What is a Shipyard?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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A shipyard is a facility for building, maintaining, and repairing ships and boats which can vary in size from personal sailing boats to large container ships designed to travel around the globe. Usually, a shipyard is positioned in an advantageous location along a large inland river, harbor, or shoreline, and some historic shipyards have operated in the same location for hundreds of years. Numerous people work in a shipyard, including naval architects, engineers, electricians, and an assortment of other skilled tradespeople who contribute to the construction of a ship. A shipyard also has a large amount of specialized equipment.

At the most basic, a shipyard simply builds ships. However, most shipyards also maintain and repair ships that they have built, or ships caught in emergency situations which cannot return to their home shipyard. Typically, shipyards for civilian and military ships are kept separate, because of the security demands of the military, and the highly specialized ships built for most militaries. In either a civilian or a naval shipyard, the yard builds the ship from the ground up, creating the hull and configuring the interior of the ship to the owner's specifications before launching it and fitting the ship out. In a military shipyard, the ships are often covered to prevent opposing militaries from gathering information about them.


Along with both dry and wet docks, a shipyard usually has an assortment of cranes for lifting ship components. In addition, a shipyard has large land-based slips to lay the keels for their ships, and to build up the hulls, along with enclosed dust free environments and areas set aside for painting. Multiple ships are usually being built at once, allowing visitors to see ships in various stages of completion and repair. When ships are complete, they are launched, fully fitted, and then delivered to their owners.

Some of the most famous shipyards in the world include Harland and Wolff's facilities in Belfast, Ireland, which has built a number of ships for the British navy, along with all of the White Star Line ships including the Titanic. On the European mainland, Blohm und Vass has operated in Germany since 1877, and Gdansk Shipyard in Poland has built ships since 1945, under a variety of names. In the United States, the San Francisco Naval Shipyard, also known as Hunter's Point, operated from 1870-1994, and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine has operated continuously since 1800. Numerous other shipyards around the world, especially in Asia, meet the demand for ocean-going vessels.


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Post 6

@MaPa - I agree. We used to be the "arsenal of democracy" in the United States, building things for the whole world. My entire family worked in manufacturing at one point. My grandfather, in fact, worked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington during WWII, and he built the "Liberty Ships" that delivered supplies to the boys fighting overseas.

I understand why a lot of factory work is no longer here, but I still think it leaves us at a real disadvantage when we rely on other countries to make things that we need. That gives them a lot of power over our economy, and even over our national defense.

Post 5

The U.S. has only a tiny fraction of the shipbuilding capacity we once had. The number of ships built here during World War II was amazing, but after that labor costs and new emerging markets sent a lot of the work to other countries.

The U.S. Navy still requires that warships be built in this country (at least mostly), so there is still a shipbuilding industry, and shipyard jobs are very secure and well-paying, if you can get one. I just wish we still built more things domestically.

Post 4

@backdraft - I have seen those, and you are right, they're very creepy. There aren't as many in the U.S. as there used to be, due to the many environmental hazards of old ships and the cost of complying with licensing and regulations in America.

Instead, they send a lot of the ships that can still make the trip overseas. I saw a great documentary on shipbreakers, people who strip and then cut up ships for scrap, in India. It was a fascinating show, but a sad life. They pretty much live in the scrapyard where they work, and it is completely polluted with toxic chemicals.

Post 3

@ZsaZsa56 - I know exactly what you mean. My grandfather spent his entire career in the Navy and lived close to a Navy shipyard on the East Coast.

When I was a little boy and I would go to visit my grandparents, my grandfather would take me on walks around the outside of the shipyard. He would point out ships or various pieces of machinery and explain to me what they did, or as best he could when talking to a little boy. I remember being fascinated by all of it. To my little eyes it looked like the most impressive thing in the world.

Spending that time with my grandfather is one of my best memories from childhood. My grandfather loved those ships and he was able to get me to see why.

Post 2

I saw a shipyard in Europe that was one of the biggest most complicated and most impressive sights I've ever seen. In fact it probably rivaled a lot of the castles and cathedral that we were seeing in terms of grandeur.

It was just a gigantic industrial tangle. There were cranes everywhere, huge pieces of metal flying though the air, huge structures of scaffolding and sparks flying everywhere. If you think of the size of a large cruise ship or a battle ship the scale necessary in a shipyard starts to come into relief. They really are incredible places. I would take a trip out of my way just to see one.

Post 1

One of the creepiest things I have ever seen was a salvage yard for marine scrap. So this was essentially a ship graveyard.

This was down in New Orleans and it was only a few years after Kartina so this yard was completely full. They had a little bit of everything. Ships large and small, ocean platforms, all kinds of foreign looking machinery and even sections of metal docks.

It was weird to see all of that stuff in such terrible condition and even weirder to see it all up on land. My friend and I probably spent 3 hours exploring that place because everything was so haunting and mysterious. I know that these exist all over the country. If you can get permission from the operator go and check one out one day.

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