Next week my research group heads out to sea for our Gulf of Mexico research project on deep-sea wood falls. Make sure to pay attention to hashtag #woodfall for updates, images, and videos on both Twitter and Instagram. A Twitter thread started by Helen Scales, an amazing author of some of my favorite books who will be joining us on this expedition, asked what gear we like to take out to sea with us.
I am particular about my set of gear and equipment that I take when I am out at sea. Much time spent was spent on trial and error research and development of my sea kit. The items below reflect advice from my scientific mentors and advice about tools from my father and father-in-law, one an electrician the other an awesome car mechanic. This is by no means a comprehensive list but these are things I won’t leave home without.
Nothing beats a brand spanking new comfortable pair of Carhartts. No, wait that isn’t true. A new pair of Carhartts is rougher than sharkskin and when they get wet the chafing will start a fire between your thighs. Then why o’ why would a marine scientist wear them? Well first this is marine science not easy science, so suck it up. Second, when a pair of Carhartts are finally broken in, they are supple like leopard. Despite this, they will laugh in the face of sharp objects and protect your delicate marine scientist’s skin. The mud color, technically Carhartt brown, of the fabric means you can wear them for days in a row sorting benthic samples and nobody will know. Except for the smell. Protip: Don’t chintz and get the single layer ones, unless you are working in the tropics. You really want the double fronts.
2. Stocking Hat
Everyone calls this thing something different. My Australian colleagues giggle at me when I call it a ‘stocking’ hat. Take a second and think about it. No matter, spend some time doing deck ops at night, a few hours in cold and dark ROV control room, or processing samples in a cold van and you will definitely want this. I prefer a Carhartt stocking hat in charcoal grey because I look sooooo fine in it. Protip: When you do field work always look good.
3. Hard Hat
You got to protect that noggin of yours because no matter how good you look in that stocking hat you are getting paid for your brains not your looks. Well hopefully. Everyone has their own hard hat preference. Some people use the ones lying around the ship. The same hard hats worn by 50 dozen other scientists this month alone. I prefer my own and one shaped like a cowboy hat. Look at me! I’m a Southern Boy at sea! Protip: Don’t hesitate to decorate the your hard hat how ever you see fit.
4. Pocket Knife
A decade ago when I went off to Antarctica, my wife sent me with a brand new CRKT pocket knife. I still have the knife and it is still reliable and sharp. Everyone again has personal preferences on what a pocket knife should include but let me tell you what I look for. You must be able to open it with a single hand. Good size thumb studs and fluid movement then are a must. I like a combo straight and serrated blade for a variety of tasks. And because I don’t want to slice my fingers off a locking blade is a
5. Lineman’s Pliers (or 9’s)
You want pull on something? Cut something? Grab something? Wrench something? And generally have a tool will accomplish every task you may face? You bet your bippy you do. That’s what lineman’s pliers are for and you must own a pair. Protip: Get a good set and be willing to spend a little money. My favorite quote from an Amazon review about 9’s is this “My grandfather used to say that if God had made 9″ Kleins first, it would’ve only taken him four days to finish the world.” Well you’re not God but you’ll be a little closer with these.
Klein Tools Tools D213-9NE 9-Inch High Leverage Side Cutting Plier
6. Snippers and Zip Ties
If you are good marine scientist you will go through your weight in cable ties. Make sure you get an assortment. You will also need something to snip all of those with. I have Hakko’s that are great quality and cheap. Protip: Purchase a divided utility box to keep your cable ties sorted by color and size.
Hakko CHP-170 Micro Clean Cutter, 16 Gauge Maximum Cutting Capacity
7. These Velcro Straps
For binding up extension cords, rope, cable ties and just about everything else. Protip: Get them in multiple colors so you and your gear can be pretty.
8. Multi-Bit Screwdriver
Don’t be that person with a mutlitool or the tip of your knife trying to screw something. My father-in-law gifted me a Klein multi-bit screwdriver years ago. I LOVE THIS THING. Everything right where it needs to be and all the head choices you really need—big and small, Phillips and flat heads. Protip: Make sure also to grab the little one too for all those tiny places.
9. Duck Tape
Yeah I know it’s actually duct tape but I didn’t realize that until I was 9, or 29, years old. Go ahead and stock up on this because this miracle of the 20th century will probably save your ass more than once. Protip: Don’t get fancy with colors either because that will cost your more but do not buy an off brand, go straight for the 3M.
10. Gridded Petri Dishes
Need to count a bunch of tiny things under the microscope? Or just need to start sorting fauna out of sediment samples. Then gridded petri dishes are your friend. The biodiversity of the deep sea is both a blessing and a curse. The lines actually help alleviate the latter.
