The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) operates a wide variety of specialized aircraft and ships to complete NOAA's environmental and scientific missions. OMAO also manages the NOAA Small Boat Program and the NOAA Diving Program, the latter having as part of its mission the job of ensuring a level of diving skill conducive to safe and efficient operations in NOAA-sponsored underwater activities.
NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center (AOC), has been located at Lakeland Linder International Airport in Lakeland, Florida, since June 2017. The AOC is home to NOAA's fleet of aircraft. The aircraft often operate over open ocean, mountains, coastal wetlands, Arctic pack ice, and in and around hurricanes and other severe weather. Specialized noncommercial aircraft support NOAA's atmospheric and hurricane surveillance/research programs, NOAA Hurricane Hunters. The aircraft collect the environmental and geographic data essential to NOAA hurricane and other weather and atmospheric research; provide aerial support for coastal and aeronautical charting and remote sensing projects; conduct aerial surveys for hydrologic research, and provide support to NOAA's fishery research and marine mammal assessment programs.
NOAA's ship fleet was created when various United States Government scientific agencies merged to form NOAA on 3 October 1970. At that time, the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's Bureau of Commercial Fisheries were abolished, and the ships that had constituted their fleets – the hydrographic survey ships of the Coast and Geodetic Survey and the fisheries research ships of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries – combined to form the new NOAA fleet. At first, the major ships that were to constitute the new fleet reported to separate entities, with former Coast and Geodetic Survey ships subordinate to the National Ocean Survey (the Coast and Geodetic Survey's successor organization within NOAA), while former Bureau of Commercial Fisheries ships reported to the Bureau's successor within NOAA, the National Marine Fisheries Service. Via a phased process during 1972 and 1973, however, the ships of the National Ocean Survey and National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as those of the Environmental Research Laboratories, integrated to form a consolidated and unified NOAA fleet, operated by the National Ocean Survey's Office of Fleet Operations.
The NOAA fleet provides hydrographic survey, oceanographic and atmospheric research, and fisheries research vessels to support the elements of NOAA's strategic plan and mission. NOAA's Fleet Allocation Council manages and allocates the time each ship spends on various missions and projects based on user requests. Some ships of the fleet are vessels retired from the United States Navy or other maritime services. The vessels are located in various locations around the United States. The ships are managed by the Marine Operations Center, which has offices in Norfolk, Virginia, and Newport, Oregon. Logistic support for these vessels is provided by the Marine Operations Center offices or, for vessels with home ports at Woods Hole, Massachusetts; Charleston, South Carolina; Pascagoula, Mississippi; San Diego, California; or Honolulu, Hawaii, by port captains located in those ports.
NOAA's aircraft and ship fleet is operated and managed by a combination of NOAA Corps Officers, wage marine and civilian employees. Officers and OMAO civilians frequently serve as chief scientists on program missions. The wage marine and civilian personnel include licensed engineers, mechanics, navigators, technicians, and members of the engine, steward, and deck departments. Administrative duties and navigation of the vessels are performed by the commissioned officers. The aircraft and ship's officers and crew provide mission support and assistance to embarked scientists from various NOAA laboratories as well as the academic community.
To complement NOAA's research fleet, OMAO is fulfilling NOAA's ship and aircraft support needs with contracts for ship and aircraft time with other sources, such as the private sector and the university fleet.
Upon its creation on 3 October 1970, NOAA took control of all research ships previously operated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and all survey ships previously operated by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey. NOAA has since decommissioned many of these ships and replaced them with ships acquired from the United States Navy or new ships built specifically for NOAA.
The names of NOAA ships are preceded by the prefix "NOAAS" (for "National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ship") and followed by a unique hull classification symbol, or "hull number," made up of a letter indicating whether the vessel is a research ship (R) or survey ship (S), followed by a three-digit number. Each hull classification symbol is unique among NOAA ships currently in commission, although in some cases NOAA uses a hull classification symbol identical to one it used previously for a ship that it has since decommissioned.