Have you ever noticed that most ships have their bridges at the stern? Of course, it does not mean that every ship’s bridge is situated in the stern because we can find cruise ships, ferries, car carriers and OSVs with their bridge up forwards. However, they all have a reason for departing from the norm, which we will discuss later. Other than these exceptions, the bridge is at the stern on most ships, and there are at least five reasons for it.
Firstly, Tradition. During the early days of shipping, ships used to be steered with a tiller directly connected to a rudder; hence, the helm had to be situated at the stern of the ship, where captains would spend most of their time.
The second reason is Safety. As mentioned above, with the main areas like the engine room, accommodation, and bridge in the same place, the crew are mostly close to the lifeboats, firefighting equipment and medical treatment areas. So let’s say the ship is navigating in rough weather; the crew members will already be in the most sheltered part of the ship, away from the dangerous parts where spray might be washing over the decks.
The third reason is Convenience. The engine is connected directly to the propeller, and the propeller is also located at the stern; thus, keeping the bridge, accommodation, and the engine room all in the same place is very efficient.
The fourth reason is Manoeuvrability. The stern is the best place to be when the ship needs to manoeuvre in high-density traffic areas and while approaching ports. One has a better picture of how the whole ship is moving. For example, when you make a tight turn using the rudder, the ship appears to rotate around a pivot point, the bow goes in the direction you’d expect, but actually, the more significant movement is the stern moving in the other direction. Having the bridge at the stern makes such tight manoeuvring on huge ships much easier. Otherwise, it does take a lot of mental effort to keep a tab on what the stern is doing.
Finally, the fifth reason and probably most important for shipowners is Maximising the cargo carrying capacity and efficiency. Placing the ship’s bridge at the stern maximises cargo capacity and efficiency. As the engine is at the stern, the cargo capacity at the stern is anyway limited. So, it is better to place the non-revenue items such as accommodation and bridge in the same place.
Now you must be wondering if having the bridge at the stern is so useful; why do some ships have their bridges located at the forward?
Well, they have one most common reason for it: Visibility.
For example, if you look at a vast container ship, it would be impossible to place the bridge on the stern because of visibility. If you observe a loaded Ultra large container carrier, you will notice that the containers forward of the bridge taper downwards. The loading is done so that the navigators can see things closer to the ship’s bow, and the vessel complies with IMO’s visibility requirements. To maintain the required visibility with the bridge at the stern, the ship owner and charterer would lose a lot of cargo carrying capacity and need to make the bridge so much taller that it would be difficult for the ship to pass under so many obstructions like overhead cables, overhead bridges, etc.
Similarly, for car carriers, maximising the cargo space and maintaining the required visibility are the reasons for having their bridges at the forward.
Now, if we talk about why cruise ships have their bridges located forward, again, the answer is visibility. The passengers need space and want accommodation with windows and open decks. So a lot of superstructures are required above the hull. With an immense superstructure, there are two options: mount the bridge really high or place it near the bow. Putting it near the bow makes the most sense.
So, what do you prefer onboard your ships, a bridge at the forward or a bridge at the stern? Do let us know in the comments.
Here is a detailed video on this interesting subject: