Naval architecture

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Reconstruction of a 19th-century naval architect's office, Aberdeen Maritime Museum Reconstruction of a 19th century naval architect's office, Aberdeen Maritime Museum.jpg
Reconstruction of a 19th-century naval architect's office, Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Tahitian Princess in Torshavn, Faroe Islands, August 2009 TahitianPrincess.jpg
Tahitian Princess in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, August 2009
General Course of Study leading to Naval Architecture degree Naval Architecture Course of Study.png
General Course of Study leading to Naval Architecture degree

Naval architecture, or naval engineering, is an engineering discipline incorporating elements of mechanical, electrical, electronic, software and safety engineering as applied to the engineering design process, shipbuilding, maintenance, and operation of marine vessels and structures. [1] [2] Naval architecture involves basic and applied research, design, development, design evaluation (classification) and calculations during all stages of the life of a marine vehicle. Preliminary design of the vessel, its detailed design, construction, trials, operation and maintenance, launching and dry-docking are the main activities involved. Ship design calculations are also required for ships being modified (by means of conversion, rebuilding, modernization, or repair). Naval architecture also involves formulation of safety regulations and damage-control rules and the approval and certification of ship designs to meet statutory and non-statutory requirements.


The hull of a racing yacht being lifted from the water for maintenance 01-bulb aero.jpg
The hull of a racing yacht being lifted from the water for maintenance

Main subjects

The word "vessel" includes every description of watercraft, mainly ships and boats, but also including non-displacement craft, WIG craft and seaplanes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water. [3] The principal elements of naval architecture are detailed in the following sections. [4]


Body plan of a ship showing the hull form Lines plan en.svg
Body plan of a ship showing the hull form

Hydrostatics concerns the conditions to which the vessel is subjected while at rest in water and to its ability to remain afloat. This involves computing buoyancy, displacement, and other hydrostatic properties such as trim (the measure of the longitudinal inclination of the vessel) and stability (the ability of a vessel to restore itself to an upright position after being inclined by wind, sea, or loading conditions). [5]


Flotation and stability

While atop a liquid surface a floating body has 6 degrees of freedom in its movements, these are categorized in either rotation or translation.

Longitudinal stability for longitudinal inclinations, the stability depends upon the distance between the center of gravity and the longitudinal meta-center. In other words, the basis in which the ship maintains its center of gravity is its distance set equally apart from both the aft and forward section of the ship.

While a body floats on a liquid surface it still encounters the force of gravity pushing down on it. In order to stay afloat and avoid sinking there is an opposed force acting against the body known as the hydrostatic pressures. The forces acting on the body must be of the same magnitude and same line of motion in order to maintain the body at equilibrium. This description of equilibrium is only present when a freely floating body is in still water, when other conditions are present the magnitude of which these forces shifts drastically creating the swaying motion of the body. [6]

The buoyancy force is equal to the weight of the body, in other words, the mass of the body is equal to the mass of the water displaced by the body. This adds an upward force to the body by the amount of surface area times the area displaced in order to create an equilibrium between the surface of the body and the surface of the water.

The stability of a ship under most conditions is able to overcome any form or restriction or resistance encountered in rough seas; however, ships have undesirable roll characteristics when the balance of oscillations in roll is two times that of oscillations in heave, thus causing the ship to capsize. [7]

Deck of an oil tanker, looking aft Oil tanker deck.jpg
Deck of an oil tanker, looking aft


