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A good one for discussion,
What is better and why?
I would guess that motor wins on all counts, initial, running and maintenance costs?
Where are you from: Sydney Australia
Everything is motor driven these days but there was something quite magical about steam.
Where are you from: Perth, Western Australia
Through my Apprenciceship at Cockatoo Island Dockyard I worked through biulding the Engine Rooms through to sea trials in two ships for the Australian Navy. The first was a large diesel ship, HMAS Stalwart and the second was a steam turbine Destroyer Escort, HMAS Torrens.
In my opinion, steam is much more interresting and clever than motor. I was always impressed with all the equipment that could be run and controlled using steam.
Steam power was certainly more pleasant to operate than motor. I enjoyed my time opearating with steam on Oriana. Those engines were wonderful. No big strip downs for the Engineers in ports on steam turbine ships.
Where are you from: Bilgola - Sydney Northern Beaches
My preference was always Steam ...
I don't remember any major repairs on Steamers. I remember drifting
for 30 hours in the south china sea, replacing upper piston rings on
a Doxford back in 1973. What a firework display, before we shutdown.
Same Doxford, several weeks later. Replacing upper Piston cooling
hoses (The flexible rubber ones). Water spraying everywhere until
Where are you from: Indianapolis, Indiana.
Dave, I forgot to ask what your opinion was (as one of the most experienced across both platforms) and how is retirement going?
Where are you from: Sydney Australia
Although sailed mainly on steam ships did many HT runs with Shaw Savill. All Motor Ships with Steam men getting their Motor time in. I remember well the first time I saw a twin screw B&W from the top of the engine room. Awe is the word.All those bits jumping up and down in what seemed a barely controlled fashion.As for Doxfords!. Heard many stories from motor men of unexpected breakdowns, scavenge fires,crankcase explosions and heroic maintenance feats. Steam turbines? Wind 'em up in Southampton or Tilbury and they will twirl all the way with little drama. I rest my case.
Where are you from: Originally Gosport now Campbelltown nsw
I never sailed on a motor ship, but I did 4 months round the World on Iberia in 1967. Now that would put anyone off steam!! I have to say though the time spent on Arcadia and Patonga was good, I even got Arcadia's automatic sootblowers going in my spare time because there wasn't always a lot to do. That was mainly because I had previous experience of mineral insulated cable termination and fault finding.
Where are you from: Fareham UK
Both Steam and Motor have many aspects which people will favour. The accountant , Motor. Old time served sea going engineers Steam.
From my perspective I enjoyed serving as Chief Engineer on, Steam, Slow Speed Diesel, Medium speed diesel, Diesel Electric and Podded drive. When it came to heart attach material it was most definitely Steam. When you blacked out on Steam your heart was in your mouth until you got everything back on, never very quickly. Motor and the modern day plant are totally opposite. They auto recover. I experienced a black out on Motor and the job had self recovered before I had run all the way from my deck 10 cabin to the control room on deck 4.
The same cannot be said about steam. I personally experienced black outs as Chief on a Steam ship and it was never a quick return to full services............
The balancing and running of a steam ship is without doubt enjoyable, much more so than a Motor ship. Having said that though, the MV Oriana is a very complex but versatile plant with power take offs and power inputs giving it a top cruising speed of 24 knots. Tweaking that at full power could be enjoyable.
Steam plants were best suited to long runs at sea where you could set up the plant and leave it for days, not overnight runs between Caribbean islands.
Motor ships cost a lot more to run from a maintenance cost perspective however the fuel efficiency is vastly superior to steam. Motor is also much safer from a navigational perspective.
We must also remember that all those years ago a steam endorsement required 9 months sea time served on a steam ship however a Motor endorsement only required 6 months sea service on a motor ship. (The rules were changed to both requiring 6 months sea service in 1982).
If I were to choose as a Chief I would say Motor but, as a senior watchkeeper I would say Steam !
In answer to the question about enjoying retirement? Put it this way, If I had realised how good it was I would have considered it when I turned 18 !!!! Never enjoyed myself so much as I am now in retirement.
As a Refrigeration Engineer I sailed consecutively on five vessels all steam, however my last ship was a motor ship, the good old MV Somali with two six cylinder Doxfords. I stood at the top of the engine room when they made the first movements on the main engines in KG5 Dock North Woolwich and I just couldn’t get over all that mass of metal going up and down. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. To lie in your bunk at night, sleep was never far away with the soothing bompady, bompady, bompady of those two Doxfords.
