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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A hulk in Toulon harbour.

A hulk is a ship that is afloat, but incapable of going to sea. Although sometimes used to describe a ship that has been launched but not completed, the term most often refers to an old ship that has had its rigging or internal equipment removed, retaining only its flotational qualities. Although the term "hulk" can be used to refer to an abandoned wreck or shell, is much more commonly applied to hulls that are still performing a useful function. In the days of sail, many hulls served longer as hulks than they did as functional ships. Wooden ships were often converted to hulks when the hull structure became too old and weak to withstand the stresses of the sailing. More recently, ships have been converted to hulks when they become obsolete (e.g., when motorized ships replaced sailing ships) or when they become uneconomical to operate (e.g., some large oil tankers.)


Sheer hulk

A sheer hulk (or shear hulk), in the days of sailing ships, was used in shipbuilding and repair as a sort of floating crane, primarily to place the lower masts of a ship under construction or repair. The masts of the hulk (known as "sheers") would be at an angle, and the ends could be effectively raised or lowered by rotating the hulk's hull, either by pulling on ropes attached to the hull, or by shifting the ballast within the hull. The lower masts were the largest and most massive single timbers aboard a ship, and erecting these masts was extremely difficult without the assistance of a sheer hulk.

Receiving hulk

The American receiving ship C. W. Morse during World War I.

A receiving ship is a ship that is used in harbor to house newly recruited sailors before they are assigned to a crew.[1]

In the Royal Navy, the use of impressment to collect sailors resulted in the problem of preventing escape of the unwilling "recruits." The receiving ship was part of the solution; it was difficult to get off the ship without being detected, and in any case most sailors before the mid-19th century did not know how to swim.

Receiving ships were typically older vessels that could still be kept afloat, but were obsolete or no longer seaworthy. The practice was especially common in the age of wooden ships, since the old hulls would remain afloat for many years in relatively still waters after they had become too weak to withstand the rigors of the open ocean.

Receiving ships often held hospital duties as many were assigned in locations that had yet to build station hospitals. Often the afloat surgeon would take up station on the receiving ship.

Prison hulk

A prison hulk was a hulk used as a floating prison. They were especially popular in Great Britain, the Royal Navy producing a steady supply of ships too worn-out to use in combat, but still afloat. The harbour location of prison hulks was also convenient for the temporary holding of persons being transported to Australia and elsewhere overseas. These were decommissioned in the mid-1800s; there are, however, current discussions taking place regarding the reintroduction of prison ships in order to alleviate overcrowding in UK prisons.

Powder hulk

A powder hulk was a hulk used to store gunpowder. The hulk was a floating warehouse which could be moved as needed to simplify the transfer of gunpowder to warships.

Salvage Pontoon

A wide noose made of thick rope with anchors attached to it and two floating wooden ships overlayed with heavy beams with ropes hanging down from them
Illustration from a treatise on salvaging from 1734, showing the traditional method of raising a wreck with the help of anchors and hulks as pontoons.

Hulks were used in pairs during salvage operations. By passing heavy cables under a wreck and connecting them to two hulks, a wreck could be raised using the lifting force of the tide or by changing the the buoyancy of the hulks.

Floating production storage and offloading units

Several of the largest former oil tankers were converted to Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) units, effectively very large floating oil storage tanks. The Knock Nevis, by some measures the largest ship ever built, served in this capacity from 2004 until 2010.

Sailing ship hulks and coal hulks

Writing of the fate of the clipper ships, William L. Carothers said, "Clippers functioned well as barges; their fine ends made for little resistance when under tow ... The ultimate degradation awaited a barge. There was no way up, only down-- down to the category of coal hulks ... Having strong solid bottoms ... they could handle the great weight of bulk coal which filled their holds. It was a grimy, untidy, unglamorous end for any vessel which had seen the glory days."[2]

The famed clipper Red Jacket ended her days as a coaling hulk in the Cape Verde Islands.

When lumber schooner Johanna Smith, "one of only two Pacific Coast steam schooners to be powered by steam turbines,"[3] was hulked in 1928, she was moored off Long Beach, California and used as a gambling ship, until a fire of unknown origin finished her off.

One vessel rescued from this ignominious end was the barque Polly Woodside, now a museum ship in Melbourne, Australia.

See also


  1. ^ "Receiving Ship". Retrieved 2009-10-30. 
  2. ^ Crothers, William L (1997). The American-built clipper ship, 1850-1856 : characteristics, construction, and details. Camden, ME: International Marine. ISBN 0070145016. 
  3. ^ Information on the wreck "Johanna Smith". California Wreck Divers. Information on the wreck. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 

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