A ship is a large watercraft that travels the world’s oceans and other sufficiently deep waterway.
Ships and boats are two of the oldest types of transportation and were first built thousands of years ago.
They are typically larger than boats, but there is no universally accepted distinction between the two. Ships generally can remain at sea for longer periods of time than boats.
Surviving clay tablets and containers record the use of waterborne vessels as early as 4000 BC. Boats are still vital aids to movement, even those little changed in form during that 6,000-year history.
The very fact that boats may be quite easily identified in illustrations of great antiquity shows how slow and continuous had been this evolution until just 150 years ago.
The first sea-going sailing ships were developed by the Austronesian peoples from what is now Taiwan. Their invention of catamarans, outriggers, and crab claw sails enabled their ships to sail for vast distances in open ocean. It led to the Austronesian Expansion at around 3000 to 1500 BC. From Taiwan, they rapidly colonized the islands of Maritime Southeast Asia, then sailed further onwards to Micronesia, Island Melanesia, Polynesia, and Madagascar, eventually colonizing a territory spanning half the globe.
The earliest attestations of ships in maritime transport in Mesopotamia are model ships, which date back to the 4th millennium BC. In archaic texts in Uruk, Sumer, the ideogram for “ship” is attested, but in the inscriptions of the kings of Lagash, ships were first mentioned in connection to maritime trade and naval warfare at around 2500-2350 BC.
The ancient Mediterranean was dominated by a formidable galley called the trireme. Translating literally to “three-rower”, the trireme was used by the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, and was so-called because of its three rows of oarsmen who pulled to the beat of a drum. It is thought that the trireme could reach speeds of over 7 knots, making it the fastest and deadliest ship of the ancient world. It was fronted with a bronze ram that could penetrate the hull of an enemy ship. Athens’ maritime dominance is credited to the civilisation’s unmatched fleet of triremes.
Around 1000 AD, the Vikings started to build longboats. These were larger ships that had sails and up to sixty men whose job it was to row the ship. The boats were large but were narrow and long, allowed them to travel along rivers as well as the open sea.
Around 1100 AD the Chinese began to use boats that they called junks. Junks were boats that featured a rudder for steering in addition to watertight compartments and battens located on the sails that served to make them much stronger. The Chinese junks were used as transport and fighting ships, and were in use long before western ships that included such features.
Towards the end of the 14th century, ships like the carrack began to develop towers on the bow and stern. These towers decreased the vessel’s stability, and in the 15th century, the caravel, designed by the Portuguese, based on the Arabic qarib which could sail closer to the wind, became more widely used. The towers were gradually replaced by the forecastle and sterncastle, as in the carrack Santa María of Christopher Columbus. This increased freeboard allowed another innovation: the freeing port, and the artillery associated with it.
The carrack and then the caravel were developed in Portugal. After Columbus, European exploration rapidly accelerated, and many new trade routes were established. In 1498, by reaching India, Vasco da Gama proved that access to the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic was possible. These explorations in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans were soon followed by France, England and the Netherlands, who explored the Portuguese and Spanish trade routes into the Pacific Ocean, reaching Australia in 1606 and New Zealand in 1642.
In 1819, the first ships that were built using steam power began to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Steamships used a combination of wind and steam power to move.
In 1845, it was in the mid-1800s that the first ocean liners built from iron began to appear. The ocean going liners were also driven by a propeller instead of sails like many earlier ships.
In 1880, river boats that were driven by steam were called stern wheelers. Other similar boats featured paddle wheels on each side and were called paddle steamers. Paddle steamers were mainly used for transport on rivers.
In 1910, ships that were previously powered by burning coal started to be converted to diesel power, and started to use oil as opposed to steam.
The tragedy of the RMS Titanic is one of most infamous maritime stories in recent history. The luxurious British passenger liner embarked on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City with 2,240 people on board. The Titanic had broken numerous records and was lauded as being ‘unsinkable’ before its departure. During construction, the hull of the ship was the largest movable manmade object in the world. Due to several failings, however, in the early hours of April 15, 1912, the 882-foot steamship crashed into an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic.
Mont (previously known as Seawise Giant, Happy Giant, Jahre Viking and Knock Nevis) was the largest ship ever built. When she was scrapped in 2010, she also became the largest ship ever scrapped. The ultra large crude carrier (ULCC) ship had a deadweight of 564,763 tonnes and was 458 metres long.
In 2008, there were 1,240 warships operating in the world, not counting small vessels such as patrol boats
In 2019, the world’s fleet included 51,684 commercial vessels with gross tonnage of more than 1,000 tons, totaling 1.96 billion tons.