Difference Between Steamship and Motorship. For thousands of years, there were two main “engines” for maritime and river vessels: wind (sailing fleet) and human muscle power (rowing fleet), or a combination of both. Naturally, as maritime travel expanded, these methods no longer satisfied humanity, leading to attempts to find alternative ways of water transportation. The first trial commercial voyage on a steamship took place in 1807, and the search for a more economical and speedy engine continued into the 19th century, resulting in the emergence of the first motorship almost 100 years later, in 1903. What distinguishes a steamship from a motorship, and why did steamships (vessels propelled by steam engines) lose the technological race to ships powered by internal combustion engines?

Historical Background of Steamships and Motorships

The first steam engine was invented by the ancient inventor and engineer Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century AD. However, due to the availability of slave labor at the time, the mechanism did not gain popularity and was used as a toy or for exotic purposes, such as opening temple doors, dispensing “holy” water, and other similar functions. With the passing of Hero, the invention was forgotten, and efforts to create a steam engine resumed in the modern era (17th century). Throughout the 18th century, various attempts were made to develop a workable steam engine, and finally, in 1807, the first commercial steamship, the “Clermont,” sailed along the Hudson River in America.

The main difference between a steamship and a motorship lies in the type of engine used. A steam engine utilizes the energy of steam pressure generated by heating water. In contrast, a motorship employs an internal combustion engine, which is typically a diesel engine. In these engines, pistons are driven by exhaust gases produced within the engine cylinders during the combustion of diesel fuel.

The “father” of the first diesel engine was German engineer Rudolf Diesel, who invented it in 1897 and named it after himself. The following year, the blueprints were acquired by Swedish inventor Nobel, who was living in the Russian Empire at the time and was involved in the development of oil fields in Baku. In 1903, engines designed by him were installed on the tanker “Vandal,” marking the birth of the world’s first motorship. Therefore, the credit for this achievement goes to our country.

Comparison Between Steamships and Motorships

The main reason why motorships eventually outperformed steamships is the difference in engine efficiency. The steam engine has a significantly lower coefficient of useful work (efficiency). Additionally, the diesel engine offers the following advantages in favor of motorships:

Lower fuel consumption, resulting in:
Higher cargo capacity;
Longer range;
Greater engine reliability.

However, despite the clear advantages of motorships, steamships have not disappeared entirely. Today, they make up a small portion of river or sea transport, mostly used as “banquet ships” for corporate events, anniversaries, or other celebrations. The oldest steamship in Russia, the “N.V. Gogol,” navigates the Northern Dvina River and is registered in the port of Severodvinsk (Arkhangelsk Oblast). According to its owner, the “N.V. Gogol” is also used as a “banquet ship.”