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A ship, like a boat, is a vehicle designed for the purpose of ship transport, i.e. effecting passage or transportation across water. It is usually large enough to carry its own boats, such as lifeboats, dinghies, or runabouts. A rule of thumb saying (though it doesn't always apply) is "a boat can fit on a ship, but a ship can't fit on a boat". The exact size at which a ship becomes a boat is often defined by local law and regulation. Submarines are always called boats.

Nautical means related to ships, particularly customs and practices at sea.

In nautical history terms, a ship specifically signifies a three-masted sailing vessel with square sails on all three masts.

Table of contents

Types of ships in use

How ships are measured

Ships are measured in terms of overall length, length along the waterline, beam (breadth) and tonnage. There are a number of different tonnage definitions, the majority of which are measures of volume rather than displacement. Displacement is most frequently applied to naval vessels.

The front of a ship is called the bow, and the rear is the stern. If you are facing the bow, the right side is called starboard, and the left side is called port. (An easy way to remember port and starboard is that right and starboard are both longer words than left and port.) Different levels of a ship are called decks.


A few early ships were powered by man, such as the Greek trireme, but most ships were sailing vessels powered by the wind.

The first steamship was the 45 foot Comet of 1812, and steam propulsion progressed considerably over the rest of the century. Notable developments included the condenser which reduced the requirement for fresh water and the multiple expansion engine that improved efficiency. Further efficiencies resulted from the development of the marine steam turbine by Sir Charles Parsons who demonstrated it on the 100 foot Turbinia[?] at the Spithead Naval Review in 1897. This facilitated a generation of high speed liners in the first half of the 20th century.

The marine diesel was first used around 1920. It soon offered even greater efficiency than the steam turbine but, for many years, an inferior power to space ratio. Most ships built since around 1960 have been diesel powered, or motor ships, one exception being the Queen Elizabeth 2[?] of 1968 that was fitted with steam turbines although she was subsequently converted to diesel as a cost saving measure.

A few ships have been powered by nuclear reactors, but this form of propulsion has caused concerns about safety and has only been popular in submarines where the ability to run submerged for long periods has obvious benefits.

Ships in the Bible

Early used in foreign commerce by the Phoenicians (Gen. 49:13). Moses (Deut. 28:68) and Job (9:26) make reference to them, and Balaam speaks of the "ships of Chittim" (Num. 24:24). Solomon constructed a navy at Ezion-geber[?] by the assistance of Hiram's sailors (1 Kings 9:26-28; 2 Chr. 8:18). Afterwards, Jehoshaphat sought to provide himself with a navy at the same port, but his ships appear to have been wrecked before they set sail (1 Kings 22:48, 49; 2 Chr. 20:35-37).

In Jesus' time fishermen's boats on the Sea of Galilee were called "ships." Much may be learned regarding the construction of ancient merchant ships and navigation from the record in Acts 27, 28.

From Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897)

See also: ship transport -- transport -- model ship -- longship -- knarr -- seamanship -- hospital ship -- ship-building -- naval ship - International Maritime Organization - maritime law[?] - international law - captain

For a list of the prefixes used with ship names (HMS, USS, &c.) see ship prefix.

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by...
-John Masefield

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