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Drydock Stability

  • When the ship enters a dry dock, it must have a positive metacentric height; and is usually trimmed by stern. The floor of the dry dock is lined with keel blocks, which are so arranged such that they can bear the weight of the ship. When the ship enters the dry dock, her centerline is first brought in line with the centerline of the keel blocks by using a combination of plum lines and Leica theodolite.
  • The dock gates are then closed and the water is pumped out of the dock in stages. Since the ship has a trim by stern, the stern of the ship will first sit on the keel blocks. The rate of pumping out water is reduced as the stern is almost about to touch the keel blocks. The reason is, it is from this stage of the docking procedure when the stability of the ship starts getting critical. The interval of time from when the stern takes the blocks to the moment when the entire ship’s weight is borne by the blocks is called Critical Period. We will understand the details a little later.
  • When the stern of the ship takes the blocks, it is fixed to the shores (sides of the dock). This is carried out from aft to forward so that by the time the entire ship takes the blocks, it is fixed to the shores. When the ship is completely borne by the blocks, water is pumped out quickly from the dock.
  • When the ship’s stern just touches the keel blocks, part of the ship’s weight is being borne by the keel blocks. The contact between the stern and the keel block creates a normal reaction or upthrust. The magnitude of this upward normal reaction increases as the water level in the dry dock reduces. It is this upthrust that creates a virtual reduction in the metacentric height of the ship. Hence it is very crucial to maintain sufficient positive metacentric height before docking, lacking which, the ship may heel over to either side, or even slip off the keel blocks and capsize.
Three vertical parallel forces acting on the ship:
  • Weight (W) acting downward.
  • Keel block upthrust (P) acting upward.
  • Buoyancy (W-P) acting upward.
The upthrust force (P) can be considered to have an effect similar to that of removal of a weight from the ship. This has the virtual effect of rising the center of gravity of the ship from the point ‘G’ to ‘G1’. The metacentric height therefore reduces from GM to G1
H            Virtual rise in CG during dry docking.
The virtual reduction in metacentric height at any stage of the docking process can be calculated by the following expression:

  • This calculation must be carried out for the condition when the ship has just touched the keel blocks throughout its length. 
  • It is at this point that the keel block upthrust is maximum, and the risk of tipping over or slipping from keel blocks is most likely if the metacentric height is too low or negative

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