Some time ago I’ve answered to the following question:
“Hi, I want know on which basis wheelhouse was located, I have seen some vessel in the aft and for some fwd and middle. Please explain…”
Preparing the answer I’ve realized that I wrote a very brief summary of a not such small part of the maritime history.
The position of wheelhouse varied on the various types of vessels but every time there were at least few good reasons to justify the wheelhouse position on the ship.
The position changed due to the technologies changes but also due to operational needs.
I trust that my thoughts about the wheelhouse position would be useful for both the naval architects and not the people with any naval architecture qualification.
The old timber vessels had the steering wheel positioned aft, on a position rose on the open deck. The steering wheel was close to the rudder because the “servo mechanics” of the time was the helmsman muscles. The aft position gave some reasonable protection from the head waves but not from a side wave or any winds...
Might be others reasons too but these two are the most obvious for me.
Somewhere in meantime between the timber vessel and the iron steel and steam vessel, someone decided to place the steering wheel in an enclosure what would give some more protection from the elements. I’m not sure when this was done but this was the first wheelhouse… and it was located on board of the vessel where the steering wheel was…
The iron steel and steam vessel needed space for the steam engine, short supply lines for the coal for the engine, as well short command and communication lines (do you remember the acoustic tubes?).
It was also became possible to move the rudder by mechanical means therefore the muscle of the helmsman where not anymore a factor to be accounted for the position of the steering wheel.
All the above resulted in re-locating the wheelhouse from the narrow aft about midship.
Again might be other reasons but these are the only ones which I can provide.
Obviously there were dis-advantages in this arrangement, for example a long shaft line or loss of cargo space... but the strength of the steel and the power of steam were sufficient reasons to support this solution... and the solution was kept until a brilliant naval architect (British) comes with the idea to move the engine room together with the accommodation space aft and in consequence wheelhose too.
This made a lot of sense because, in meantime, the diesel engine took the primacy of the maritime propulsion. The diesel engine was more compact; the fuel (not anymore coal) was liquid - easy to be stored in tanks and not in holds and much easy to be transported from far areas as double bottom or fore. The change came with many advantages so soon almost all vessels were designed in this way.
The need of visibility from the steering wheel position continued to be a must therefore the wheelhouse still needed a position elevated over the deck. Steel also provided the strength for building light enough structures for accommodating safely the crew therefore it was no need to keep the crew below the deck. Cargo space was saved building the superstructure above the deck.
Arranging the wheelhouse on top of the superstructure came just naturally.
However, this solution was not favourable for the offshore vessels (starting with the supply vessel and now with support or service offshore vessel… so the meaning of S is not yet decided).
What was the problem?
The problem was the visibility during the delicate operation of approaching an offshore structure and the need of protecting the work area from the strong waves (especially in North Sea).
The consequence of these problems was that the shape OSV modified until the modern X-Bow what combines a huge bulbous type fore with accommodation and wheelhouse spaces.
Same arrangement seems making a lot of sense for specialized vessels as pipe layers or drilling ships where the aft space is reserved for the main function of the vessel.
Executive profiles – A company is only as strong as its executive leadership. This is a good place to show off who’s occupying the corner offices. Write a nice bio about each executive that includes what they do, how long they’ve been at it, and what got them to where they are.
Other larger the vessel have the same problem of “seeing the nose” and behind the nose – e.g. the container carrier or the cruiser.
In order to improve the visibility at the aft wheelhouse solutions as bridge’s wings and strict rules for stacking cargo have emerged… or simply the wheelhouse was arranged forward.
Another problem related to having the wheelhouse on top of the aft superstructure is related to the longitudinal strength of the ship especially in ballast condition.
The agglomeration of superstructure, engine room and bunkers spaces means leads to increased large bending and torsional loads.
This problem became supercritical for the ultra large containers starting with 8500 TEU therefore the position of the wheelhouse and superstructure on the ultra large containers carriers went back to the one third-mid arrangement and obviously, the engine room and bunkers spaces had to be rearranged as well.
The today ships have three positions of the wheelhouse:
- Aft: the most common for a small mid-sized transport vessel and large non container carriers;
- Aft third-mid: more common for a large container carrier;
- Fore: offshore support/service vessels.
Each wheelhouse position has its own good reasons, advantages and disadvantages. Late history or more recent history just proved all of these.
However, the last question still not answered yet is:
Would still be a wheelhouse on an unmanned ship?
The text was written by the founder of the Futureoftheocean concept, Dr. Marius Popa.
The steering wheel and the compass of Dom Fernando II e Glória (Lisbon Navy Museum)
Ms. Ramona Popa is credited for the front picture and the last picture.
Ms. Popa works could be found on FaceBook, Instagram and Etsy – nickname Mony Wee Bonnie.
The timber/wood ship
The iron steel and steam vessel
The standard transport vessel
XBows OSVs in Aberdeen harbour
My colleague Alex Doig is credited for this great picture!
For more pictures from Alex please visit: https://www.alexdoig.co.uk/
Wheel house arranged forward - Queen Mary I (cruiser)
Wheel house arranged aft third-mid - Freighter v1
Copyright © 2018 Future of the ocean - All Rights Reserved.