. I mean, aren’t we taking things SERIOUSLY? I must admit that I find this a little on the snobbish side. “We’ve given the Oiks a chance to name the ship, and The Rabble are making fun of us. Leave the naming to the sensible people in the decision making classes, because we know better”.

They’ve missed the point.

The point is the new ship will give us a world class platform to perform vital scientific research at the poles. It shows the commitment of NERC and the UK science base to support expansive, but necessary infrastructure. It’s a sign of looking to the future. These ships have a long operational lifetime, several decades. Imagine the science and the knowledge that will be produced. And image the boost to NERC with all of the public interest. It’s impossible to overstate that they are now in the public eye, and they should go all out to keep the public attention.

They’ve also missed the point about the British. We like lampooning authority. We like satire. We enjoy making jokes about people and things, especially ourselves. Monty Python humour didn’t appear from nowhere, we’ve been doing it for centuries. As one of my Twitter companions commented on hearing about the Boaty McBoatface suggestion, “I’ve never been more proud of being British”.

The second name in the running is Henry Worsley, the Antarctic explorer who tragically died on a solo expedition earlier this year. By all accounts, he was an intrepid explorer and man of character, and certainly a deserving candidate. My own suggestions were Colin Pillinger, the Space Scientist and prime mover behind the Beagle II Mars explorer, Caroline Herschel, the astronomer and Piers Sellers, the NASA astronaut and climate scientist, British but having to take US citizenship to get into the NASA astronaut programme. All of these people are significant explorers.

The new ship will carry a proud name, and I think Joanne Worsley will be the one to launch the ship, in honour of her late husband. But the ship will carry auxiliary boats, and a nice nod to the public would be to acknowledge the people and call one “Boaty McBoatface”. And if there is a helicopter, then obviously “Heli McChopper” must be in the running.

Thanks to Femke de Jong for correcting “Floaty” to “Boaty”. I love Twitter.