Getting a new ship into the water is, presumably, the most important part of building a seafaring vessel. But not all ships are created equal — some are simply massive. They all need to get in the water somehow… can’t we just toss that bad boy in there?
Yes. The answer is yes, we can.
Traditionally, shipbuilders construct a ship-launching slipway — this is, essentially, a ramp that will slide a ship of any size into the water at full force. There are four ways of going about this:
This is something many of us have seen before. A ship slides sideways into the water on a ramp. That ramp has either been made slick with oil or wax, uses steel rollers, or detaches with the ship and is later recovered. The oldest ship-launching method was powered by gravity and is known as longitudinal oiled slideway launching. It uses minimal equipment, but makes heavy use of oil, which can pollute the water.
…it’d be a whole lot cooler if you did.
Ships built in drydocks are typically launched this way. Using locks, the drydock is filled with water and the ship simply floats out when launched. This is a much less violent way of launching a ship than throwing it over the side of the dock, but it’s also way less cool. Think about that — you could just chuck the Disney Fantasy directly into the Caribbean…
At least the boat was launched, right?
Why throw a ship into the water when you can place it there, like a reasonable, civilized person? For those less interested in a cool launch and more interested in keeping their smaller craft from sinking, a mechanical assist is a great option. Large ships, of course, can’t just be picked up and slowly moved, so this method’s for the lesser vessels.
Keep in mind, however, that introducing any additional element to launching a ship opens more areas for potential chaos.
4. Air bags
This method is the safest for any size ship. The newest form of launching, employed primarily by Asian shipbuilders, uses these hardcore rubber airbags to slowly put a new ship to sea. It’s a safe way for smaller shipyards that may not have access to a slideway to get crafts in the water.