Time to Ditch RMS Titanic as a Benchmark?


Senior Lecturer Paul Stott of Newcastle University is no stranger to this blog, and was recently in the national media after drawing attention to the need to use another benchmark when comparing the size of ships. The RMS Titanic is the iconic benchmark most often used – but is it a good comparison?

Despite conjuring up images of vastness and opulence, Titanic was actually no bigger than a North Sea ferry and could easily sit on the deck of a large container ship.

“The reality is that – even if any living person had seen the Titanic – it would not be particularly large in the modern context,” he explains.
“Whilst large in her day, Titanic would be equivalent only to a mid-sized ferry in the modern era, the sort of ship many have sailed on to get to France or Holland, and this normally comes as a revelation.
“Its size was exceeded by a factor of two with the Queen Mary in 1936, almost 80 years ago and it is no more than 20% of the size of the largest ship currently afloat.”

Finding a new benchmark
Benchmarking ship size in the popular context is a complex task. Obvious measures such as length and weight do not do justice to the physical size of ships and weight is unreliable because of the varying nature of different designs of ship.
“Whilst the Costa Concordia is more than double the physical size of Titanic, their weights are very similar (around 55,000 tonnes) because modern designs are inherently much lighter than Edwardian engineering,” explains Mr Stott.
Linear parameters were tried as well as weight but none convey the right message about how heroic the salvage effort is. “Stating that the Costa Concordia is equivalent in length to 26 London buses conveys no impression of the size of a cruise ship. The comparator has to be volumetric”.
The research shows that none of the usual volume comparators, such as the use of Olympic sized swimming pools, are of any use. The research does, however, identify benchmarks that can be used to convey the correct impression of modern large ships.
“Stating that the Costa Concordia is around twice the size of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, in terms of their physical size, conveys in a direct way quite how large the object salvors were manhandling is.
“It also turns out that the Costa is equivalent in size to the Gherkin in London. Stating that the salvors were using brute force to move an object the size of a sky scraper, which many have seen and can therefore relate to directly, really gets across the message of how heroic the task achieved was.”

Source Information: “The Use of Benchmarks in the Popular Reporting of Commercial Shipping: Is the Titanic an appropriate measure to convey the size of a modern ship?” Paul Stott. Mariner’s Mirror
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00253359.2014.866378

Mr Paul Stott, Senior Lecturer, School of Marine Sciences & Technology; Tel: +44 (0) 191 208 6721; email: paul.stott@ncl.ac.uk

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About Craig Jallal
A shipping analyst whose feels the need to comment on the industry.

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