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Why are ships so diverse?

One-off design or bulk build?

Although most ships are more-or-less one-off designs, there have been some attempts to standardise ship construction, as this can provide substantial savings to owners.  For instance, if the shipyard builds the same ship twenty times over, the design work only needs to be done once, the workforce become adept building that sort of ship, construction problems can be ironed out, and many components ordered in bulk.  This approach has been adopted in wartime, the most spectacular example being the ‘Liberty’ type of which no fewer than 2,700 were built in US yards during the Second World War.  In peacetime, standardisation tends to happen when a shipyard decides it can profitably offer and sell one design to many owners.  In the 1960s the SD14 programme was begun by a British shipbuilder, Austin & Pickersgill, and this resulted in well over 200 similar ships being built in seven shipyards around the world over a 20-year period.

Vive la difference!

The diversity and individuality of ships adds enormously to their interest.  The experienced observer can name the type of ship at a glance.  Indeed, it is sometimes possible to recognise the builder or the owner from the overall profile or from particular features.  And ship design does not stand still: there is always something new to see.  The differences, and changes over time, contribute greatly to the fascination of ships.


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