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Science facts about ships

Depending on the size, watercraft are either called as boats (small watercraft) or ships (big watercraft). Here we look at some cool scientific facts about boats and ships.

1. Force of Floating

The fact that ships float on water is no trick, it is all down to buoyancy. Buoyancy is the upward force that acts on a body when it is placed in water. The force acting upwards should be greater than the density of the object. If the density of the object is higher than the density of water then the object will sink. Early builders may not have stated what buoyancy is, but they understood that the ships need to be less dense than the water itself. This understanding lead to the construction of hollow objects to float on water; overtime and with increased innovation, the boats that you see today were built.

2. What fuels them?

For a long time boats and ships were fuelled by steam. Throughout history, it has been documented that steam-powered boats could transport large groups of people across a river using just steam. But these days, ships and boats are being powered by gasoline. The gasoline based engine is a lot stronger and offers greater speeds to these water transportation systems. If you still want to take a look at those old boats that worked on steam, check out the nearest museum that houses old ships and boats.


3. What are they made of?

There are a number of different materials that are used in the manufacturing of boats today. The most common type of material is steel while smaller ships use aluminium as the central material. These smaller ships are required to be lightweight and more compact; this thus leads to them being manufactured using aluminium. Even smaller ones are built using fibreglass or reinforced plastic. But throughout history, the preferred choice of material was wood. The Vikings were known for their strong boats that they built using wood which helped conquer many different places while the Egyptians had built boats using wood to transport goods long before the Vikings decided to use wood to build ships.

4. The Shape

Ships are built in such a way that it accounts for water resistance. Ships are curved in the front while narrow in the end; this is done so that the ship can easily glide on water without having to face much traction. Unlike on land, objects propel forward in the water, and thus ships need to be designed in such a way that there is the least resistance to being propelled in the water.

How does a ship float on water?


The reason why boats can float on water is all down to buoyancy, distribution of weight and density. Buoyancy is the upward force that a body experiences when it is placed in water. It is very different from gravity and the simple reason being that buoyancy acts against the body in upward lift or direction. The buoyancy of a body is greatly dependent on the density of the body. The density of the body is the distribution of weight per cubic metre of volume. What that means is a steel bar will easily sink in water while a ship made of steel, on the other hand, will float because the density of the ship is lesser than the density of the water surface. That is to say that the volume of water displaced by the weight of the ship is less than the total volume of the water available. Thus a heavy ship can float on water because the volume occupied by the ship is firstly quite high, thereby reducing the impact of the weight of the ship.


Although all of this is true about the volume and weight of the ship, the true magic occurs with upthrust in the water. The size and mass of an aircraft carrier are tremendous, but it manages to float on water because the weight for one is distributed through a wide area. Water is a highly dense liquid that is extremely difficult to compress; so when objects are placed in it, water exerts pressure in every direction. The exerted pressure is equal in all directions except the upward pressure that is experienced. The upward pressure is a result of an offset in net pressure resulting in the upthrust that is felt by the object. This upthrust is easy to understand if you’ve gone scuba diving; as you go deeper and deeper, the pressure you experience is tremendous. So in case of a boat, the net force supports the boat by acting on the boat from underneath. It should be understood the greater the weight of the ship, the further it sinks into the water. But as the boat sinks into the water, greater upthrust is created since the pressure of water increase greatly underneath the surface. The only reason that a ship completely sinks is because the load of the ship increased to a point where the upthrust that was created was not enough to counter the weight of the ship.



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