Development of Shipbuilding

From the Earliest Shipbuilding

Just as the name of the inventor of the wheel is unknown, the names of the builders of the first boat, helm, oar and the first man to raise a sail remain lost in the depth of centuries. The skills of ship builders were sharpened over the millennia. Their creations were examined and tested by the most impartial judge of all: The Ocean. From ancient times to present days, many inquisitive minds and skilful hands have worked on perfecting vessels - to make them stronger and more seaworthy, and to make them faster and more comfortable. The enormous amount of experience of the many generations of ship builders, combined with use of advanced scientific and technical ideas, now allows us to build large oil tankers, ice breakers and air-cushioned vessels. In the near future, large cargo submarines will be built, which will not be subject to whims of the World Ocean. Thousands of vessels will sail confidently by using the newest types of navigation methods.

From the Oar to the Atom

In prehistoric times, Man began to sail along shores and coastlines on rafts made from logs or dugout canoes. Millennia passed, and these primitive types of buoyancy were replaced by larger boats able to carry greater amounts of men and cargo. These were propelled by oars, light sails, with Man making his own "approximate" navigation. The construction of marine sailing and oar-powered vessels began in the 2nd Millennium BC in Ancient Babylon, followed later by Ancient Egypt and Ancient China, Japan and India. The inhabitants of the eastern Mediterranean Sea - the Phoenicians, greatly enhanced the development of shipbuilding. Later, from the 3rd century BC to the 2nd century AD, the powerful Mediterranean states of Ancient Greece and Rome built strong trade and naval vessels capable of distant voyages, however these were basically along the shorelines. The ancient ancestors of the inhabitants of Oceania tell legends of high-speed vessels. They designed and built very stable, twin-hulled rafts called catamarans. These vessels, although very old in design, are generating interest in modern times. Between the 8th and 12th centuries, the skilful ship-builders were the Venetians, Norsemen and Coast-Dwellers. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, more modern ship designs were developed, first in Portugal and Spain, and later in England, The Netherlands and France.


The construction of the first wooden vessels was conducted by hand. Skills and knowledge were handed down from generation to generation, many of which were considered professional secrets and closely guarded. The labour-intensive operations forced artisans to establish and join craft guilds in seaside cities of different countries. These guilds gradually developed in the shipyard industry. In the 16th and 17th century in England, Holland and Spain, many shipyards were in operation.

Shipbuilding Today

There is no doubt that the magnificent square riggers of the era of sail or the early 20th century's prestigious ocean liners could stir the hearts of all those that beheld them. But the ships of today are just as worthy of our admiration, for shipping today is in another truly golden age. Ships have never been so technically advanced, never been so sophisticated, never been more immense, never carried so much cargo, never been safer and never been so environmentally-friendly as they are today. Mammoth containerships nudging the 18 000 TEU barrier yet still capable of 25 knot operating speeds; huge oil tankers and bulk carriers that carry vast quantities of fuel, minerals, and grain and other commodities around our planet economically, safely and cleanly; the complex and highly specialized workhorses of the offshore industry; and the wonderful giants of the passenger ship world are all worthy of our greatest admiration. In shipping today we can see many marvels of state-of-the-art engineering and technology that deserve to be ranked alongside the very finest achievements of our global infrastructure. We all marvel at the wonders of the modern world - skyscrapers, bridges, dams, ship canals, tunnels and so on. Although they all deserve our admiration, there should be no question that today's finest ships are also worthy of the sort of recognition usually reserved for the great icons of land-based civil engineering - with one substantial difference in favour of the former: while skyscrapers, bridges, dams et al are static structures designed to withstand the elements coming to them, the very essence of vessels sends them out to sea to face the elements at full force, alone in the vastness of the ocean. They should, therefore, be robust when built and maintained as such throughout their entire lifetime.

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