The Ancient Art of Shipbuilding

Naval architecture has, in one form or another, existed as a profession since at least the times of the Ancient Egyptians. Back then, carving pictures of ships into rocks was the equivalent of today’s computer-aided design. And while the tools used by naval architects have advanced in the ensuring 5000 or so years, it remains one of those rare pursuits that genuinely involve a blend of art and science. But whether today or in ancient times, naval architects must still express their creative and innovative ideas within the confines of “laws” of science and engineering. After all, a boat designed to look like your pet Chihuahua may be a work of art; it probably will not be all that seaworthy. Put another way, naval architecture must not just be the art of design but the art of what is technically possible. And that is what makes it such a fascinating career choice.

Naval architecture is the branch of engineering responsible for the design, construction, and repair of seafaring vessels that move above, on, or under the sea. This involves a wide variety of vessels, including yachts, warships, tankers, container ships, fishing boats, passenger ferries, cruise ships, drilling platforms, submarines, hovercraft, hydrofoils, and other small vessels – such as landing craft, diving support vessels, and unmanned submersibles. A naval architect works directly with a shipowner to provide engineering solutions, technical and commercial guidance, support, and project management. Accordingly, the naval architect is responsible for monitoring a ship during its design, construction, and throughout its life to ensure that it is safe and seaworthy and meets other statutory rules and regulations. Therefore, a naval architect must have knowledge of engineering concepts, they must also have knowledge of maritime regulations, architecture, mathematics, electronics, mechanics, physics, computer hardware, and software design.

Naval architecture is a collaborative effort, so a naval architect’s practical experience must extend beyond the field of engineering to include such areas as supply procurement, construction, fitting-out, testing, and maintenance of marine vessels. And because naval architects must lead teams from a variety of specialties – marine engineering, nautical surveying, naval construction – to oversee the building and testing of vessel prototypes, they must have not only an understanding of these specialized areas but also the managerial skills to ensure the successful completion of what is sure to be extremely costly projects. It is the naval architect who integrates all these activities and takes ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the overall project.

To learn more about naval architecture and to access Ocean Connect’s wide range of educational and career resources, please visit our Naval Architecture snapshot.