Technology: Comparable to early XXIst century, except self-driving vehicles are already available.

On a tidally locked planet most of the models that I can found (ex. http://www.meteo.mcgill.ca/~tmerlis/coupled_tidally_locked.html) tend to predict permanent hurricane-like weather near the substellar point. To make everything more tricky, on the planet that I am planning for my story one of key sea routes should go near this point, thus ships would have to endure hurricane each time.

  1. How would such a container ship look like in comparison to ships that we know from our planet? Would there be any significant shape change except making everything much more sturdy? Will there be fewer layers of containers above desk? Anything more?

  2. In case of transporting any crew, any idea how to provide them with safety and comfort? Except of course putting them in to well... a padded room?

  3. Or maybe the whole idea is not worthy and if one exists, a longer but safer route is the way to go?

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    $\begingroup$ It's going to be much cheaper to go round than to build something suitable for going through $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ Why would main routes go thorough hurricane? Do you have a very, very good reason for this? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ I believe there are newer models that disprove (or at least dispute) the "eyeball planet" version of tidally locked planets with a permanent hurricane. I just can't find a link at the moment. The author's name was Yang? $\endgroup$
    – rek
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Shadow1024 But it wasn't about length. Not really. It was about cost of shipping. Channel fees was cheaper than extra time / distance. Going thorough hurricane would have to be cheaper than going around (hard to believe) or there need to be some other reason. Time alone only matters for courier boats and luxury, perishable foods. Neither calls for container ship. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ I used to work for a former British Navy officer who spent quite a bit of time at sea in hurricanes, off the Falkland Islands. That sometimes involved stooging around for weeks on end waiting for the wind to drop to Force 10 so they could get into a harbour. From some of his stories, you really wouldn't want to do that just for commercial reasons. (For example, to pass the time had competitions to see who could steer the ship to keep her heeled over at more than 40 degrees for the longest time - the "record" more than 24 hours, and the ship was only designed for 45 degrees before capsizing. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 0:31

4 Answers 4


The conditions of hurricanes are very harsh and easily become a trouble for any surface going ship. They are even that dangerous to ships, that only the most specialized ships go through them at will - and these ships are made to withstand harsh environments by design. Most of the ships that can cope these weather are modern service vessels for offshore wind energy parks or icebreakers and both are designed and tested with ice, freak waves and extreme wind conditions in mind.

However, these ships are comparable short and couldn't carry more than a few to some dozen containers - which is why these ships are able to endure the extreme waves. Longer ships have a tendency to break under their own weight when some parts loose water contact.

a recent & modern Service Operation Vessel used by Siemens in the North Sea

But while a hurricane or any other Beauford 10+ wind does disturb the upper 5 to 10 meters of the ocean, the sea below is relatively calm. So our first step will be to get our ship under the ocean. The result will pretty much look like a Typhoon Class nuclear submarine, just instead of missiles, it carries some containers. Or in a picture:

Russian Tyophoon Class Submarine - just replace missiles with cargo

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    $\begingroup$ This is by far the most logical answer. If ships truly can be fully unmanned than a fleet of these submarines is the best option. They can also move in 3-dimensional space to avoid collisions better as well. So this also creates the potential for many levels of traffic through the oceans all going above and below each other. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ My mind jumped immediately to submarines as well, but they could only survive if the water was sufficiently deep. Per this link, damaging currents could reach down 100m or more, so it's a non-trivial concern. $\endgroup$
    – papidave
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 3:06
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    $\begingroup$ which is why I said relatively calm: the deeper you go, the less surface effects you get, however there are strong underwater currents that start about the same depth where surface effects stop. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 9:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Criggie my point is that this answer is like saying, "This world can't build airplanes, so instead they built interstellar space ships instead." Don't you think they skipped a few steps here and there? $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 5:11

Going through a hurricane is no one's idea of a good time. There's many things that can go wrong with a ship in rough conditions:

  • The ship is simply flooded by waves, and sinks
  • The ship is flipped to far off to a side, and floods
  • Cargo becomes loose, bangs around the interior of the ship, and either punches a hole in the side, or causes the ship to capsize
  • The back/structure of the ship breaks under the pounding of the waves, and due to cargo placement, etc.

Note: structural damage is a thing. Modern torpedoes don't necessarily impact the ship anymore. They explode under the ship, create a cavity, and the ship simply breaks in half.

Anyway, let's say that you really need your ships to go through these hurricanes. You're looking at a design which is partially submersible, much like a modern lifeboat, which is fully enclosed.

Of course, this will mean that it would have to be both huge, as well as have a smaller overall capacity than a ship which is not constrained in this manner. It will basically look like a floating zeppelin.

You'll want to make a point of lashing the cargo down very, very well, and you're good to go. These things will be pounded by the waves, even go under the surface in severe conditions, but as long as the dome isn't compromised, the ship should float back up to the surface.

You could take it a step further still, and basically design them as giant submarines that only travel at very shallow depth (say, less than 50 meters under the surface) - enough to avoid the weather, but not have to survive crazy hull pressure. They would probably have to be nuclear powered.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, I remember seeing on Discovery Channel crew welding cargo to the deck. Brutal approach, I admit, but better than any lashing you could get. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 20:58


Spheres are the strongest 3D shape if you take the average strength of all points on their surface. There shape would make them impervious to a lot of the threats a hurricane presents. Picture a stubby submarine that floats on the surface.