As I’ve said before, on one occasion a new panch sahib had a problem flashing up the boiler and with a big bang it filled the engine room with black smoke. I couldn’t believe how after just a few revs the engine room was clear and it showed just how much air was being sucked into those engines.
After a run like Aden to Singapore then it was crankcase doors off and everybody including me, the two leckies and even the 2nd Engr were all in the crankcase re-packing water glands on the piston cooling system.
Our consolation was the bars of Singapore, the Philippines, HK and Japan.
Carthage, Surat, Perim, Strathmore, Himalaya, Somali
Where are you from: Wilmington Dartford Kent
It seems to me that the steam/motor preference is much more visceral than logical. I have worked and sailed on both including triple expansion steam recips. So, for me it’s not about reciprocating verses rotary, or about efficiency and automation. It’s not about which is better to work on or to operate. It’s about sounds and smells; it’s about the silky smoothness of steam, (even steam recips.).
You can come to this from many directions, and I can understand why a Chief might prefer a motor driven ship, but I am firmly in the steam camp.
I feel compelled to echo some of Rogers words …
The Doxford, was also my first trip, on what generally looked like a T2
styled Tanker. Built at Smiths Docks on Tees in 1961, all the steel being
local “Dorman Long” Steel Works. It was originally intended that she would
be Steam. All the ancillary plant was steam powered, the only exceptions
were the main engine “a six Cylinder Hawthorn Leslie and the Two alternators
which were Crosley’s with Scavenge Pumps (no Turbo Chargers) and possibly
a few pumps that were powered by electric motor’s. Cooling pumps for
the main engine and alternators etc.
As Roger remarked, watching a Doxford in action was truly a sight to see. I
don’t recall a Gear Box, it was directly connected to the Prop Shaft. On
one occasion, when leaving port and maneuvering she was actually ticking
over at 20 rpm, standing on the tops and watching those upper pistons
going up and down etc. The “Chief” was always in the “Driving Seat” he
treated that Doxford like it was an Open Top Rolls Royce and he was out for
a Sunday afternoon drive through the park.
The only thing that was a pain, was the Boiler feed pump (up and down
Steam pump) that made a horrendous noise (errrrrrrrrrrtt, errrrrrrrrr,
errrrrrrrrrrtt, errrrrrrrrr, (the suction stroke and the discharge stroke) No
escaping that noise, it could be heard everywhere on the ship. It took
several weeks to learn to sleep with that infernal noise …
Where are you from: Indianapolis, Indiana.
as an ex railwayman of course I found that steam was a lot quieter and I think that our boiler suits were a lot cleaner , my first big ship was the good old Carthage it rolled so much that it was a miracle that we managed to keep the water in the boilers
Where are you from: swindon
What an interesting thread Dave has started.
My sea time was with steam but I went onto commission Nuclear Subs then worked in Korea with Hyundai Shipyard on the testing of BW and Sulzer marine diesels.
As the thread demonstrates Diesels are the better choice for modern surface vessels and people like Hyundai who have the licence for both BW and Sulzer produce them along with medium speed units like Pielstick on a production line basis, so the demand is there.
When one considers vessels under the sea then steam rules hands down, when the prime energy source does not require oxygen as reactors do not then the steam turbine will run on almost indefinitely.
Do we need nuclear powered Merchant ships to see the revival of steam?
On the subject of revival of steam when I was taking my ticket (Steam) fluidised bed boilers capable of burning very poor quality fuel was viewed as the way forward to improve efficiency and reduce fuel cost so to make steam an effective alternative to Diesel. Whatever happened to that idea?
Where are you from: Glasgow, but in a hotel room in Manchester right now
I believe the nuclear solution for all energy is inevitable and the Thorium alternative is by far the safest, also, once the research is concentrated on even safer methods (instead of focusing on weapons byproducts) it will happen much quicker.
Where are you from: Sydney Australia
Steamships for the wheeling.
Motorships (cargo) for the mateship and getting dirty in a different way.
Where are you from: Now Gozo
Well then we think the future is Nuclear power!
How about the past or have we forgotten.
In 1962 the cargo/passenger ship "NS Savannah" came into service.
She was a Nuclear powered/Steam turbine ship.
The Nuclear plant was built by Babcock & Wilcox. (the boiler people)
The max speed 24 nts registered, but is unofficially capable of 31 nts.
Carried up to 100 passengers.
Taken out of service 1971.
Running cost as opposite oil prices.
At this present time she would be cheaper to run than a modern ship of same size.
The ship is docked in baltimore and may be visited.
