Imagine similar earth conditions of oceans and currents, and a renaissance type kind of ships of various sizes (ranging from sloops to ships-of-the-line), could a fleet consisting in 1500 (aprox.) vessels generate enough force to create tsunamis and strong currents?

If not, how many ships would be necessary to generate these large waves? Is there any historical reference to this phenomenon?


4 Answers 4


1500? Absolutely not. Add a couple of zeroes, still not likely.

Ships actually generate fairly little motion in the ocean, and sailing ships even less so. All of this is superficial, and the waves created by the ships are mostly broken by the other ships.

Tsunamis or tidal waves are created by large underwater forces, equivalent of underwater explosions. The force created by ships is not nearly enough. Unless you drop all ships into the ocean at once at the same spot, its unlikely anyone is going to notice, no matter how large you make your fleet.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 because this is correct, but also "motion in the ocean" is a great turn of phrase. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Mar 13, 2020 at 22:31
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that the whole reason we have sailing ships but not sailing trains, and the reason why canal barges pulled by animals exist, is because of how little energy ships need compared to pretty much anything else that size. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Mar 13, 2020 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe they use the Orion drive for propulsion? :) $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Mar 14, 2020 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ @vsz that could give quite... Spectacular results. Very short lived though I'm afraid, and even an atomic detonation at the surface might not be enough. $\endgroup$
    – Plutian
    Mar 14, 2020 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Plutian : just kidding... but maybe... they let the nukes sink deep before detonation, and they then ride the tidal wave, like giant surfboards? $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Mar 14, 2020 at 18:19

No number of ships would do this. Ships simply do not move quickly enough - the water will just move around them.


I agree with the take that no amount of ships would do this, much less renaissance era ships. For context, here is a video of an aircraft carrier being rocked by storm waves: https://youtu.be/4gYLmIsOHV8

That’s the USS Kitty Hawk, a former supercarrier of the US Navy. It’s just shy of a third of a kilometer long, and displaces 82,000 long tons at full load. Naval ships of the Renaissance would rarely be more than 1,000-2,000 tons, so this single ship masses equally to anywhere between 40 and 80 of your fleet’s ships. And yet, stormwaves don’t just outmatch the wake it generates, they obliterate it. Ships on the surface just won’t generate enough hydrodynamic force to cause a meaningful change to currents in such a vast and chaotic system.


It took ~500 million ton to create a tsunami in a reservoir (assuming the landslip was soil, if it was rock then more than that) - https://web.archive.org/web/20131206033431/http://www.landslideblog.org/2008/12/vaiont-vajont-landslide-of-1963.html - so dropping 6 thousand supercarriers from a height of 50 metres might make a smallish one in the ocean. Just moving them around on the surface won't do much.

  • $\begingroup$ +1. Thankfully no one has ever designed a fleet of ships that can alter their displacement and indiscriminately kill with wave propagation. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Mar 14, 2020 at 21:44

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