The IODP platforms are operated by Science Operators under contract or other agreement with the Platform Providers. Science operators (formerly called implementing organizations) plan the IODP expeditions and manage all science and ship operations from port to sea and back again. Staff scientists (also called expedition project managers) employed by the science operators are part of the expedition science party, providing consistency among expeditions and training researchers on shipboard methods.

The JOIDES Resolution is the most active IODP platform, providing conventional drilling without a riser. Chikyu is equipped with an optional marine riser, an outer casing that surrounds the drill string to provide return circulation of engineered drilling fluid as illustrated below. Mission-Specific Platforms are contracted by ESO from available research or commercial vessels/platforms for the specific conditions of the expedition.