11. Stainless Steel Tally Counter
If you have never counted so many things that you needed a hand counter you are probably missing out. Not really. However there is something very soothing about clicking away the time with your thumb. Protip: Get the stainless steel one for the obvious reasons—like bragging to other scientists about your stainless steel tally counter
I cannot even begin to enumerate the reasons why you will need Tupperware in the field. Are you going to need to hold stuff? Are you going to need to keep stuff from moving about? Are you going need to construct something with just duct tape, zip ties, and Tupperware? Yes, Yes, and Yes. Protip: Buy an assortment pack.
13. Cafeteria Tray
When working in the lab or at sea it is important to contain your mess and items. Cafeteria tray to the rescue! I’ve used these for dissection trays and for transferring items back and forth between the cold room and the lab. The fiberglass trays, as opposed to the plastic, are more durable. The one I use is stain, odor, and scratch-resistance perfect for marine invertebrates. Protip: Get one in black as it will make a nice background for shooting photographs of animals, rocks, and other samples.
14. Restaurant Bus Tub
Basically the same philosophy as the cafeteria tray but with sides! Keep your stuff organized in the lab and provides a nice containment area for all that wet sorting. Protip: Buy two.
15. Shelf Liner
Shelf liner is cheap and keeps your laptop, coffee cup, microscope, and everything else from moving around. May just prevent that laptop from sliding right off the table onto the lab floor when the boat is rocking.
16. Shop Paper Towels
Can some explain to me what is up with the little boxes of Chemwipes? They are expensive and do not absorb anything—sort of like John Wayne toilet paper. Chemwipes are the scooters of paper towels. Sure there cute and little but if you are driving more than a couple of miles worthless. On the other hand, blue shop towels are the pure Detroit 70’s muscle power of paper towels. The 1970 Plymouth Hemi’ Cuda. You could dry an entire research vessel with just one square of these. You will never look at paper towels the same again.
17. Custom Lab Notebook
I like my music, dance moves, vehicles, and much more old school. My data recording is the same way. I record everything into a lab notebook. I print graphs from my computer and tape them in my notebook. I write notes and new research ideas in my notebook. It is way for me to engage with the information around me. At the Book Factory you can custom order hard cover lab notebooks and have your name embossed in gold on the front cover. Protip: Opt for the gridded pages.
You will most definitely want to get you jam on. At 1:30 am sorting samples in the lab it will definitely be time to blast Beastie Boy’s Sabatoge. This little speaker is THE BEST portable speaker out there. It will fit in the palm of your hand and produce enough base to rival any Ice Cube’s low low. Protip: Develop a special field playlist.
iBomb(TM) EX350 High Quality Wireless Bluetooth 3.0 with 3.5mm AUX Input, Microphone, Micro SD Card Slot Include for MP3 Function, Rechargeable Super Bass Sounding Stainless Steel Mini Speaker (Silver)
19. eBags Mother Lode
My consistent fear is over packing. This is only second to my fear that others will think I am over packing. What you need is a piece of luggage that doesn’t look like you are packing a lot. Enter the Mother Lode. It is really phenomenal how much you can fit inside this carry on bag. Well made and with all the same properties of a Tardis. Protip: Choose the black color so stains will not show.
20. Chubby Bottom Coffee Mug
Let’s face it, you will be drinking a lot of coffee in the field. A skinny travel mug will be no good at sea. Always tipping over. You need something with a fat bottom that refuses that laughs in the face of a rocking boat. Great mug but with its fat bottom it will laugh at standard size cup holders. Protip: Buy a carbineer to attach it to your travel bag.
21. Pelican Case
Pelican cases are water and crush proof to protect all your available assets. If they made larger ones you could ship your students in them. I get hours of enjoyment cutting the foam inserts to fit exactly around my field dissecting scope Protip: Choose one with roller and extendable handle for easy travel.
22. Alcohol Resistant Markers
No not that kind of alcohol but that would be important too. Not much to say other than when you labeling the jar or bag of a valuable specimen you want that information to last forever. Protip: Buy many.
Why would you take an expensive Zeiss microscope to sea or the field? Great optics are find for the lab back home. But in the case of loss or damage you do not want you $10,000 Zeiss in the line of fire. Instead opt for the Amscope where you can purchase a dissecting scope for as little as $400. Protip: Purchase the digital camera through Amscope as well.
24. Your Own Blanket
Every ship supplies you with a scratch wool blanket from the 1920’s. I always bring my own because I prefer not to have skin rubbed off during the night and it is never quite clear to me when these were last cleaned. I use a fleece blanket because it packs up quite small and can double as a pillow on a flight. You can use a zip tie to keep it cinched. Protip: Order a fleece blanket with some flare so you know it is yours. I like the one below with a Bald Eagle on it. ‘MERICA!
25. Waterproof Smartphone Case
Without going into the painful details, I have lost two iPhones to water. Protip: Buy one now.