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History Of Engineering: The Boat

  • by: Jennifer Robinson
  • On: 20, May 2019
3 min read

The boat is one of the most significant inventions ever created by the human race. The history of the boat stretches back hundreds of thousands of years, and allowed us to explore, expand, and trade.

Why The History Of The Boat Is Important For Marine Engineers:

Its influence on the world today is undeniable, as the global marine industry is one of the most powerful and important sectors for business.

By understanding how the boat has evolved over the centuries, marine engineers can better predict where it might go in the future.

How The Boat Changed Over Time:

The Early History Of The Boat

According to archaeological findings, crude boats existed as far back as the Neolithic Stone Age. This boats, now known as ‘dugouts’, were just hollowed out tree trunks, and carry anywhere between one to eight people.

Clay tablets show evidence of more sophisticated boats existing at around 4,000 BCE. Rafts with sails were paddled along rivers, transporting goods to settlements or to trade.

Some of the earliest evidence of boats was found near the Nile in Egypt. The culture at the time was almost entirely reliant on the river, and used it as a highway to transfer goods, as well as significantly larger structures such as 300 feet long obelisks.

Most early Egyptian boats had a single large sail on a single mast, as well as a team of oarsmen.

The Ship

Boats became more refined as ship designer’s relative understandings of physics improved. Realising that boats could harness the power of the wind for increased speed, and that the wind could change direction, sails were designed to pivot on the mast, enabling them to capture the wind from different angles.

Ships in the northern hemisphere as well as the Mediterranean only had one mast until around 1400 CE.

However, around two hundred years earlier than this, Chinese ‘junk’ boats were already featuring rudders that allowed them to effectively steer in both rivers and oceans. The sails were also vastly ahead of western techniques, with junks using many narrow sails, so the fore of the wind could be utilised across many lines.

The Steamboat

In early 1800s the first steamships began to cross the Atlantic Ocean. They used a combination of sails and steam power to move, but could also use large paddlewheels. They would later go on to use screw-propellers, which were more efficient and less prone to damage.

The Titanic

At the start of the 20th Century, ships began burning oil for fuel, giving rise to large cruise ships like the Titanic, which was actually the largest ship afloat at the time. It had three main engines, two reciprocating four-cylinder engines, which had a combined horsepower of 30,000. There was also a steam turbine with an output of 16,000 horsepower.

The Submarine

There were many different variations and prototypes of the submarine throughout history, even as far back as the 16th Century. However the true submarine as we know it came into use during the First World War, and was utilised to great effect in the Second World War.

These vessels are capable of submerging beneath the water and staying under for hour, or even days at a time. Submarines are still a key component in global defence, with nuclear submarines patrolling the oceans.

The Aircraft Carrier

The aircraft carrier is a warship, mobile command centre, and flight deck. They were used during World War One, but specifically designed aircraft carriers as we know them weren’t built until the 1920s. These were initially called fleet carriers, and made a dramatic impact on combat in World War Two. The ability to launch aircraft while on the move, and have them return to the carrier provided the advantage in countless battles, thanks to the obvious tactical advantage.

There are only 41 active aircraft carriers at sea today, but they play a vital role in defence and threat monitoring in combat areas around the world.

The Future Of The Boat

Both private, commercial, and military ships are rapidly changing due to new technology. New materials and 3D printing will change how they’re designed and constructed, and new fuels will help clean up the marine sector’s emissions.

The boat has changed drastically over its long history, and will no doubt continue to change and evolve as new technology allows for more interesting and daring designs.

Read more about the history of the submarine, or see what the superyacht might look like in the future.  

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