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What are the Major Parts of a Ship?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The parts of a ship vary, depending on what kind of boat it is, but a few general parts are common to all types. Knowing the parts will increase your understanding when reading about boating related topics, and will also help you orient yourself when on board a ship. Many of the terms used are very old, as humans have been building, sailing, and talking about ocean going vessels for thousands of years.

The core of a ship is the structural keel, a heavily reinforced spine which runs along the bottom, in the middle. The keel supports the structure of the ship, and is the first part to be built, since it serves as a foundation. Some ships also have a hydrodynamic keel designed to increase their performance efficiency, which takes the form of a streamlined projection from the bottom of the boat to help it move quickly and smoothly through the water. The framework for the hull or shell, the body, is attached to the keel.

The hull is the most visible part of a ship, because it is the body of the watercraft. The hull makes the ship buoyant while providing shelter to those on board, and is divided by bulkheads and decks, depending on its size. Bulkheads are compartments which run across the ship from side to side, creating isolated areas, while decks are analogous to the floors of a house. A small boat may only have one primary deck, while larger ones may have over 10 decks, stacked from top to bottom.

The very bottom is known as the bilge, and the top is usually called the top deck. The top deck is broken up by the bridge, a covered room which serves as the command center. On larger ships, the top deck may have several levels, designed to isolate various parts. There may also be several deck areas topside, including the poop deck, the deck in the rear of the ship, and the afterdeck, located directly behind the bridge. The rig, including masts, rigging, and sails, rises up from the top deck.

The front region is called the bow, and the rear is the stern. When someone is forward, they are in the front of the boat, while a sailor located amidships would be in the middle, and a person to the rear is aft. The right hand side is starboard, and the left is port.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon989417 — On Mar 05, 2015

The British Navy used to use, "There's a little port left in the bottle".

By anon351604 — On Oct 15, 2013

@Post 14 : No, only if you are dealing with the scammer who says pirates are coming and he tries to send you a box of cash. Send no money to the liar.

By anon341514 — On Jul 12, 2013

Really interesting! And what about the steering systems?

By anon197920 — On Jul 18, 2011

Is there something called a brain box on a ship?

By anon176308 — On May 15, 2011

Port vs. Starboard? Just remember, "Star Bright". (Bright contains the word "right", for those of you in Rio Linda!) Starboard is the right side of the ship.

By anon91484 — On Jun 22, 2010

Port and starboard are the basis of the word "posh." It is said that the richest ocean travelers always wanted the shade on their side of the ship. Port Out, Starboard Home - "posh."

By anon66456 — On Feb 19, 2010

What are the pipings of a ship?

By anon58115 — On Dec 30, 2009

I remember which is port and which is starboard this way:

Port and left both have four letters

Starboard and right have more than four letters.

Here's a rhyme, feel free to use it:

Port and left have letters four.

Starboard and right, they both have more!

By anon54262 — On Nov 28, 2009

The statue on the bow is called a figurehead.

By lnrdkell — On Apr 08, 2009

On a lot of the old sailing ships they had a statue of one type or another on the outside of the bow. What is the term used for it, or what the part would be called?

By bigmetal — On Feb 05, 2008

this is a lot of great info...there must be a rhyme or a song to help teach kids the different parts of a ship--i know i am always forgetting!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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