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Tech on the Water: Cruise Ship Advancements

Modern cruise ships have changed a lot over the past few years. With a rapid surge in mobile communication technology, it's become increasingly easier to stay in touch with the mainland. But the ship's Wi-Fi and radar systems aren't the only technology used to keep a modern cruise ship running. Have you ever thought about how they manage to stay afloat?

This is where ballast comes into play. Ballast is essentially the use of a counterweight to sink the boat further into the water. Sinking a boat to keep it afloat probably sounds a bit counterproductive, but by lowering the ship's centre of gravity, the ballast ensures a much more stable cruise.

Applications for Balast:

  • Counterbalancing heavy cargo at one end to level out the ship.
  • Increasing the ships weight to hunker down during heavy storms.
  • Adjusting the ship's centre of gravity depending on the number of passengers.

So how does it work? Originally, rock and bags of sand were used, but these days, water is stored in huge tanks and pumped around the ship depending on where the ballast is needed. By using water, this also allows the ship to increase or decrease the amount of ballast by simply pumping water in or out from the surrounding ocean (particularly useful in counteracting loss of weight mid-journey due to fuel consumption).

Ship Communications

A relaxing cruise was once thought to be the best way to get away from it all, but now, you can keep up to date with all the latest news and gossip with a quick ship-to-shore phone call and even catch up on your social-media using the ship's wireless internet. Unfortunately, as with most things these days, it can cost an arm and a leg.

Communication Methods:

  • Ship-to-shore phone calls: Usually costing around $7 – $12 per minute, this is the most expensive way to phone home.
  • On-board cellphone use: Rates vary by network but can cost up to $4.99 per minute with T-Mobile. Overseas roaming charges also apply.
  • Ship's Wi-Fi: On one popular cruise ship, the Carnival Dream, Wi-Fi access costs $24.99 an hour for a connection with particularly low latency.

While these systems are a great way to get in touch with family and friends in an emergency, you wouldn't really want to spend $24.99 an hour to check Facebook.

Where does all that Fresh Water come from?

Photo: © James Grellier

Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink. At least, that used to be the problem until the 1960s when the first large-scale desalination process was used at Guantanamo Bay.

Desalination is the process by which seawater is purified - removing salt and other minerals to make the water drinkable. All modern cruise ships now have an on-board desalination plant, which converts saltwater from the sea around them into purified, drinkable water.

It works by heat treating the water to collect the purified steam, then starting the process over to get every last drop.

Different Applications:

  • Purifying seawater for consumption by passengers and crew.
  • Purifying 'grey water' such as dishwater so that it can be re-used.
  • Sanitizing certain waste water which is pumped back into the sea.

If the thought of drinking recycled water is a little off-putting, don't worry... the desalination process leaves water completely pure and is often noted to be some of the freshest tasting water passengers have ever drank.