The R/V Polaris began her USGS career in 1966. From April 1969 until May 2015, she completed over 1000 cruises on San Francisco Bay collecting the data found on this website. Prior to her 50 years with the USGS, the Polaris had an interesting history:
Launched on May 12, 1927 and christened the "Paseda Mañana", the Polaris was originally a yacht created for Lee Phillps, designed by A.E. Hudson, and built by H.C. Carlson at the Wilmington Boat Works in Los Angeles at a cost of $150,000. Phillips died in 1936 and the boat was sold another owner before the U.S. Army acquired the vessel in 1944. The vessel then became an army personnel boat during WWII in Seattle's Q-109 fleet, assigned to move men and their equipment between garrisons where the army maintained harbor installations. During her service in the Navy, much of the boat's beautiful interior woods were covered with many layers of paint. Following the war, she went through a series of owners, one of which, Alaska Charters, Inc., renamed her "Polaris". In 1959 she was sold to the Bechtel family, cruising up and down the Pacific coast and through the Inside Passage to Alaska until 1963. At that time, the Bechtels were unable to find a buyer for the boat and donated her to the University of California at Berkeley. In 1966, the USGS petitioned for and received a special appropriation of <$5000 from Congress to purchase the Polaris for marine survey and research. Before retirement in 2015, the R/V Polaris was the oldest working vessel in federal service.
The ship's hull is constructed of fir planking with oak and teak beams. The deck is teak plankings with fittings of teak and mahogany. The original engine was an Atlas-Imperial diesel, replaced in 1959 by the last Union Diesel engine ever made. In 1990 her final engine was installed, a Detroit Diesel 12V71. Upon purchase by the USGS, the Polaris was modified for estuarine reseach, with laboratories, instrumentation, a pumped water sampling system, and davits with hydraulic winches.
The Polaris was featured in the 1974 Nova television episode "Inside the Golden Gate", and in Sunset Magazine, National Geographic, and numerous local newspapers and television programs. Estuary News wrote an article about the R/V Polaris and the new R/V David H. Peterson in 2016.