In 1892 the first all-aluminium seagoing vessel, a 40 – foot yacht, was built in France.
Over 120 years later, aluminium is still a favourite material for maritime craft due to its light weight and ease of fabrication combined with corrosion and fatigue resistance. Aluminium ‘s unique characteristics allow vessel volume and height to be increased without loss of stability. Passenger compartments can be larger and more cabins can be located above sea level. Cruise ships gain increased manoeuvrability and access to shallow draft ports through the use of aluminium. Aluminium claddings of the interiors of large shipping vessels, as well as cruise ships, are attractive and easy to clean. Users report that aluminium craft have been in service for over 30 years with no signs of metal fatigue. Low maintenance is also a significant feature of aluminium vessels.
Large vessels can contain as much as 2,000 tonnes of aluminium. This allows for a considerable weight reduction when compared with their steel counterparts. Aluminium’s use in marine applications can increase the speed and size of boats, yachts, ferries, and ships, while improving their fuel economy, seaworthiness, safety, reliability, maintenance costs. Substitution of aluminium for steel can result in weight savings of 35 to 45% in hulls and 55 to 65% in superstructures. Higher vessel speeds and load capacities can mean extra traffic volume and profit for a ship or boat operator.
Fast ferries, a growing marine application for aluminium, each have the ability to handle up to 1,500 passengers and 375 cars and travel at speeds of 30 – 50 knots. In many cases, integrally stiffened and mechanically interlocked extrusions are used for decks, roofing and other structures with conventional welded extrusions and sheet used for hulls and framing. A modern ferry can use up to 400 tonnes of aluminium.
Aluminium-intensive cargo ships with load capacities up to 3,000 metric tonnes are under design to operate at up to 60 knots, cross the Atlantic in under 60 hours, and handle Class 6 seas. Military requirements seek smaller, more agile vessel designs with a lower radar cross section and capable of 60 to 80 knots or more – another excellent fit for aluminium given aluminium manufacturing advances, such as friction – stir welding and structural bonding.
Aluminium is recognized by and complies with the requirements of the High Speed Code of the International Maritime Organization, for vessel design, safety, and control of fire risk. The metal stands up to the torsional, flexural, compression and impact loads of high speed water travel as well as or better than steel. For these reasons it is a key material for use in the construction and fitting out of speed boats, fast ferries, passenger-carrying catamarans, large shipping vessels, cruise ships and military craft.