Collision bulkhead in ship

ship watertight bulkhead
ship watertight bulkhead

The safety of a ship in damaged condition is majorly dependent on the strength and integrity of its watertight bulkheads. There are a lot of factors that go into deciding the position of watertight bulkheads in a ship, and designing them structurally.

Watertight bulkheads are vertically designed watertight divisions/walls within the ship’s structure to avoid ingress of water in the compartment if the adjacent compartment is flooded due to damage in ship’s hull.

The position of the bulkheads along the length of the ship is primarily decided by the results of flood-able length calculations during the assessment of damaged stability of the ship. However, once their positions are fixed, there are a lot of factors coming into play, for example: types of watertight bulkheads, their uniqueness based on their position, structural design, etc.

Collision Bulkhead

A collision bulkhead is the forward-most bulkhead in a ship. There are two factors that determine the position of a forward collision bulkhead. The final position of the collision bulkhead is so decided that it takes into consideration both the factors listed below:

Factor 1 : Position based on flood-able length calculations.

Factor 2 : Position based on the classification society code books. Most of the classification society rules have an allowable range of distance at which the collision bulkhead can be placed from the forward-most point of the ship’s hull. This distance is usually a function of the length of the ship and factors related to the shape of its bow.

Factor 3 : Position based on SOLAS rule, which states that the collision bulkhead should be located aft of the forward perpendicular at a distance not less than 5 percent of the ship’s length of the ship or 10 meters (whichever is less). The distance must also not exceed 8 percent of the ship’s length.

However, the position of the collision bulkhead should be such that maximum cargo storage volume is achieved.

The collision bulkhead is a heavily strengthened structure, its main purpose being limiting the damage of a head-on collision to the part of the bow forward to it. To limit the damage to its forward region also means that the collision bulkhead is watertight bulkhead. It is usually vertically stiffened with sections of scantlings higher than those on the surrounding structures. It is also stiffened by triangular stringers of higher scantling, called panting stringers. Panting stringers are usually provided at every 2 meters from the bottom, forward of the collision bulkhead.

Collision Bulkhead (profile and transverse view)
Collision Bulkhead (profile and transverse view)

As per SOLAS rules,

  • The collision bulkhead must be watertight upto the bulkhead deck. A bulkhead deck is basically the deck level upto which all the watertight bulkheads are extended.

  • For providing access to chain locker room and the forward part of the bulkhead, steps may be provided on the collision bulkhead. However, this must not violate Factor 3.

  • There must be no doors, manholes, access hatches, ventilation ducts or any openings on the collision bulkhead below the bulkhead deck. However, the bulkhead can be allowed to have only one piercing below the bulkhead deck for the passage of one pipe to cater to the fluid flow to the forepeak ballast tank. The passage of the pipe must be flanged and must be fitted with a screw-down valve which can be remotely operated from above the bulkhead deck. This valve is usually located forward of the collision bulkhead. However, the classification society certifying the ship may authorise a valve aft of the bulkhead provided it is easily serviceable at any condition, and is not located in the cargo area.

  • In case of ships having superstructures at the forward region, the collision bulkhead is not terminated at the bulkhead deck. It must be extended to the deck level next to the weather deck. This would ensure sufficient structural continuity and keep the shear forces within safe limits.

  • If the collision bulkhead is extended above the freeboard deck, the number of openings on the bulkhead should be restricted to a minimum in order to ensure sufficient buckling strength. All the openings should be watertight.

Construction of Watertight Bulkheads

The primary function of watertight bulkheads is to divide a ship into a number of watertight compartments. Though most watertight bulkheads are transverse in orientation, some ships also have longitudinal watertight bulkheads within a compartment for longitudinal compartmentalisation within a compartment. Other than watertightness, the transverse bulkheads also add to the transverse strength of the ship. We will look into that aspect a little later.

In small ships, a transverse bulkhead may be constructed from a single plate. However, for larger ships, the plating of a transverse bulkhead usually consists of a series of horizontal strakes welded together. But what’s interesting here is that, the thickness of these strakes increase with depth, in order to strengthen the bulkhead against the maximum hydrostatic pressure in case the compartment is fully flooded. So prior to erection, two dimensional strakes are first cut out from plates of different thicknesses.

The bulkhead plate itself is not resistant enough against large scale transverse forces like shear forces. So they are stiffened, either vertically or horizontally. But we usually go for the vertical stiffening instead of the horizontal. Why? Because horizontal stiffening in ships with high beam would require stiffeners of long span, which would also increase the scantling and weight of the stiffener, affecting usable cargo volume. However, with vertical stiffening, the span (and hence, the scantling) of the stiffener can be kept low by introducing a stringer at mid-depth (a stringer acts as a fixed end, therefore reducing the span).

vertical stiffening of a transverse watertight bulkhead
vertical stiffening of a transverse watertight bulkhead

The sections used for stiffening the bulkheads are usually flat bars, angles or bulb bars, depending upon the required section modulus. An important aspect of the design of bulkhead stiffeners is meeting the end conditions. In order to meet the boundary conditions so that the stiffeners respond as per the theoretical calculations, their end supports must be designed accordingly. At the upper end, they are attached to the underside of the deck plating with brackets, providing a hinged boundary condition. To achieve fixed ends, they are welded directly to the deck plate and the stringer.

Most modern day ships use an advanced technology to achieve the required strength of bulkhead plates. They use corrugated bulkheads instead of stiffened ones. The corrugations are in the vertical direction, except when the breadth of the bulkhead is significantly low. However, there is one trade-off that needs to be made here. Since the corrugations are provided on the bulkhead plate right in the early fabrication stage, corrugated bulkheads are made of plates having uniform thickness (which is, the thickness equal to the lower most strake in case of a conventional bulkhead). This increases the weight of the bulkhead when compared to a conventionally stiffened bulkhead. In spite of this, usage of corrugated bulkheads come handy due to ease in fabrication and reduction of welded joints on the bulkhead.

Corrugated bulkhead
Corrugated bulkhead

As shown above, the corners, where the bulkhead plate is welded to the side shell and the deck plate, or the tank top, separate corner plates are welded to complete the joint after welding the remaining bulkhead plate to the hull. These corner plates are provided for the following reasons:

  1. Fitting the entire bulkhead panel (with the corners) would be difficult from a production point of view since every structure is first fabricated with certain amount of green material. Before final installation, the green material is removed, and structures as huge as bulkheads require repeated checks for proper dimensional adherence. Eliminating the corners from this stage would reduce the complexity of maintaining dimensional precision at the corners.

  1. Stress concentration occurs at corners due to discontinuity of structure. In order to prevent this, corner plates are provided with additional thickness than the adjacent bulkhead plating.

Related articles : Pressure testing of watertight bulkheads

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