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Georg Andal19 Sep 20233 min read

How your components and equipment's weight impacts your performance

How your components and equipment's weight impacts your performance

In the maritime industry, where efficiency, performance, and environmental considerations are paramount, the weight of a vessel's propulsion system can play a critical role. The propulsion system’s weight typically accounts for a small percentage of the total vessel weight (3-5%). Its impact on vessel performance, fuel consumption, and emissions should not be underestimated. However, the answer is not single-sided and may even surprise you.

In this article, we delve into the intricate relationship between vessel weight, propulsion efficiency, and the choices available to shipbuilders and operators in the marine industry.


Download: How to run a performance review on your vessel


The Weight-Efficiency Equation

It's a simple equation that has significant implications: an increase in vessel weight leads to higher hull resistance, subsequently raising power requirements, emissions, and fuel costs. For instance, a general rule of thumb for high-speed vessels suggests a speed loss of approximately 0.10 to 0.15 knots per extra ton of weight, depending on the vessel's size.


Propulsion System Optimization

When it comes to propulsion systems, the conventional wisdom of lower weight equating to better performance, is challenged. In many cases, a propulsion setup with a larger, more efficient propellars, like CPP, and slightly higher weight can yield lower power requirements compared to a lighter setup with a smaller propeller and reduced efficiency.

To reduce the weight of an efficient propulsion system, manufacturers must explore avenues for producing propulsion components (rudders, brackets, propeller shafts, etc.) using lighter materials, such as carbon fiber. Additionally, opting for aluminum gearhouses instead of cast iron can also contribute to weight reduction.

However, a challenge arises when design dimensions, such as rudder or bracket thickness, must be increased to meet strength requirements. This trade-off can lead to increased resistance/drag for the propulsion system, mitigating the advantages of reduced weight.

Hence, it's not always a straightforward conclusion that the lightest possible propulsion system is the best choice. Striking the right balance between weight and efficiency is the key.


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Innovations for Weight Reduction

Developing propulsion components using materials like carbon fiber involves a costly and lengthy process, including the approval of strength requirements by classification societies. In many cases, existing regulations do not even cover these new materials and designs, leading to elevated costs and potential risks concerning operational reliability.

A propulsion-system’s efficiency is just as important as its weight, perhaps even more so. Being vigilant in terms of your weight-budget throughout the ship, not only its power and propulsion system, will always have positive effects on your performance.

Choosing lightweight hull materials and interior components have the biggest impact on the final power requirements:

  • Passenger seats,
  • Deck equipment
  • Gangways
  • Bridge solutions
  • Machinery room design

It's worth noting that lightweight alternatives often come at a higher cost compared to standard, off-the-shelf, options, but will always have a positive effect on your efficiency and subsequent operational cost (OPEX).


Read more: Efficient Propulsion in a Green Environment, What are the Options?


Acheiving a Positive design spiral

When weight requirements that are set early in the design-process are followed through, this replants itself to your entire vessel’s operation. In short, you end up with a positive design spiral. With the weight reduction gained from hull and interior components, the vessel may require smaller tanks/batteries and motors, decreasing your weight even further. Or your range is extended with the same power/propulsion system, all as a result of sticking to your initial weight-constraints.

Shipbuilding yards are acutely aware of this dynamic, and various yards have already embraced lightweight materials like aluminum and carbon fiber when constructing hulls.



In the marine industry, achieving optimal vessel performance requires careful consideration of multiple factors and components. Your propulsion system weight must always be measured against its operational efficiency.

While advancements in lightweight materials offer promise, they are not without challenges. Increased costs and potential trade-offs in operational reliability can arise, underscoring the need for a cautious and informed approach.

Weight requirements set early in the design-process should be followed vigilantly, which will replant itself to your entire vessel’s operation. With the right approach you achieve a positive design spiral, where the weight-reduction of one component allow for lower weight of another.

The marine industry stands at the crossroads of weight optimization and propulsion efficiency. With the vessel's weight playing a pivotal role in determining its performance metrics, shipbuilders, engineers, and operators must meticulously weigh the benefits of reduced weight against potential impacts on efficiency and cost.

As technology continues to evolve, the maritime sector will find itself navigating these complex waters to achieve the perfect balance between weight, performance and efficiency.