Editor's Note: This piece was written by Ben Lyons, who attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and worked on a variety of cargo and passenger ships, including cruise ships in Hawaii and Dynamic Positioning equipped cable ships. In 2003, he became the first American officer hired by Cunard in over 160 years. After five years on QM2, Lyons left to join Lindblad Expeditions as chief officer (and more recently captain) of National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica and the Arctic. Lyons is currently CEO of EYOS Expeditions, which offers superyacht expeditions.
Sitting contentedly on deck, listening to the hushed splash of the sea as it washes along the side of the hull, you would be forgiven if you forget you are on a monster of engineering. At that very moment, deep in the bowels of the ship, small armies of engineers (and an awful lot of computers) are working to keep the lights on, the air conditioning cooling, the toilets flushing and the propellers turning.
A character in John Irving's "The World According to Garp" felt that she "had grown up on a large ship without having seen, much less understood, the engine room." Unless you're one of the few who eagerly (and almost always unsuccessfully) attempts to get an engine room tour on every cruise, most of us don't give much thought to what goes on below the passenger decks. Yet widely publicized events like the Carnival Triumph engine room fire in 2013 have provoked both anxiety and curiosity about how these ships are powered.
To quell your fears and satisfy your quest for knowledge, we have set out to shed some light on the sometimes murky subject of how cruise ships work -- no engineering degree required.