This question is probably not in the right place, but I don't think any of the other Stack Exchange communities are a good fit for it, either.

I am wondering what actions an experienced team/organisation should take if a ship from a fleet goes adrift due to complete engine failure. I am interested in the course of action taken both in calm weather and in severe storm conditions.

EDIT: two very good answers, thank you, but i realised i wanted to add something extra

What would happen in the same situation if the engines were completely destroyed, let's say they suffered spontaneous explosion and it's a post-apocalypse world with no ports for miles, wouldn't there be some other way to save the ship?

Also how good is the idea of having most of the boats of a fleet somehow tied/clumped together?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I haven't read your question, or your edit, closely, but I think this Meta post is relevant to your question. You might want to think about asking a new question, if my guess about the Meta post is correct. $\endgroup$ – Shokhet Jan 2 '15 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ Is it out in the middle of the open ocean where it won't hit anything, or it is near to the coast or to other obstacles that it might smash into? Makes all the difference. Also is it on fire or is there a risk of explosion - i.e. is there a risk to the life of persons on board it (assuming it doesn't hit anything)? Is it a cargo ship or is it full of passengers? Does the ship have lifeboats? Has the hull remained watertight or is it holed and taking on water? How nearby is the rest of the fleet and what rescue resources does that fleet have? (e.g. boats, helicopters)? $\endgroup$ – A E Jan 2 '15 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ During big storms you probably wouldn't be making much way as a fleet, and focus instead on keeping safely separated. Without functioning engines (and even with functioning engines) one would use drogues to orient the ship to best face the storm. $\endgroup$ – Dave X Dec 28 '16 at 5:02

The answer in today's world is tugboats and their sister ships, the ETV, or emergency tow vessel, and the salvage tug. These can both help ships navigate crowded ports and tug disabled ships to the nearest port. They have special rubberized bows to allow safe contact with the ship (or are simply lined with old tires), and very strong towing cables. There's a great video on how they work. As you can see here, since we're dealing with floating objects, a very small tugboat can pull a much more massive ship with relative ease, counter-intuitively for us landlubbers. As you can see here, the procedure is similar in bad weather, only a lot harder and more dangerous.

Ships also regularly carry a wide array of spare and replacement parts, for precisely this kind of contingency.

Back in the sailing age, ships would carry mast replacement timbers, extra sail sheets, lots of thread. This temporary mast would be called a "jury mast." Incidentally, this is where the expression "jury-rig" comes from (a "rig" being the ship's masts, sails and lines). If that was not an option, sailing ships could try to use oars or kedging.

RE: Edit

  1. Engines being kaput does not in any way prevent towing.
  2. Postapocalyptic worlds are characterized by a distinct lack of towboats crewed by non-cannibals. Just take a lifeboat, some guns, and row for the nearest tropical paradise. What could possibly go wrong?
  3. Imagine a mild storm in the South Pacific with 60 foot waves. Now imagine a bunch of ships really really close together, being thrown around like toys by a 2 year old in a temper tantrum. 'Nuff said.

in modern days, this isn't too big a deal. Today the oceans feel much 'smaller' then they use to, so getting someone to help them isn't as difficult. You either send someone to repair the engines, or tow them to a port, depending on how badly adrift they are. You may want to bring them some extra food and water to tide them over until they can get back to land.

Getting repair peoples to military boats is pretty common logistical question, it usually involves a helicopter ride. Ideally sending people and standard replacement parts would be done as it's easier logistically if you can fix the boat up and send it home on it's own power.

As for towing, most boats aren't made for towing, tugboats would be preferred but they tend to stay close to land, so getting one out to the middle of Atlantic where your boat is stranded may take awhile. Still, this is a mere logistics question, how do I get a boat I want to tow where I want it. At worst it delays 'rescue' by a little while.

The answer is the same for stormy and non-stormy conditions. Modern fleet-sized boats mostly laugh at storms. They wouldn't be much of a concern to us. The actual towing or dropping off of experts may get delayed until the storm dies down if it's really bad, so maybe you add a delay of a day to their 'rescue', but again this isn't much of a concern.

This of course assumes modern day technology. If you set this in the past it becomes a much bigger problem. Say your sail was damaged in a battle in the area of wooden boats. Now you have a real problem (they may just evacuate the boat and leave it to sink).


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