What is Ship Launching?

Ship launching is a highly detail-driven and extremely labor-intrinsic division falling under the entire process of ship construction. To this day, there are only four mainly available and extensively used techniques by which a ship or vessel is launched in water.

These techniques have been in use for ages, dating back to the launch of traditional ships and now even to modern cruise ships. A slipway, a sloping structure helps release the ship down to the water from the shipyard. This is true in the case of both newly made ships and repaired ships as well.

MV Vassos at shipyard

Launching a ship into the water in a more practical and efficient way is still considered a challenge. It involves inflicting stresses on the vessel, excluding other factors that occur during normal operations.

The Cultural History of Ship Launching

A variety of practices and techniques are used for the launching of vessels into water. Ceremonial ship launchings differ from country to country and place to place. Essentially the idea behind a ceremonial ship launch is the belief that it safeguards the vessel at the sea. Different cultural approaches shape the launch of the ship and continue to hold significance even in today’s age.

According to Greek and Roman mythology, they sought the blessings of Poseidon- the Greek god of the sea, and Neptune- the Roman god of the sea.

This was carried out by seafarers on shore, having wreathed olive branches on their heads, sipped on wine, and poured water onto the ship as a mark of blessing the vessel in the presence and honor to God, done by the Greeks.

Both the Romans and the Greeks believed in placing shrines on the quarterdeck of the ship, which still has its own ceremonial significance.

Christians and Jews habituated on wine and water as they called upon Christ to safeguard their vessel at sea. It also involved blessings from the church for Christians and ceremonies carried out by saints. Whereas prayers to Allah, sheep sacrifice, and customary feasting were practiced by the Ottoman Empire.

Ship Launching By Different Countries

Culturally appropriate ship launching by different countries is believed to appeal to good fortune and safeguard the vessel at sea.

  • United States:

As a ceremonial practice, the vessel is christened with the breaking of a celebratory bottle of wine that is broken at the bow of the vessel and named the vessel, before launching it into the water.

  • India:

Historically, a Hindu priest performs a Puja ceremony that is devoted to the Hindu Gods and Goddesses, seeking protection for the vessel and its sailors. A coconut is broken by a person, mostly a woman, by the bow of the vessel, followed by a small Puja.

  • France:

French ship launching and christenings dated back to the 18th-19th centuries involved practices similar to that of marriages and baptisms. A Godfather introduces a Godmother, who announced the name of the ship while carrying a bouquet of flowers.  A priest would also bless the vessel with holy water.

  • United Kingdom:

Similar to that of the US, in the UK, a royal member from the royal family, would announce the name of the vessel and break a bottle of champagne by the bow of the vessel and christen the ship while blessing the sailors on the ship and the vessel itself to be safeguarded on its journey in the sea.

  • Japan:

The Japanese believed in utilizing silver axes during their launch ceremony, which are said to cast off evil and bring good luck. They deliver this customized silver axe to the ship owner as a commemorative gift. This axe is then used to cut the rope that tethered the ship to where it was built.

Ship Launching Methods

  • Gravitational type launching

They are further classified into three:

  • Longitudinal oiled slideway launching

This is an age-old technique where lubricants such as oil or wax are used to slide the ship on a slideway, which under its own weight launches into water. Though this technique involves minimal equipment which can launch vessels ranging from different tonnage and types, it can be highly pollutive for the waterbody due to the heavy use of coating oils. The ship or vessel can also be at potential risk from disproportionately high pressure caused at the front part of the ship during the launch.

  • Longitudinal steel-roller slideway launching

In this method, oils and lubricants are replaced by security devices and high-intensity steel rollers, which can help reduce friction during the sliding on the slideway, which is a wooden board with a steel plate, along with slide rails that protect the vessel from steel balls. Net bags attached at the end of the slide take care of collecting the steel balls, which can be reused.

This method though is the most effective, initial installation is not cost-effective.

  • Side oiled slideway launching

This is also one other highly utilized technique with two different approaches. The first one is where the slideway extends into the water, where the vessel can slide in from the slideway to the water. In the second method, the slideway stays until the ship along with its frames is launched into the water. Based on the buoyancy and stability of the vessel, it becomes steady in the water. For this method to be effective, the ship is relying on factors of strength and stability.

  • Floating-out type launching

This method is not technically a ship launching method to be exact. In this method, ships built in dry docks are launched into the water by filling in the dock with water. This method is adopted by shipbuilders at large as it is one of the most simple, effective, and safe techniques for launching ships into the sea. But it also incurs a huge cost for initial installation.

  • Mechanical type launching

It is divided into the following types:

  • Lifting ship equipment
  • Two points longitudinal mechanized chute launching
  • High-low track slide mechanization launching
  • Longitudinal mechanized slideway launching
  • Wedge-shaped mechanized vehicles launching
  • Mechanized comb slide
  • Slope change transverse area mechanized vertical chute launching

These methods require a variety of mechanical features for ship launching. These mechanisms cannot be used for large, high-tonnage ships. It calls for high investment along with huge maintenance costs, that deliver subpar mobility and controlling factors, more suitable for smaller vessels.

  • Airbags launching

This method was introduced by Asian shipbuilders who promised to deliver safe launching of ships into the water. This innovative technique uses airbags with high load capacity. They are cylindrical shaped with hemispherical heads at the ends, made of reinforced rubber layers. This method can be utilized in the launch of vessels that are small and big with high tonnage. It is also a safe option for smaller shipyards with no access to slideways.

Ship launching concluded

Ship launching is a story with both cultural and pragmatic significance in itself. The launch of a vessel is not only a matter of mechanical adequacy to the business and engineering of the maritime industry but also a case of rich ceremonial and cultural traditions.

While exploring the most effective, conservative, and viable options in terms of environmental concerns, safeguarding of the vessel as well as the sailors, cost-effectiveness, maintenance, and ease of operation, we also explored the age-old traditions of ship launch.

It can be concluded that the three main methods of ship launch are either stern-first, sideways, or using airbags.

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