How Do Cruise Ships Get Into the Water? (Where Built?)

Cruise ships are enormous vessels that can carry thousands of passengers and crew members on vacation each year.

But have you ever wondered how these massive ships get into the water in the first place?

It’s actually quite a long process.

Cruise Ship In Dry Dock
Cruise Ship Out of Water in a Dry Dock

How Do They Get Cruise Ships in the Water?

The ship must be built in a dry dock, which is a large basin that can be filled with water when docks valves are opened. Once the ship is almost complete, the dry dock is flooded with seawater, and the ship floats of its own accord.

This floating method is used as it’s much safer than the traditional launch methods and doesn’t put any strain or risk of damage on the bottom of the ship, the hull.

Often when a cruise ship is officially launched it is already on the water so we don’t see the above process take place.

In this post, we take a further look at the process including video footage, as well as other ways to launch ships into water and methods used in years gone by.

Are Cruise Ships Built in the Water?

Cruise ships are are typically built within dry docks or shipyards, which are large facilities designed for building, repairing, and maintaining ships.

The dry deck provides a controlled environment for the construction of the vessel. The ship is built in sections on land and then assembled together.

At times the dry deck can be filled with water to test the cruise ship within safely its confines.

Cruise ship supported in dry dock
Supported Cruise Ship Being Built in a Dry Dock

The video below perfectly highlights just how a cruise ship goes from dry land to the sea.

As you will see the cruise ship is built on a dry deck and out of water.

Viking Star was Viking Cruises’ first ocean vessel Viking Star which has a gross tonnage of 47,842 and a 4912 deadweight tonnage with a capacity for 930 passengers.

The float out is typically undertaken along with a ceremony and while the ship is unfinished.

While it’s not one of the largest cruise ships that can carry 5000+ passengers and have a gross tonnage of 180,000, they are floated into the water in much the same way on a larger scale.

Extensive Sea Trials

Once a cruise ship is floated it will need to undergo months of dockside outfitting followed by months of testing, this is known as sea trials.

During these tests, the ship’s engines, navigation, and safety systems are put to the test.

The ship will also be carrying a reduced crew during these tests.

Once the cruise ship has passed its sea trials it will be ready to set sail on its maiden voyage.

Maneuvering Cruise Ship With Tug Boats

One on the water a cruise ship can be towed out of the dry dock and into a body of water large enough to accommodate its size. This is usually done by a team of tugboats.

In the video below you can see the unfinished Royal Caribbean Wonder of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship being maneuvered by tug boats in the shipyards equipping put basin.

This is no mean feat for a cruise ship that once complete has a gross tonnage of 236,857.

Maiden Voyage

A cruise ship’s maiden voyage is a big deal and is often highly publicized, although the ship itself will have been launched or floated into the water months earlier.

The maiden voyage is the first time the ship will set sail with paying passengers on board.

It’s also a great opportunity for the cruise line to publicly show off its newest vessel.

After its maiden voyage, a cruise ship will enter regular service and will sail to various destinations around the world.

Main Methods for Launching Cruise Ships In the Water

There are 4 main ship launching methods that can be used to get a cruise ship into the water.

Floating Out

These days large ships are floated out, hence why the modern-day launch term is not “Float Out” rather than “Launch”.

This is done by firstly constructing the ship in a dry dock. 

Once everything is complete, the gates to the dry dock are opened and water from the sea is allowed to flood in. 

The weight of the water starts to float the cruise ship off its blocks and it’s gently pushed out into the open water.

Sliding Down a Ramp Into the Water

The ship would be placed on a large ramp or slipway that was built at an angle into the water.

Once everything was ready, the ship would be released down the ramp and into the water.

This method is rarely used these days as it put a lot of stress on the hull of the ship and often caused damage.

Sideways Launch In the Water

Another method that was once used to launch ships is known as a sideways launch.

This was typically used for small vessels.

The ship would be lifted into position using a crane and then released into the water.

This method is no longer used as it put too much strain on the crane to get it into place.

When the ship hit the water this can always cause huge waves which can cause damage to the surrounding area and viewers if they are any within the vicinity.

Here’s an example of a side ship launch that was filmed from numerous angles:

Marine Airbags

A method used more often used in Asian countries is to launch or float a ship by using marine airbags.

These are large inflatable cylinders placed underneath the hull of the ship.

Once everything is in position, the airbags are filled with air and the ship is floated off the blocks it was sitting on and into the water.

This is a slow process but it’s fairly safe and causes minimal damage to the ship. Although there have been instances where it has gone wrong, one being in Jakarta when a ship ended up falling on its port side.

As you can probably imagine, the above methods would certainly not be suitable for the size of the modern-day cruise ships, especially the enormous mega-ships.

Here are some examples of ships being launched using airbags as well as info on how they work.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Was the Titanic Launched?

Although the Titanic was the largest ship of its day upon its launch its gross tonnage of 46,328 was much more similar to the Viking Star cruise ship.

The ship was held in position by the hydraulic launching triggers, which were released to launch down a slipway.

The Titanic was the world’s largest slip and slide launch.


As you can see there are various methods for launching a ship into the water, but for large cruise ships the floating out method will most likely be the one used.

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