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History of Naval Architecture: Transformation in Ship Construction

written by: Raunekk • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 3/11/2009

In the previous article we saw as to how the european wars made the foundation for future development. In this article we will learn as to what were the changes and modifications in the the design of the ship, that took place due to the numerous inventions and discoveries in that era.

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    In the previous article we saw how the European wars helped in the advancement of naval architecture and laid the groundwork for further developments. This was one of the various aspects that led to a change in the way ships were made. The change was gradual but was there to stay, for a long time. It was not only the wars but also the rise in the scientific inventions which gave a push to naval architecture and ship building. In this article we will see how these inventions and discoveries brought a change in the design and construction of ships and how it acted as a stepping stone for the future progression.

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    Change in the design

    ship gun ports Initially, all the wars were fought either by using small guns, when both the ships used to draw nearer to each other or by ramming or using infantry troops to board the ship. But with the passage of time the methods changed.

    The usage of heavy canons started by the end of 1400 but it was similar to the ramming and boarding technique as the canons were placed at the main deck. But the things changed by early 1500s when ships with gun ports into the sides were put to use. The advantage of these ships was that many canons can be used simultaneously and this increased the gun power per stroke.

    As several tiers of canon had to be mounted in the hull, the constructers had to provide the ships with heavy framing to support the guns and also to get protected from the enemy’s shots. Also, the hulls were needed to be made deeper to ensure lower guns remained clear off the waters. More and more investment started pouring in for building, operating and maintaining these specialized ships. For this, many constructers started putting in more and more time in research and also in developing methods for calculating the displacement and design of ships so that the canons had sufficient freeboard to operate.

    ship cannons  

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    Changes due to the duration of voyages

    By mid 1700s British and French started sending their troops to the sea for a longer time. As the ships used to endure with the harsh conditions of the sea for a longer duration of time, they needed a robust design and a solid construction. This need led to the increase in emphasis on key areas of research and innovation. The constructers then started making ships with heavier framing and reinforced joints so that ships can stand up for the long and arduous service at the sea.

    This research and innovation also induced the constructors to increase the inventory (types and quality) of wood used for construction. Different types and qualities of timbers were used in the construction according to the necessity and availability of the wood. But no matter what timber was used, long journeys and continuous exposure to sea water induced decaying of the wood. This went on for quite a long time until British navy soon found a solution to this. They started copper plating the hull as a means to prevent ship worms from eating through wooden hulls. This helped the navies to stay in sea for a longer time.

    Warship diagram orig  

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    Other advancements

    Ship builders started a practice of making scaled models and drawing ship designs to understand the construction process in a better way. This is how standardization of ship design process evolved.

    British, France, Spain and other prominent countries started putting up colleges and training institutions for learning naval architecture. All these colleges saw an influx of students interested in learning ship building. More and more funding was put in and many colleges started erupting at numerous places through out Europe.

    During the same time there were a series of inventions of new scientific principles by great scientists such as Aristotle, Archimedes, and Isaac Newton etc. There was a tremendous revolution in the field of ship theory. New rules and principles were made to improve the way in which ships were made. All these things laid the groundwork for the practical development that was suppose to take place in nineteenth century.

    ancient ship design   inside an ancient ship  

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    The dearth of something more

    Though all the inventions and new methods helped to get a basic idea as to how the ships needed to be designed in a better way, they lacked something or the other. For example, maximum theories that were discovered involved lengthy calculations which led to the delaying of the building procedures and increase in the costs. Also there was a lack of innovation seen in these calculating methods. Once a calculation theory was done, it would be used by many constructers even if the construction included different type of ships. The basic calculation remained the same and the construction of any new ship was based on the assumptions resting on these calculations. These often led to the errors in construction.

    This went on till the invention of steam engine and iron and steam technologies. It was then that scientists started realizing the importance of mathematical calculations and the part it played in ship designing. Out of all the theories that were invented in this era, it was only the theory of calculating the metacenter that survived and is still used today.

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    Ship and science: The birth of naval architecture in scientific by Larrie D. Ferreiro