Displacement (ship)
A ship's displacement is its weight at any given time, generally expressed in metric ton
The tonne, known as the metric ton in the US , often put pleonastically as "metric tonne" to avoid confusion with ton, is a metric system unit of mass equal to 1000 kilograms. The tonne is not an International System of Units unit, but is accepted for use with the SI...

s or long ton
Long ton
Long ton is the name for the unit called the "ton" in the avoirdupois or Imperial system of measurements, as used in the United Kingdom and several other Commonwealth countries. It has been mostly replaced by the tonne, and in the United States by the short ton...

s. The term is often used to mean the ship's weight when it is loaded to its maximum capacity. A number of synonymous terms exist for this maximum weight, such as loaded displacement, full load displacement and designated displacement. Displacement is a measurement of weight, and should not be confused with similarly named measurements of volume or capacity such as net tonnage
Net tonnage
Net tonnage is a dimensionless index calculated from the total moulded volume of the ship's cargo spaces by using a mathematical formula...

, gross tonnage
Gross tonnage
Gross tonnage is a unitless index related to a ship's overall internal volume. Gross tonnage is different from gross register tonnage...

, or deadweight tonnage
Deadweight tonnage
Deadweight tonnage is a measure of how much weight a ship is carrying or can safely carry. It is the sum of the weights of cargo, fuel, fresh water, ballast water, provisions, passengers, and crew...


The word displacement
Displacement (fluid)
In fluid mechanics, displacement occurs when an object is immersed in a fluid, pushing it out of the way and taking its place. The volume of the fluid displaced can then be measured, as in the illustration, and from this the volume of the immersed object can be deduced .An object that sinks...

 refers to the weight of the water that the ship displaces while floating. Another way of thinking about displacement is the amount of water that would spill out of a completely filled container were the ship to be placed into it. A floating ship always displaces an amount of water of the same weight as the ship.

The density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

 (weight per unit of volume) of water can vary. For example, the average density of seawater at the surface of the ocean is 1025 kg/m³ (10.25 lb/ga
The gallon is a measure of volume. Historically it has had many different definitions, but there are three definitions in current use: the imperial gallon which is used in the United Kingdom and semi-officially within Canada, the United States liquid gallon and the lesser used United States dry...

, 8.55 lb/US gallon), fresh water on the other hand has a density of about 1000 kg/m³ (10.00 lb/ga, 8.35 lb/US gallon). Consider a 100-ton
The ton is a unit of measure. It has a long history and has acquired a number of meanings and uses over the years. It is used principally as a unit of weight, and as a unit of volume. It can also be used as a measure of energy, for truck classification, or as a colloquial term.It is derived from...

 ship passing from a saltwater sea into a freshwater river. It always displaces exactly 100 tons of water, but it has to displace a greater volume of fresh water to amount to 100 tons. Therefore it would sit slightly lower in the water in the freshwater river than it would in the saltwater sea.

It can be useful to know a ship's displacement when it is unloaded or partially loaded. Terms for these measurements include light displacement, standard displacement, and normal displacement. These terms are defined fully below.


The traditional method for determining a ship's actual displacement is by use of draft marks. A merchant vessel has six sets of draft marks: forward, midships, and astern on both the port and starboard sides. These drafts can allow the determination of a ship's displacement to an accuracy of 0.5%. First, the individual drafts are averaged to find a mean draft. Then the mean draft is entered into the ship's hydrostatic tables, giving a displacement.

Computers have been used to assist in hydrostatic calculations, such as determining displacement, since the 1950s. The first were mechanical computers, similar to slide rule
Slide rule
The slide rule, also known colloquially as a slipstick, is a mechanical analog computer. The slide rule is used primarily for multiplication and division, and also for functions such as roots, logarithms and trigonometry, but is not normally used for addition or subtraction.Slide rules come in a...

s which could convert cargo levels to values such as deadweight tonnage
Deadweight tonnage
Deadweight tonnage is a measure of how much weight a ship is carrying or can safely carry. It is the sum of the weights of cargo, fuel, fresh water, ballast water, provisions, passengers, and crew...

, draft, and trim. Since the 1970s, personal computer
Personal computer
A personal computer is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end-user with no intervening computer operator...

-based programs have been developing to meet these needs.

Displacement under special conditions

A number of measurements of displacement are defined when the ship is in a special state, such as when it is completely full or completely empty. These special types of displacement are discussed below.

Full or deep load or loaded displacement

Full load displacement and loaded displacement have almost identical definitions.

Full load displacement is defined as the displacement of a vessel when floating at her greatest allowable draft as established by the classification societies. For warships, an arbitrary full load condition is established. Deep load condition means full ammunition and stores, with most available fuel capacity used.

Loaded displacement is defined as the weight of the ship including cargo, passengers, fuel, water, stores, dunnage and such other items necessary for use on a voyage, which brings the ship down to her load draft.

Standard displacement

The standard displacement, also known as Washington disp, is a term defined in the Washington Naval Treaty
Washington Naval Treaty
The Washington Naval Treaty, also known as the Five-Power Treaty, was an attempt to cap and limit, and "prevent 'further' costly escalation" of the naval arms race that had begun after World War I between various International powers, each of which had significant naval fleets. The treaty was...

. It is defined as the displacement of the ship complete, fully manned, engined, and equipped ready for sea, including all armament and ammunition, equipment, outfit, provisions and fresh water for crew, miscellaneous stores, and implements of every description that are intended to be carried in war, but without fuel or reserve boiler feed water on board. The omission of fuel and water was to avoid penalizing the British who had greater global reach and required higher fuel loads.

Light displacement

Light displacement is defined as the weight of the ship excluding cargo, fuel, ballast, stores, passengers, crew, but with water in boilers to steaming level.

Normal displacement

This rare term has been used to mean the ship's displacement "with all outfit, and two-thirds supply of stores, ammunition, etc., on board."

See also

  • Naval architecture
    Naval architecture
    Naval architecture is an engineering discipline dealing with the design, construction, maintenance and operation of marine vessels and structures. Naval architecture involves basic and applied research, design, development, design evaluation and calculations during all stages of the life of a...

  • Hull (watercraft)
    Hull (watercraft)
    A hull is the watertight body of a ship or boat. Above the hull is the superstructure and/or deckhouse, where present. The line where the hull meets the water surface is called the waterline.The structure of the hull varies depending on the vessel type...

  • Hydrodynamics
  • Tonnage
    Tonnage is a measure of the size or cargo carrying capacity of a ship. The term derives from the taxation paid on tuns or casks of wine, and was later used in reference to the weight of a ship's cargo; however, in modern maritime usage, "tonnage" specifically refers to a calculation of the volume...

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