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Understanding Ship Stability During Dry Dock


Commercial ships have to go for dry docking at regular intervals of time. During dry docking,
the components of a ship exposed to the harsh environment of the seas is subjected to
inspection and maintenance. This process is carried out regularly throughout the life time of a
ship, depending on the construction and type of the vessel (There are special conditions for
dry docking in event of inspection from classification societies, ship brought after a collision or
even before a ship is sold by her owner, among others.)

The parts of the ship below the waterline are exposed to the harsh and corrosive underwater
environment of the oceans. Ships hulls corrode, catch up bio fouling agents or can have some
water tightness compromised in certain regions from a long voyage. This is why dry docking is
necessary to ensure that the ship remains optimally functional throughout her life time.
Ships have deadweights running into tens of thousands of tonnes and the hydraulic lift
becomes tricky to implement here, though not entirely impossible.

But why should we worry about the simple mechanical advantage offered by hydraulic lifts
when a huge basin bigger than a ship can serve the purpose of lifting the vessel?

Image for representation purpose only

Here arises another special situation of ship stability being compromised during the process of
dry docking. The ship structure may get damaged at localised locations or even on a global
level if the procedure is not carried out properly.
Speaking in terms of stability, what happens actually during a docking procedure is that the
effective centre of buoyancy of the ship gives up the role of being the support of the vessels
weight to the ships bottom reaction force. This happens gradually and this is where actual
care has to be taken.

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Remember the four pillars of ship stability?

The GM, BM, KB and KG vary in such situation, so that the transverse KM (KB+BM) will become
zero. You know why? It is because there is no displaced volume to provide buoyant forces.
Cut to the GM, which is given by the difference between KM and KG, KG is an inherent
property of the ship geometry and cannot be zero. Hence, a negative GM results in a loss of
positive stability and so the ship must be supported before it topples.
Remember trim by aft being a common feature in ships when moving in water? Think about
this now when the vessel will start resting on the blocks along the entire length, it will first
rest at the stern. The rest of the ship may get pivoted about this point. Now, if the vessel is
able to maintain a positive GM, it wont heel to either side, allowing a comfortable settlement.
This is rather difficult in ships with a slender form without a flat bottom. So here comes an
advantage in design where it might be feasible not to design very large slender form of ships
as carrying out manoeuvres would be a problem. Such ships would require side supports and

the bilge blocks in addition to the usual support.

Modern day dry docks provide side rams (operated hydraulically) as opposed to wedging with
wooden shores and terraces in earlier constructions.

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Now, you might ask, how much loss of the GM is acceptable? For this, dry docks use a
graphical plot between the transverse metacentric height and the reaction provided by the
blocks in supporting the vessel. What is also calculated is the docking trim (difference in
forward and aft drafts) and the reaction (called the upthrust) from the blocks. The graph quite
understandably has a slope KM/, which represents the loss of KM (and so the GM also) per
unit tonne of upthrust equivalent added.

Graph plotted for loss of GM (transverse) as a function of upthrust (reaction). (Management of Merchant Ship Stability, Trim and
Strength: I.C.Clarke)

Another feature of a dry dock which affects your ships stability is what is called declivity as
mentioned in the graph above. In simple terms, this declivity is the slope expressed in terms of
multiples of unit metre rise per 100 metres. It is desirable for vessels like tugs and fishing
trawlers with a rise of keel to be repaired in a dock with some declivity as they run with good
propeller immersion because of the deep draft aft of these vessels.
Floating Dry docks
Now we come to the other type of dry docks, the ones which float. Floating dry docks have
their own stability issues stemming from the fact that they have to float and bear the load of
the vessel under repair at the same time. The dock has to ensure that it maintains positive
stability when lifting the ship clear of water.

Management of dock stability and vessel positioning using trim to land the ship. (Management of Merchant Ship
Stability, Trim and Strength: I.C.Clarke)

Here, a special manoeuvre is carried out where the dry dock matches the difference in
forward and aft draft as soon as the vessel touches down at the stern, by ballasting its tanks.
So how does it maintain its own positive stability? This is where comes a restriction on the
weight of the vessel that can be lifted clear of water on a floating dry dock. But, keeping that
aside, we do not have the problem of a vessel heeling and loosing position on the block
before the ship touches down properly on the blocks since the dry dock self-adjusts the trim
like we discussed just now.
After reading this were sure you will have some idea about how a ship might get vulnerable
and topple while being supported on a dry dock, as apparently it doesnt seem to be such a
problem at first.

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About Sudripto Khasnabis

Sudripto is pursuing Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering at IMU, Visakhapatnam,
India. He is an aspiring future Naval Architect with an eye for aesthetics and detail and
likes to spend his free time writing maritime blogs and reading about maritime innovations which
continue to intrigue him. He is also a Senior Editor at Learn Ship Design- A Student Initiative.

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