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Stowage is space on a ship available for storage, as well as the process of arranging goods in a stowage area in a practical and functional way. Most stowage is belowdecks and can include everything from vast cargo holds to cupboards in individual staterooms. The crew of a ship is skilled in placing items in storage, and before taking on a load of supplies, it will plan the best way to store it on board so it can quickly stow and organize any goods it loaded. Individuals sailing on a ship also need some stowage skills to keep their personal possessions organized and handy.
In the case of a physical space, stowage can vary in nature depending on the kinds of goods it is supposed to hold. A space like a hold is usually designed to hold goods in a variety of configurations so a ship can carry many types of items, unless it is a purpose-built ship like an oil tanker. Climate control may be available to protect fragile cargo, and the ship can have cameras to monitor the cargo during transit, as well as personnel who periodically inspect the hold for signs of tampering.
Individual storage compartments are available for things like sailing supplies such as charts and rope as well as personal possessions. Regular access to the materials in storage is necessary during the trip, and the space may have compartments and shelves to organize the contents, making it easy to store them efficiently and grab what might be needed. A chart cabinet, for example, could have cubbyholes for storing rolled-up charts.
When placing materials in stowage, sailors have to think about how cargo will affect the weight, balance, and performance of the ship. It must have an even and logical distribution to reduce the risk of damage and injuries. Front-loading a ship, for example, could cause it to founder because the hull would not be balanced. Likewise, sailors need to think about access needs. A perishable cargo should go in last so it will come out first, for example. Likewise, on a ship making multiple stops, sailors need to store cargo in order of delivery to avoid having to unload half the ship to reach a shipment of goods.
Putting items in personal stowage is necessary, as loose items around a ship can potentially cause injuries ranging from tripping on loose goods to being hit by flying objects in rough weather. As sailors pack items away in cabinets, chests, and other storage areas, they must think about which things they will use the most, so these can be stored on top.