Structures involves selection of material of construction, structural analysis of global and local strength of the vessel, vibration of the structural components and structural responses of the vessel during motions in seaway. Depending on type of ship, the structure and design will vary in what material to use as well as how much of it. Some ships are made from glass reinforced plastics but the vast majority are steel with possibly some aluminium in the superstructure. [6] The complete structure of the ship is designed with panels shaped in a rectangular form consisting of steel plating supported on four edges. Combined in a large surface area the Grillages create the hull of the ship, deck, and bulkheads while still providing mutual support of the frames. Though the structure of the ship is sturdy enough to hold itself together the main force it has to overcome is longitudinal bending creating a strain against its hull, its structure must be designed so that the material is disposed as much forward and aft as possible. [6] The principal longitudinal elements are the deck, shell plating, inner bottom all of which are in the form of grillages, and additional longitudinal stretching to these. The dimensions of the ship are in order to create enough spacing between the stiffeners in prevention of buckling. Warships have used a longitudinal system of stiffening that many modern commercial vessels have adopted. This system was widely used in early merchant ships such as the SS Great Eastern, but later shifted to transversely framed structure another concept in ship hull design that proved more practical. This system was later implemented on modern vessels such as tankers because of its popularity and was then named the Isherwood System. [6] The arrangement of the Isherwood system consists of stiffening decks both side and bottom by longitudinal members, they are separated enough so they have the same distance between them as the frames and beams. This system works by spacing out the transverse members that support the longitudinal by about 3 or 4 meters, with the wide spacing this causes the traverse strength needed by displacing the amount of force the bulkheads provide. [6]


Arrangements involves concept design, layout and access, fire protection, allocation of spaces, ergonomics and capacity.


Construction depends on the material used. When steel or aluminium is used this involves welding of the plates and profiles after rolling, marking, cutting and bending as per the structural design drawings or models, followed by erection and launching. Other joining techniques are used for other materials like fibre reinforced plastic and glass-reinforced plastic. The process of construction is thought-out cautiously while considering all factors like safety, strength of structure, hydrodynamics, and ship arrangement. Each factor considered presents a new option for materials to consider as well as ship orientation. When the strength of the structure is considered the acts of ship collision are considered in the way that the ships structure is altered. Therefore, the properties of materials are considered carefully as applied material on the struck ship has elastic properties, the energy absorbed by the ship being struck is then deflected in the opposite direction, so both ships go through the process of rebounding to prevent further damage. [8]

The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) at Naval Station Pearl Harbor US Navy 080701-N-6270R-005 The air craft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) arrives at Naval Station Pearl Harbor to participate in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2008.jpg
The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) at Naval Station Pearl Harbor

Science and craft

Traditionally, naval architecture has been more craft than science. The suitability of a vessel's shape was judged by looking at a half-model of a vessel or a prototype. Ungainly shapes or abrupt transitions were frowned on as being flawed. This included rigging, deck arrangements, and even fixtures. Subjective descriptors such as ungainly, full, and fine were used as a substitute for the more precise terms used today. A vessel was, and still is described as having a ‘fair’ shape. The term ‘fair’ is meant to denote not only a smooth transition from fore to aft but also a shape that was ‘right.’ Determining what is ‘right’ in a particular situation in the absence of definitive supporting analysis encompasses the art of naval architecture to this day.

Modern low-cost digital computers and dedicated software, combined with extensive research to correlate full-scale, towing tank and computational data, have enabled naval architects to more accurately predict the performance of a marine vehicle. These tools are used for static stability (intact and damaged), dynamic stability, resistance, powering, hull development, structural analysis, green water modelling, and slamming analysis. Data are regularly shared in international conferences sponsored by RINA, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) and others. Computational Fluid Dynamics is being applied to predict the response of a floating body in a random sea.

The naval architect

Naval architect at work Naval Architect at Work.JPG
Naval architect at work

Due to the complexity associated with operating in a marine environment, naval architecture is a co-operative effort between groups of technically skilled individuals who are specialists in particular fields, often coordinated by a lead naval architect. [9] This inherent complexity also means that the analytical tools available are much less evolved than those for designing aircraft, cars and even spacecraft. This is due primarily to the paucity of data on the environment the marine vehicle is required to work in and the complexity of the interaction of waves and wind on a marine structure.

