The 2011/12 Antarctic field season saw the first use of a new British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ice-shelf hot-water drill system on the Larsen C and George VI ice shelves. Delivering 90 L min−1 at 80°C, a total of five holes >30 cm in diameter at three locations were successfully drilled through almost 400 m of ice to provide access to the underlying ocean, including the first access beneath the Larsen C ice shelf. These access holes enabled the deployment of instruments to measure sea-water conductivity, temperature, depth and microstructure, the collection of water samples and up to 2.9 m long sediment cores, before long-term oceanographic moorings were deployed. The simple modular design allowed for Twin Otter aircraft deployment, rapid assembly and commissioning of the system, which proved highly reliable with minimal supervision. A number of novel solutions to various operational sub-ice-shelf profiling and mooring deployment issues were successfully employed through the hot-water drilled access holes to aid the positioning, recovery and deployment of instruments. With future activities now focusing on the Filchner–Ronne Ice Shelf, the drill has been upgraded from its current 500 m capability to 1000 m with additional drill hose and further generator, pumping and heating modules.