Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V24, Page 922 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SHIPBUILDING. When ships were built of wood and propelled by sails their possible size and proportions were limited by the nature of the structural material, while the type of structure had been evolved by long experience and was incapable of any radical modification. Speed depended so much on circumstances independent of the design of the vessel, such as the state of the wind and sea, that it was impossible to include a definite speed over a voyage or measured distance as one of the essential requirements of a design; and the speed actually obtainable was low even under the most favourable conditions when judged by modern standards. Stability depended principally on the amount of ballast carried, and this was determined experimentally after the completion of the vessel. Under these conditions there was no room for any striking originality of design. One vessel followed so closely on the lines of another, that the qualities of the new ship could be determined for all practical purposes by the performance of an almost identical vessel in the past. The theoretical science of shipbuilding, the object of which is to establish quantitative relations between the behaviour and performance of the ship and the variations in design causing them, was generally neglected. With the introduction of iron, and later of steel, as a structural material for the hulls of ships, and of heat engines for their propulsion, the possible variation of size, proportions and propelling power of ships was enormously increased. In order to make the fullest use of these new possibilities, and to adapt each ship, as closely as may be, to the special purpose for which it is intended, theoretic knowledge has become of paramount importance to the designer. He has been forced to investigate closely those branches of the abstract physical sciences that bear specially on ships and their behaviour, and these mathematical and experimental investigations constitute the study of Theoretical Shipbuilding. It embraces the consideration of problems and questions upon which the qualities of a ship depend and which determine the various features of the design, having regard to the particular services that the ship will be required to perform; i.e. the requirements that must be fulfilled in order that she may make her various passages economically and with safety in all conditions of wind and sea, the best form for the hull with regard to the resistance offered by the water and the engine power requisite in order to attain the speed desired, the nature of waves and their action upon the ship, and the structural arrangements necessary in order that she may be sufficiently strong to withstand the various stresses to which she will be subjected. The determination of the most suitable dimensions to fulfil certain conditions involves the consideration of a different set of circumstances for almost every service; and here the experience gained in vessels of similar type, together with the known effect of modifications made to fulfil new conditions of each particular design, can be used as a guide. The requirements of economical working, safety, &c., determine the length, breadth, depth and form. The length has a most important bearing on the economy of power with which the speed is obtained; and on the breadth, depth and height of side, or freeboard, depend to an important degree the stability and seaworthiness of the vessel. While, however, the importance to the ship designer of mathematical theories based on first principles and experiment can hardly be overrated, it should be observed that the circumstances and conditions postulated are invariably much less complex than those which surround actual ships. The applicability of the theories depends on the closeness with which the assumed circumstances are realized in practice. The ultimate guide in the design of new ships must, therefore, still remain practical experience. To this experience theory is a powerful assistance, but can by no means replace it.
End of Article: SHIPBUILDING

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