A naval architect is an engineer who is responsible for the design, classification, survey, construction, and/or repair of ships, boats, other marine vessels, and offshore structures, both commercial and military, including:

1/100 scale model of Veteran Class MT46 Tanker. Florida Model of Veteran Class MT46 Tanker, Florida .jpg
1/100 scale model of Veteran Class MT46 Tanker. Florida

Some of these vessels are amongst the largest (such as supertankers), most complex (such as Aircraft carriers), and highly valued movable structures produced by mankind. They are typically the most efficient method of transporting the world's raw materials and products. Modern engineering on this scale is essentially a team activity conducted by specialists in their respective fields and disciplines. Naval architects integrate these activities. This demanding leadership role requires managerial qualities and the ability to bring together the often-conflicting demands of the various design constraints to produce a product which is fit for the purpose. [10]

In addition to this leadership role, a naval architect also has a specialist function in ensuring that a safe, economic, environmentally sound and seaworthy design is produced. To undertake all these tasks, a naval architect must have an understanding of many branches of engineering and must be in the forefront of high technology areas. He or she must be able to effectively utilize the services provided by scientists, lawyers, accountants, and business people of many kinds.

Naval architects typically work for shipyards, ship owners, design firms and consultancies, equipment manufacturers, Classification societies, regulatory bodies (Admiralty law), navies, and governments.

See also

Related Research Articles

Boat Vessel for transport by water

A boat is a watercraft of a large range of types and sizes, but generally smaller than a ship, which is distinguished by its larger size, shape, cargo or passenger capacity, or its ability to carry boats.

Hull (watercraft) Watertight buoyant body of a ship or boat

A hull is the watertight body of a ship, boat, or flying boat. The hull may open at the top, or it may be fully or partially covered with a deck. Atop the deck may be a deckhouse and other superstructures, such as a funnel, derrick, or mast. The line where the hull meets the water surface is called the waterline.

Multihull Ship or boat with more than one hull

A multihull is a ship or boat with more than one hull, whereas a vessel with a single hull is a monohull.

Ship Large watercraft

A ship is a large watercraft that travels the world's oceans and other sufficiently deep waterways, carrying cargo or passengers, or in support of specialized missions, such as defense, research, and fishing. Ships are generally distinguished from boats, based on size, shape, load capacity, and purpose. Ships have supported exploration, trade, warfare, migration, colonization, imperialism, and science. After the 15th century, new crops that had come from and to the Americas via the European seafarers significantly contributed to world population growth. Ship transport is responsible for the largest portion of world commerce.

Catamaran Watercraft with two parallel hulls of equal size

A catamaran is a multi-hulled watercraft featuring two parallel hulls of equal size. It is a geometry-stabilized craft, deriving its stability from its wide beam, rather than from a ballasted keel as with a monohull boat. Catamarans typically have less hull volume, smaller displacement, and shallower draft (draught) than monohulls of comparable length. The two hulls combined also often have a smaller hydrodynamic resistance than comparable monohulls, requiring less propulsive power from either sails or motors. The catamaran's wider stance on the water can reduce both heeling and wave-induced motion, as compared with a monohull, and can give reduced wakes.

Metacentric height Measurement of the initial static stability of a floating body

The metacentric height (GM) is a measurement of the initial static stability of a floating body. It is calculated as the distance between the centre of gravity of a ship and its metacentre. A larger metacentric height implies greater initial stability against overturning. The metacentric height also influences the natural period of rolling of a hull, with very large metacentric heights being associated with shorter periods of roll which are uncomfortable for passengers. Hence, a sufficiently, but not excessively, high metacentric height is considered ideal for passenger ships.

Boat building Design and construction of floating vessels

Boat building is the design and construction of boats and their systems. This includes at a minimum a hull, with propulsion, mechanical, navigation, safety and other systems as a craft requires.

Deck (ship) Part of a ship or boat

A deck is a permanent covering over a compartment or a hull of a ship. On a boat or ship, the primary or upper deck is the horizontal structure that forms the "roof" of the hull, strengthening it and serving as the primary working surface. Vessels often have more than one level both within the hull and in the superstructure above the primary deck, similar to the floors of a multi-storey building, that are also referred to as decks, as are certain compartments and decks built over specific areas of the superstructure. Decks for some purposes have specific names.

Planing (boat) Mode of watercraft operation

Planing is the mode of operation for a waterborne craft in which its weight is predominantly supported by hydrodynamic lift, rather than hydrostatic lift (buoyancy).

