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Why are ships so diverse?

Building good ships

Each owner will have his own ideas on what features will make his ship profitable.  Most important will be cargo capacity, speed and cargo gear.  But the owner’s ideas often extent to details such as the crew’s quarters.  This could be important: having spent millions on building a ship, the wise owner would want the best people to operate it, and they would expect a good standard of accommodation on board.  The owner’s influence means that, even amongst ships designed to do similar jobs, there are often important differences.  For instance, a bulk carrier might be fitted with its own cargo handling gear, or have none and rely entirely on shoreside equipment to load and unload it.  The decision will be based on the owner’s prediction of the ports between which the ship is most likely to trade.

It is not only owners who influence the design of ships.  Shipbuilders and naval architects are keen to win orders for their designs.  To do so they will attempt to show that by choosing a particular design their customers, the shipowners, can trade more profitably, by cutting costs or offering a better service.  For instance, in the 1850s it was shipbuilders who designed screw colliers which could compete successfully with sailing colliers.  They then had to persuade the shipowners that the extra expense of screw colliers was justified by the extra work they could do.


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