  • They would be less prone to structural damage as they are much more self-supporting than the traditional long shape of a ship.
  • It doesn't matter how big the waves are, you can't flood a sealed sphere
  • You also can't capsize a sphere. And the orientation of the "hull sphere" may not even matter if there's an inner rotating drum

One problem here is the size, you wouldn't want massive spheres as the structural and hydrodynamic costs would become unruly. So how do you achieve the capacity needed? How about chains of spheres. I still need to think about how you could connect the spheres in a way that would withstand the hurricane...

Another thing I haven't yet figured out is how the spheres would propel themselves through the water. I am imagining one of two situations though:

  1. The spheres are physically connected together and the "tug sphere" at the front has the sole role of driving the chain of spheres through the water. This sphere's contents could be entirely dedicated to whichever drive mechanism works
  2. The spheres act as a swarm, not physically connected and each with their own means of propulsion. They could use pretty basic swarm tactics to remain in their group, but not so close as to collide given the hurricane conditions. This concept has a nice futuristic feel to it

In both cases, crew are not essential. Our world is already on the brink of unmanned global shipping. If crew were required however, you could contain them within the sphere. Inside the spheres I would imagine having and inner-sphere that rotated independently from the outer-sphere, thus protecting the cargo and crew from the outside tempest. Living conditions would be very similar to a submarine I guess, so no need for a padded room!

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    $\begingroup$ Spheres are hard, true, but very bad to be a ship. Energy inefficient if you want to propel them. Shape doesn't favor any side to be down - bad for "this side up" cargo. Inner drum? Sooner or later it'll jam, imagine fixing it in a hurricane. Probably more issues. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ A rolling, or even capsized, traditional hull doesn't favour "this side up" cargo either. And the hydrodynamic inefficiencies would be a trade-off against the improved structural integrity. $\endgroup$
    – barney
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ But it does. Of course it works only in some range, but if it's get tilted to the side, it'll get back straight again. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ Spherical (well, cylindrical) ships have been attempted, but without much success - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roller_ship $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @Andrew, but that's not really what I was describing at all $\endgroup$
    – barney
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 21:49

1) You could have a 'segmented' cargo ship.

You have the main surface ship suitable for harsh weather as mentioned in Trish's answer. Short and tough. With all living quarters, engines, and possibly the most valuable cargo containers.

Then instead of having a traditional long cargo ship that will break apart due to shifting cargo, or due to its own weight when it loses contact with the water, you have segmented cargo hulls. Like a train, pulling cars behind it but have a ship towing floating hull barges. I wouldn't just have one tow line but several dozen. It would still be fairly rigid but allowing the length if the ship to always stay in contact with the surface water.

These floating barges would all be fully double hulled like traditional modern hulls. They would be able to maintain their own orientation ie won't tip sideways or flip over but stay 'right side' up. Not round or spherical but square or rectangular.

I would limit the number of segments, to one or two, possibly three, as otherwise you get too much sideways movement during storm activity. You can also have it, that this segmentation only occurs during storm activity. All other times the ship is pulled back together and travels in the traditional streamlined manner.

You may have to redesign the ship propeller system. Make the trust come from the forward section rather than 'rearwheel' drive.

2) I assume storm activity wouldn't be continuous? Instead of a padded room you can have safety rigging or webbing near all system critical systems. Crew can lash themselves into the webbing that would provide a limited 'suspension' unit. They would be protected from most of the random ship movements and still be capable of work in a particular restricted area. (this isn't like being tied in place, but rather hanging in a suspended webbing similar to bungy ropes, but not that stretchy. Or you could have a combination of different rigging systems depending on what sort of work is necessary)

You may find that your storm crews will be larger than modern day earth crews, to compensate for this restricted movement during storms. Instead of one or two engineers running all over the place ensuring the engine is working, you have three or four (or more depending on engine requirements) located at all necessary critical areas in suspension webbing.

Crew sleeping quarters will probably be designed to allowing sleeping in a lashing/webbing. Recreational night visits may be very interesting.

Of course, there will be scenarios that require people to move around as needed, especially in emergencies. Ensure all machinery, furniture corners and wall edges are rounded. Ensure that everything is tied down and prevented from flying around. Essentially childproof the ship.

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    $\begingroup$ That's called "towing", and it has its own set of challenges, particularly in terms of the connections between the units being towed ("segments" or "barges"). They have this really annoying tendency to break, and once they do you're screwed. Also - large ships are more stable and survivable than small ships. I spent years at sea, and believe me - I'd rather be on a big container ship in a blow rather than a dinky tugboat. Survivability in bad weather is why we have huge container ships navigating the oceans of the world rather than fleets of tugboats and barges. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ @BobJarvis, yeah. I'm not suggesting a dinky tugboat but rather a 'massive' ice breaker etc with a flexible 'spine'. Just enough so that the ship won't crack under its own weight during large waves. This is an alternate world, so I imagine there would be technology evolved and adapted to the storm world. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 17:26

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