Naval Architecture: Past, Present and Future

Enterprise class aircraft carrier
-Enterprise class aircraft carrier-

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Created as term project for Internet and Higher Education course taught at UC-Berkeley by:

Matthew S. Miller, LT, USCG

B.S. Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, 1993
Master of Engineering degree in Naval Architecture, University of California, Berkeley, 1996

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What is Naval Architecture?

Naval Architecture involves designing ships and watercraft of all types. The naval architect uses engineering drawings and precise specifications to design and eventually launch ships, boats, and other watercraft. However, naval architecture is also an art form in that there is no exact design that can be built to satisfy all the mathematical and physical requirements of the world.

A quick lesson in basic naval architecture is presented so that all viewers may enjoy my page. Throughout my studies in naval architecture I was not exposed to the history behind the science and this project will present some of the history for you, followed by topics of today and visions for the future.

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Page Contents

Note: Throughout this page you may see words in the text that are highlighted in blue. These may be links to the glossary at the end of the page or links to other pages on the Web. I hope you use these links to help explain any confusing or new terms.

compass iconIntroduction to Naval Architecture

compass iconPast : A look at the history of Naval Architecture

compass iconPresent : Current aspects of Naval Architecture throughout the world

compass iconFuture : Concepts and ideas for the future of Naval Architecture

compass iconGlossary of Naval Architecture terms

compass iconReferences and Recommended Readings

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USS Constitution, 44 gun frigate, 1798
-USS Constitution, 44 gun frigate, 1798-

Since God created man up until the mid-1700's, boats, ships and other watercraft were built primarily upon the practice of trial and error. Once a ship was built and it performed the needed task, then others were built like it without considering the physical and mathematical laws and principles. Attempts were made at ship design, but most failed and then reverted to trial and error in order to improve their fleets. In 1721, Fredrik Henrik Chapman was born within the walls of the Royal Dockyard in Sweden. At the young age of 10, Fredrik made a body plan from a drawing of the sheer and half-breadth plans. His father, captain of the dockyard, was so impressed that he told a shipwright to measure the frames in the actual size to see how the spacing was done on Fredrik's body plan. Fredrick went to sea at fifteen and in his late teens worked in private and state-owned dockyards (ref. 2). Throughout his young life he became more involved in ship design, but was convinced that he needed an advanced education in order to solve the design problems he saw at the yards. He did not believe that the practical experience in yards and at sea would be satisfactory for true ship designing. He went to school to study mathematics and physics in London because he believed he could receive more extensive education there. After all his education, Chapman returned to apply his knowledge to shipbuilding and eventually became the First Naval Architect. The shipwrights of his time did not like his ideas and provided considerable opposition. "Ultimately, Chapman was responsible for changing ship construction from a traditional craft to an industry based on the application of scientific principles to the solution of design and construction problems (ref. 2)."

Some of the tools used by naval architects were the planimeter, weights and splines, and general drafting tools for the superstructure. These tools are still used today in the educational arena, but computers have replaced most of these in industry and government.

"Historically, a very important and standard cargo for European sailing vessels was wine, stored and shipped in casks called tuns. These tuns of wine, because of their uniform size and their universal demand, became a standard by which a ship's capacity could be measured. A tun of wine weighed approximately 2,240 pounds, and occupied nearly 60 cubic feet (ref.1)." Today the ship designers standard of weight is the long ton which is equal to 2,240 pounds.

Class societies were established as long as 130 years ago for the purpose of establishing minimum ship construction requirements for insurance companies and developing marine safety technology. A commercial vessel must be "classed" before it can be insured and subsequently operated for its intended use. Today, class societies set the standards for new ship design and are vital to establishing new regulations and requirements in order to improve the safety of the maritime industry. The elite class societies are grouped into one body called IACS, International Association of Classification Societies, and consist of Det Norske Veritas (DNV), American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), Germanischer Lloyd (GL), Bureau Veritas (BV), Korean Register of Shipping (KR), China Classification Sociey (CCS), Lloyd's Register of Shipping (LR), Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (Class NK), Polski Rejestr Statkow (PRS), Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS), and Registro Italiano Navale (RINA).

Many changes have occurred since the beginning of ship building, such as the evolution from wooden ships to steel ships, rivets to welded structures to composites, steam to diesel to nuclear power, and standard full hull commercial vessels to addition of bulbous bows in order to improve resistance. Many of these changes occurred due to wartime ship production or other immediate needs for vessels of all types.

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Ohio class submarine
-Ohio class submarine-

Over 70 % of the earth's surface is covered by ocean and naval architects must take advantage of this fact. Naval architecture is a small field, but one that is vitally important for all people. A large amount of goods are shipped on commercial ships and the majority of oil used in the U.S. is brought via oil tankers. Ships will always need to be built for commercial, private, recreational, military, and government entities. Today we see a large increase in cruise ships, gambling casino boats, and enormous oil tankers. Computers are becoming commonplace, but the art of hand drawing ship's lines is still performed today. The main focus of today's naval architect is safety for people and the environment. Visit some sites below to see what is going on in the maritime industry today.

Maritime academies and universities:

Professional organizations:

Naval architecture in industry:

Naval architecture in government:


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Destriero: World Record holder for trans-Atlantic voyage
-Destriero: World Record holder for trans-Atlantic voyage-

Computers are becoming the primary tool for naval architects and there are some excellent programs available or in development for designing ships. Another future technique for designing quality ships is currently being attempted by designers using Intergraph's Integrated Ship Design and Production software. A typical tanker takes 18-24 months to go from design to production and this costs the owner money in down time when the vessel could be making money. The Virtual Shipyard project is currently underway to try and challenge this time frame. Eight different companies, specializing in different areas of ship design, are working from separate offices throughout the United States. They are all connected via the internet and are able to send the design around to each site and can even store voice comments on an area of the design. The future is moving fast and as can be seen by the picture above, naval architects are designing vessels to keep up with it.

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Glossary of Terms

compass iconBack to the Ship's Lines and Model Testing section of the introduction lesson

compass iconBack to the Stability and Ship Characteristics section of the introduction lesson

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References and Recommended Reading


(1) Gillmer, Thomas, Modern Ship Design, United States Naval Institute, 1975.

(2) Harris, Daniel G., FH Chapman: The First Naval Architect and His Work, Naval Institute Press, 1989.

(3) Muckle, W., Modern Naval Architecture, Temple Press Limited, 1951.

Recommended Reading

(1) Lewis, Edward V., Principles of Naval Architecture, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1989, Volumes I, II, and III.

(2) Rawson, K.J. and E.C. Tupper, Basic Ship Theory, Longman Scientific and Technical, 1983, Volumes 1 and 2.

(3) Taggart, Robert, Ship Design and Construction, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1980.

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