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What Is the Shipbuilding Industry?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The shipbuilding industry is responsible for the design and construction of oceangoing vessels all around the world. Most of the global ship production is centered in countries such as China and South Korea, though large shipyards also exist in many other countries. Components of this industry include everything from family-owned local builders to multinational corporations, and the variety of vessels they construct is just as diverse. Cruise liners, container ships and military vessels are all designed, built and refitted by different aspects of the global shipbuilding industry. In addition to designers and builders, the shipbuilding industry also includes many different ancillary providers of supplies, components and services.

Some of the first seaworthy vessels were constructed in Egypt around 2,500 BCE. These early vessels may not have met the modern definition of ships, but they led to a long history of shipwrights and shipbuilding that extends into the present day. The modern definition of a ship can vary somewhat from one source to another, though marine vessels are typically said to be ships, while river and lake vessels are boats. Another definition holds that any vessel that is too large to be lifted and carried by another vessel is a ship, though there are some exceptions to that rule.

Most oceangoing vessels are constructed in shipyards, which are facilities that can also be used to repair and retrofit older ships. These yards can be situated on marine waterways or inland sites, so long as there is some way to transport completed vessels to open water. The shipbuilding industry employees who are responsible for building vessels are known as shipwrights. These are typically highly skilled workers, though their specialties can vary depending on the types of ships they construct. Most commercial vessels are built on steel hulls, though there are still yards that construct wooden ships using many of the same techniques that have been around for hundreds of years.

The global shipbuilding industry is an important economic factor throughout the world, though the majority of this business takes place in countries such as China and South Korea. It is an attractive sector to nations that are undertaking attempts to develop their industrial infrastructures, such as Japan in the 1950s and South Korea during the 1970s. In addition to the jobs and revenues that can be created by a shipyard, there are also ancillary industries and service providers that offer further economic benefits. Some nations continue to maintain their shipbuilding industries primarily to construct their own military vessels.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Esther11 — On Nov 16, 2011

I've always been fascinated by shipbuilding, especially the history of ancient shipbuilding. People of the past must have learned by trial and error, little by little until by 2500 BCE, the Egyptians had a pretty good product.

The Vikings were good at shipbuilding too -- I once saw a reconstructed Viking ship, and it looked amazingly seaworthy.

By lovealot — On Nov 15, 2011

I wasn't aware that China and South Korea were the shipbuilding giants of the world. I am glad to hear that most of our military ships are built here. It's amazing to imagine how they build some of the ships today, like the huge cruise ships that are cruising around the oceans.

It must take some well educated and trained engineers to make ships. For consideration of safety features, it must take a low of know-how.

By jonrss — On Nov 15, 2011

I would imagine that the ship building industry is booming these days. It seems like over the last few decades the number of private yachts and other massive boats has increased significantly.

It used to be that you had ocean liners and private fishing boats but really nothing in the middle. But with the rise of the billionaire class and the seemingly endless pursuit of luxury, private yachts became a common status symbol. Surely there are a number of companies that have sprouted up just to service this market.

By summing — On Nov 14, 2011

The process of building a ship is really a sight to behold. I recently visited a friend on the east coast that lives close to a ship yard. We went on several long walks and would often make our way down there.

This particular shipyard didn't even make the largest vessels on the water but it still seemed like such a massive operation. There were cranes everywhere, what seemed like an army of men, huge steel skeletons for the ships and sparks flying everywhere from the welders. It was industry on the biggest scale. I have a lot of respect for the men and women that can build such huge vessels.

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