Royal Research Ship
Boaty McBoat pips late Henry Worsley as possible name for new royal research ship NERC

When the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) asked the Great British Public to name its new £200m ($288m) royal research ship it suggested "a local historical figure, movement, or landmark". Failing that it put forward the idea of a "famous polar explorer or scientist".

But weeks after appealing for ideas one name has emerged as the clear favourite to adorn its jewel in the crown: RRS Boaty McBoatface. With 27,000 votes so far it is 25,000 ahead the second choice.

The name was put forward as a joke by former BBC presenter James Hand after the research council asked for names ideas for the new ship, which will explore Antarctica in 2019.

But the plan backfired spectacularly after Boaty McBoatface sailed into top spot ahead of second placed Henry Worsley, the explorer who died in January on the cusp of becoming the first man to cross the Antarctic unaided.

Other names it has so far pipped include Sir David Attenborough, Usain Bolt and Pillar of Autumn – a spaceship from the X-box video game Halo. Hand has since "apologised unreservedly" for inspiring the groundswell of support and revealed his personal favourite of the suggestions so far was Clifford The Big Red Boat.

Even though Boaty McBoatface is the most popular choice, NERC does not have to pick it for the vessel, which the council says will provide the UK with "the most advanced floating research fleet in the world" and will help put the UK at the forefront of ocean research "for years to come".

The joke appears to have ruffled a few feathers with Admiral Lord West, the former head of the Navy, telling the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 the idea was "the typical thing of Brits going mad, normally silly season, not at this time of year". Relevant or not, the NERC said it was "enjoying" submissions.