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You are here: PortCities Southampton > Diversity of Ships > What drives the ship? > What drives the ship?

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What drives the ship?

The evolution in propulsion, from paddles, oars and wind to steam and most recently diesel, has seen many inventions and innovations.  Discover the different ways of driving ships, how they evolved and, in some cases, died out.
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Muscle power

When the first boat builders wanted to propel their boats against the flow of a river or the tide, they had only muscle power. Explore their options, and how muscle power especially in the form of oars survived remarkably late.
 man rowing
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Sailing ships  Harnessing the wind

The invention of masts and sails may quickly have followed the development of the boat. Discover the evidence for the first use of sails, explore how they work, and which rigs are best in which circumstances.
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The coming of steam

The steam engine freed the ship from dependence on wind. However, it took at least a century before the steam ship finally triumphed over the sailing ship. Find out why it took so long, and some of the problems that had to be solved.
 'Dania' steamship
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Turbine Steamers Ltd 'King George V'  The turbine

Just when it seemed that steam had reached the limit of its development, along came an inventor who found a way to extract even more power. Read about how Charles Parson’s invention meant ships could steam faster than ever.
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The oil engine

The steam engine would always have limitations. Discover how the internal combustion engine drove the competition away and became the main way of propelling ships.
 'Cassiopeia' engine room

 

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