This is a glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, while many date from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Sponson Protrusion found on the side of some ships, aircraft and vehicles

Sponsons are projections extending from the sides of land vehicles, aircraft or watercraft to provide protection, stability, storage locations, mounting points for weapons or other devices, or equipment housing.

The strength of ships is a topic of key interest to naval architects and shipbuilders. Ships which are built too strong are heavy, slow, and cost extra money to build and operate since they weigh more, whilst ships which are built too weakly suffer from minor hull damage and in some extreme cases catastrophic failure and sinking.

Marine engineering Engineering and design of shipboard systems

Marine engineering is the engineering of boats, ships, submarines, and any other marine vessel. Here it is also taken to include the engineering of other ocean systems and structures – referred to in certain academic and professional circles as “ocean engineering.”

Submarine hull Structural and hydrodynamic component enclosing the vessel

A submarine hull has two major components, the light hull and the pressure hull. The light hull of a submarine is the outer non-watertight hull which provides a hydrodynamically efficient shape. The pressure hull is the inner hull of a submarine that maintains structural integrity with the difference between outside and inside pressure at depth.

Ship motions Terms connected to the 6 degrees of freedom of motion

Ship motions are defined by the six degrees of freedom that a ship, boat or any other craft can experience.

Draft (hull) Vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel)

The draft or draught of a ship's hull is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel). The draught of the vessel is the maximum depth of any part of the vessel, including appendages such as rudders, propellers and drop keels if deployed. Draft determines the minimum depth of water a ship or boat can safely navigate. The related term air draft is the maximum height of any part of the vessel above the water.

Ship stability Ship response to disturbance from an upright condition

Ship stability is an area of naval architecture and ship design that deals with how a ship behaves at sea, both in still water and in waves, whether intact or damaged. Stability calculations focus on centers of gravity, centers of buoyancy, the metacenters of vessels, and on how these interact.

Stern Back or aft-most part of a ship or boat

The stern is the back or aft-most part of a ship or boat, technically defined as the area built up over the sternpost, extending upwards from the counter rail to the taffrail. The stern lies opposite the bow, the foremost part of a ship. Originally, the term only referred to the aft port section of the ship, but eventually came to refer to the entire back of a vessel. The stern end of a ship is indicated with a white navigation light at night.

This is a list of nautical terms starting with the letters M to Z.

A variable buoyancy pressure vessel system is a type of rigid buoyancy control device for diving systems that retains a constant volume and varies its density by changing the weight (mass) of the contents, either by moving the ambient fluid into and out of a rigid pressure vessel, or by moving a stored liquid between internal and external variable volume containers. A pressure vessel is used to withstand the hydrostatic pressure of the underwater environment. A variable buoyancy pressure vessel can have an internal pressure greater or less than external ambient pressure, and the pressure difference can vary from positive to negative within the operational depth range, or remain either positive or negative throughout the pressure range, depending on design choices.


  1. "Careers in Naval Architecture".
  2. Biran, Adrian; (2003). Ship hydrostatics and stability (1st Ed.) – Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN   0-7506-4988-7
  3. Convention On The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972,As Amended; International Maritime Organization; ISBN   92-801-4167-8
  4. Lewis V, Edward (Ed.); (June 1989). Principles of Naval Architecture (2nd Rev.) Vol. 1 – Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. ISBN   0-939773-00-7
  5. "EN342".
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Tupper, Eric (1996). Introduction to Naval Architecture. Oxford, England: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  7. Neves, M. A. S. (2016). "Dynamic stability of ships in regular and irregular seas - An Overview". Ocean Engineering. 120: 362–370. doi:10.1016/j.oceaneng.2016.02.010.
  8. Prabowo, A. R. (2017). "Effects of the rebounding of a striking ship on structural crashworthiness during ship-ship collision". Thin-Walled Structures. 115: 225–239. doi:10.1016/j.tws.2017.02.022.
  9. American Society of Naval Engineers Archived December 26, 2008, at the Wayback Machine . Naval engineering brochure.
  10. "Job Family Standard for Professional Work in the Engineering and Architecture Group, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, pp. 43–45" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-05-12.

Further reading