Stabilizer (ship)

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This article is about the nautical term. For other uses, see Stabilizer.
Location and diagram of retractable fin stabilizers on a ship.
Ship stabilizers: a fixed fin stabilizer (foreground centre) and bilge keels (left background).

Ship stabilizers are fins or rotors mounted beneath the waterline and emerging laterally. In contemporary vessels, they may be gyroscopically controlled active fins, which have the capacity to change their angle of attack to counteract roll caused by wind or waves acting on the ship.


Fins work by producing lift or downforce when the vessel is in motion. The lift produced by the fins should work against the roll moment of the vessel. To accomplish this two wings, one installed underwater on either side of the ship are used. Stabilizers can be:

  • Retractable - All medium and large cruise and ferry ships have the ability to retract the fins into a space inside the hull in order to avoid extra fuel consumption when the use of the fins is not needed.
  • Non-retractable - This is the case on very small ships, for example a yacht.

Stabilizer movement is similar to that of air plane stabilizers. Some types of fins, especially the ones installed on larger ships are provided with flaps, that increase the fin lift by about 15%. Stabilizer control needs to consider numerous variables that change quickly: wind, waves, ship motion, draft, etc. Fins are vastly more efficient at higher velocities.[1] Stabilization solutions at anchor or at low speed include actively-controlled fins (such as the stabilisation at rest system developed by Rolls Royce[2] that oscillate to counteract wave motion), and rotary cylinders employing the Magnus effect. The latter two systems are retractable, allowing for a thinner vessel profile when docking, and reducing drag while cruising.

Stabilizers and ship fuel consumption/CO2 emissions[edit]

Fin stabilizers are used to reduce the roll motion of the ship and improve the passengers comfort, however, they can be a considerable hydro dynamic brake for the ship. Stabilizers can reduce a ship's speed due to an increase in hydrodynamic drag. This increases fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Some ships employ systems to reduce the stabilizers energy dissipation by using computers to control their motion. This reduces their fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.


The bilge keel is an early 20th-century predecessor, not as effective at reducing roll, but easier to install, and does not require space inside the hull.

In November 1932 the ship Conte di Savoia made her maiden voyage. She had three huge gyroscopes fitted low down in a forward hold. These rotated at high revolutions and were designed to eliminate rolling - a persistent problem that affected all shipping lines on the rough North Atlantic crossing. Each of the three flywheels was 13 feet in diameter and weighed 108 tons.

The first mention of automatic stabilizers for ships was in 1932 by an engineer working for General Electric.[3]

The first use of fin stabilizers on a ship was by a Japanese cruise liner in 1933.[4]

In 1934 a Dutch liner introduced one of the world's most unusual ship stabilizer systems, in which two large tubes were mounted on each side of the ship's hull with the bottom of the tubes open to the sea. The top of the tubes had compressed air or steam pumped in. As the ship rolled, the side it was rolling to would fill with water and then compressed air or steam would be injected to push the water down, countering the roll.[5]

In 2011 the first fuel saving stabilizer control to have been proven to improve ship speed, and to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions when using stabilizers was installed on board a passenger ship.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Quantum Rotary Stabilizers" (VIDEO). YouTube. 2 June 2009. 
  2. ^ "Stabilisation at rest". Products. Rolls-Royce Group PLC. 
  3. ^ "Fins Proposed For Big Liners To Prevent Rolling". Popular Mechanics. August 1932. p. 251. 
  4. ^ "Fins to Stop Ship's Rolling Governed by Gyro". Popular Mechanics. April 1933. p. 509. 
  5. ^ "Compressed Air Stabilizer Stops Roll of Ship". Popular Mechanics. October 1934. p. 573. 


  1. ^