JC010: Mud volcanoes and submarine canyons


Meet...the ship's Captain

The Captain on board RRS James Cook is Robin Plumley.  He is in command of the ship.

As Captain, Robin has overall responsibility for :

  • Overall management of the ship.
  • Safety on board the ship generally, and in particular the safety of personnel, equipment and the ship itself.
  • Prevention of pollution of the environment, especially the marine environment.
  • The successful and effective completion of the scientific programme.


Skills that Robin needs to achieve this are:

  • ability to motivate and encourage his crew, a key part of this is being aware of what is going on around him so that he can intervene or support where necessary, early enough for small issues not to become big issues.
  • diplomacy when working with the port authorities in the UK and abroad
  • ability to listen, and tact when resolving issues. Remember on a ship you have a group of people who work closely together, confined to the ship, for very long periods of time.
  • ability to delegate effectively to other members of his team.
  • communication skills, over the years Robin has developed skills communicating in a range of languages for those countries he most often visits.
  • The ability to organise a team to effectively complete tasks on time.


So how did Robin become the Captain of the RRS James Cook?
Robin left school at the age of 17 to go to sea. He joined a 4 year apprentice scheme as a Navigating Cadet.  This scheme alternated 3 months study at college with long periods at sea.  During this time Robin sailed on both cargo and passenger ships and visited many countries, his favourite of which was South Africa.

After gaining his 2nd Mate, Foreign Going Certificate Robin successfully gained a place with the BAS (British Antarctic Survey), with whom he progressed (gaining his 1st Mate Certificate then Masters Certificate) until reaching his current position as Captain of the most advanced ocean-going survey ship the UK has.


Worst Experiences
Having Leopard Seals chew through the rubber on his inflatable, deflating sections of it, while in the Antarctic.
Running aground on uncharted rocks.
Abandoning the RRS John Biscoe when it became trapped in ice off the Antarctic Peninsula.


Best Experiences
Being nudged by whales when in a small boat
Seeing and working a ship through the vast ice floes of the Weddell Sea
Receiving the Polar Medal from the Queen, for outstanding contribution in support of Antarctic science.
Bringing the new vessel into service and the naming of the RRS James Cook by the Princess Royal.


At present, Robin doesn’t have such long periods of time away from home.  His duty periods are roughly two and a half months on and two months off.  When at home he enjoys spending time with his family (wife, two daughters and one son), he is an MG enthusiast and plays golf and cricket.

Any questions? Ask us using the question and answer page

Home -



Latest news

For teachers
Contact us

© NOCS 2007