EDITORIAL | Naval architecture, a fast developing art and science

Photo: Alan Haig-Brown
Photo: Alan Haig-Brown

Naval architecture is arguably one of the world's oldest professions. There is ample evidence of it existing for more than five millennia! And, like many other professions, even, perhaps, the oldest, it has always combined the best of science and art.

As the maritime world transformed from sails and galley slaves through steam diesel and nuclear power over the past two centuries, so has the naval architecture profession developed dramatically. Even over the fifty plus years of my own maritime career, the rate of change has been phenomenal.

Apart from the developments in engines and propulsion systems, construction materials, vessel shapes, styles and sizes have all changed rapidly. Generally, vessels go faster, look better, are more economical, safer and more comfortable than their predecessors. They fulfil their intended roles more effectively and are usually quicker, easier and cheaper – on an inflation- adjusted basis – to build. The CAD/CAM systems employed by modern naval architects improve shipbuilding productivity enormously. While their equipment suppliers have also played a vitally important role, it is the world's naval architects who have integrated all these factors into today's generally first-rate ships and boats.

While, for their own peculiar reasons, warship owners and crews are rarely satisfied with their vessels, their commercial counterparts usually are. Naval architects and ship builders generally do a pretty good job. The vast majority of ships and boats effectively carry out their intended and expected roles.

The practice of naval architecture is replete with higher mathematics and engineering precedent. No one absent a very sound mathematical education will ever graduate as a naval architect yet naval architecture is just as much, if not more, an art than a science.

A "thing of beauty is a joy forever" applies very much to ships. There is an old adage that, "A ship that looks well, sails well". I believe in that absolutely and that is where a large part of the art comes in. Almost every ship or boat that does what it is intended to do manages to look good.

Seeing, as we do on these pages, many hundreds of new vessels each year, we tend to become quite blasé about the usually considerable amount of naval architectural talent, skill, blood sweat and tears that have gone into their design. We should appreciate the profession more than we do. It is a vital part of the wider maritime industry.

As one who has closely followed the naval architecture profession and its products since childhood, I salute it. Your inspiring work has certainly helped make my life very interesting.

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