University of Southampton
Marine Engineering Connections turned a routine 40-minute sea crossing across the Solent into an exciting engineering journey. Passengers traveling to and from the Isle of Wight on board WightLink’s flagship ferry during the summer of 2013 were able to meet the engineers and explore the impact of marine and maritime engineering in a fun, engaging and educational manner. The core idea was to make research-based connections between the ferry trip and the diverse range of industries and expertise in the Solent region. The Solent is a major UK sea-gateway to the world and this also allowed the project to make further connections to the full range of current and future maritime challenges (e.g. climate change, energy, coastal habitats, trade and transport).
On summer weekends, travellers on the WightLink ferries are either UK/international holiday-makers, or local day-trippers. This is a very diverse public audience, with widely-varying prior engagement with science and engineering. They are predominantly family groups, often multi-generational. However, they are united by the initial excitement of boarding, being in a marine environment, and being in a holiday mood, and therefore typically more than usually open to new activities and ideas connected to the sea.
Engineers were trained in the skills of science-busking and worked in advance of trips to design a toolkit of marine-related activities to work with onboard the ferry. Many have since got the engagement 'bug', and brought in more colleagues, to develop further activities for other events. The traveling public on the ferry responded enthusiastically to the project, engaging with our activities and the engineers on every trip. The carefully-designed marine engineering kit acted as a curiosity-magnet and started dialogue at all levels, from very young children, through teenagers considering career paths, to marine engineering professionals on holiday and both engineering and non-engineering staff from WightLink (the ferry company). The impact of each trip was noted via observations recorded in the project logbook, noting numbers taking part, direct quotes, level of dialogue and professional contacts made. A much-repeated comment was that “This should happen every weekend”.