Where are you from: Newcastle-upon Tyne Now Vancouver BC (41yrs)
So what you are saying Dave is that you wished that you could have retired when the Oriana did!!
Feet up..more single malt!!
All the best MT!
Where are you from: Nynehead
Nice to hear from you again Dave,
I never worked on a motor ship so can't answer to any comparison but there was a huge differences in the steam ships I did sail on, I loved the Oronsay the best even though it was a difficult work environment mainly in the boiler room(fires in the wrong place and tube failures) The Arcadia was a peach by comparison. I'm afraid I never really enjoyed my time on the Oriana, fell out with Mick the Ram on the first day on board. Never endured a total blackout with P&O and apart from Oronsay being late occassionaly into port all ran reliably. After P&O I worked for an Arab Oil Tanker company. Most of the ships ran well even the one with the rotten main condenser, the exception was the single boiler ship, that was a complete nightmare, poor control system, all steam auxillarys, spent 36 hours adrift unable to get a fire in the main boiler, scary change over to standby conditions. The designers of those ships were criminals.
In my post P&O job, I was in attendance during the new building of a series of LNG Carriers for BP and QatarGas in Korea, all steam driven. You would not even know we were moving when standing in the engine room, it was so quiet. Of course, a lot cleaner than the Canberra, and minus the smoke fog at the top of the engine room. From that perspective, steam wins. Steam ships need a lot of engine room space (meaning less cargo space), expensive to build and maintain, and no longer efficient (gas burning in dual fuel boilers helps on LNG ships mind you !). Modern medium and slow speed engines are highly efficient, and also now burn gas, so they are going to win out.
Where are you from: Taunton, Somerset
for Alan Williams...previous comment...Alan..where you an Oriana or Canberra man ..or before that...still living in Taunton?? There are a few P&O steamers still in Taunton Deane..fancy meeting up for an ale or two??
Where are you from: Nynehead nr taunton
Started my apprenticeship at R&H Green and Silley Wier in the Albert Docks in London where it was all old 2 strokes and even Doxford ships that came in. One day I was working on the Botany ( or Discovery ) at Tilbury when she was still a steamer and that is when I decided to go to sea. Oriana, Canberra, Uganda and the last steam passenger ship ever built, the Sky Princess. I loved them. 12 years a sea before I sailed on my first motor ship and I hate them. I don't care about accountants and what the costs are, steam ships are thing of wonder. Passenger ships these days are just full of back up after back up after back up so there's not a lot to worry about. The potential for disaster on a steam ship was incredible and so exiting. Playing with the evaps to make a half a ton more water than the last watch, fixing the boiler room fan settings after the Somali firemen had twiddled the Bailey Board to mess up the Yemeni firemen, hand winding the sootblowers in and out because the motor had burned out, etc etc. Going down to each watch in the engine or boiler room was a step into the unknown. Watchkeeping on passenger ships nowadays requires a good book and a strong index finger to start all those pumps and cancel those alarms. I've been a Superintendent for 12 years years now and still dream of those heady days and nights spent amongst miles of pipes, thousands of valves, the smell of roast potatoes on the main stops and left-over tongue and branston pickle sandwiches.
Steam any day of the week.
Where are you from: Born UKLive Cyprus
I started on steam, Oriana in fact, in 1967 so have got something of an allegiance to this fundamental propulsion mode! I sailed on my first motor ship in 1988 and have to say wished I had done so earlier!
My philosophy was always that of where you wish to end up with rotary motion ie propeller, then start with it in the first place - Steam turbine!
Fair enough really although not such a straight line relationship. Steam always has a special affinity I think with all the special aspects of cycle efficiency under the control of the operator. What about end-tightened blading! Great stuff although I only ever sailed on a vessel with these and it was actually never used!
Yes, a blackout on a steam ship was usually quite an event - and reflashing boilers still an inexact science! It was good that the large steam tankers I sailed on for many years had large emergency diesel generators and were also able to be paralleled with the main switchboard so took some of the brown trousers effect off.
So, steam - yes. Motor- yes. Both had a list of + & -
Where are you from: Eastleigh, Hants
I must admit personal choice would be Motor and more specifically engines where some thought to the maintenance there of had been considered at the design stage. Steam was limited to the last 6 months of Jervis Bay (OCL 1982) and about the same period on Sky Princess (circa 1991). I do remember though, when things were wound up on a steam plant - it used to sing! Whether AP on 3 boilers between San Francisco and Vancouver through thick mist would be considered wise today I don't know.
Where are you from: Cornwall now living abroad in Devon