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What Was the Largest Human-Powered Vessel in History?



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For centuries, humans have sought to harness the power of the ocean to create vessels that can transport them over vast distances. Human history has been filled with remarkable feats of seafaring engineering and innovation, from ingenious sailing ships to powerful steamships.

But what about vessels powered solely by humans? Largely forgotten in our modern time are the brave sailors who undertook incredible voyages on some of the largest known human-powered vessels in history – often under challenging conditions and without access to today’s technology or resources. In this blog post, we will explore these boats and examine how they were created, used, and made their mark on oceans all around the world.

Vessels powered by humans—such as barges, liners, ferries, and ships—have been around since Ancient times. Throughout history, these vessels were used to ferry goods and transport people across oceans and rivers. But even in our modern world of large-scale oceangoing cruise ships and cargo carriers, there is still something intriguing about the concept of a human-powered vessel that defies the power of technology or wind alone.

In order to go back to the greatest vessel ever created powered by humans, we have to go all the way back to the 3rd century BC. Where Ptolemy IV Philopat, the fourth emperor of Egypt, had the vessel known as the Tessarakonteres, or simply “forthy”.

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According to Lionel Casson, “the enormous size of the vessel made it impractical, and it was built only as a prestige vessel, rather than an effective warship.”

Modern Vessels

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Tessarakonteres existed at a time when human power was the only possibility to make vessels function and follow their route and mission (either for travel or for use as warships).

Thanks to modernity and the technology that comes with it, there are no longer many vessels – let alone large vessels – that need human power to function.

But still, let's look at a review of how Tessarakonteres would compare to modern ships, both in dimensions and possible uses.

The Gigantic Ever Alot. World’s Biggest Container Ship

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Ever Alot has the title of the world’s biggest container ship from the Ever Ace when it was delivered to the Taiwan-based Evergreen Marine in June 2022. It is 400 meters long, 61.5 meters broad and has a draft of 17 meters. It is not only spacious, but also consumes far less fuel and energy than other vessels of similar size. 

Its gross tonnage is 236228 tonnes, and its summer deadweight is 241000 tonnes. The ship is currently sailing under the flag of Panama.

The Wonder Of The Seas. Biggest Cruise Ship

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It measures 1188 ft lengthwise and has a gross tonnage of 236,858. It can comfortably accommodate 6988 passengers and 2300 crew members.

SSCV Sleipnir. Largest catamaran crane vessel

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SSC Sleipnir was ordered in 2015 and constructed in Singapore by Smebcorp Marine. After its completion in 2019, it took over the SSCV Thialf as the biggest crane ship in the world.

The vessel has two revolving cranes, with a 10,000-lifting capacity each. It is used to install or remove jackets, topsides, foundations, moorings and modules. It is 220 m long, 102 m wide and has a 12 to 32 m draft.