Seakeeping ability or seaworthiness is a measure of how well-suited a watercraft is to conditions when underway. A ship or boat which has good seakeeping ability is said to be very seaworthy and is able to operate effectively even in high sea states.
In 1976, St. Denis suggested four principal terms needed to describe a seakeeping performance. These are:
Clearly, a drillship and a ferry have different missions and operate in different environments. The performance criteria will be different as well. Both may be considered seaworthy, although for different reasons based on different criteria.
In ship design it is important to pre-determine the behavior of the ship or floating structure when it is subjected to waves. This can be calculated, found through physical model testing and ultimately measured on board the vessel. Calculations can be performed analytically for simple shapes like rectangular barges, but need to be calculated by computer for any realistic shaped ship. The results of some of these calculations or model tests are transfer functions called Response Amplitude Operators (RAO). For a floating structure they will need to be calculated for all six motions and for all relative wave headings.
Ship motions are important for determining dynamic loading on the crew, passengers, ship system components, secured cargo, and structural elements. Excessive ship motions may hinder the vessel's ability to complete its mission such as the deployment and recovery of small boats or aircraft. A measure of an individual's ability to complete a specific task while on board a moving ship is the Motion Induced Interruptions (MII). It gives an indication of the number of events in which a standing person will look for support in order to maintain balance. MII is measured in occurrences per hour.
Ship motions have physiological effects on ship passengers and crew. The magnitudes and accelerations of ship motions, (particularly heave, roll and pitch) have adverse effects on passengers and shipboard personnel. Sea sickness will have negative effects on the ability of crew to accomplish tasks and maintain alertness and will obviously distress passengers. An important metric in evaluating sea sickness is the Motion Sickness Incidence (MSI). The most important study on MSI was published in Aerospace Medicine by O'Hanlon and McCauley in 1974, which established common subjective thresholds of MSI tolerance. MSI is measured in percentage of people who experience sea sickness during a given amount of exposure time. A commonly accepted limit of MSI is 20% occurrence of sea sickness over a four-hour exposure period. A small percentage of people are very susceptible to sea sickness and become ill even in the slightest conditions, while other people rarely get sea sick despite severe conditions. It has also been shown that most people acclimate to ship motions within a period of about four days, but some never acclimate at all.
Seakeeping directly impacts the design of a vessel. Ship motions are considered when determining the principal dimensions of the ship and in developing the general arrangements of the ship's internal spaces. For example, in most vessels the far forward parts of the ship experience the worst ship motions and are commonly unacceptable for berthing passengers or crew. In exceptional cases where ship motions pose a threat to crew, structure or machinery, or when ship motions interfere with the ability of the ship to accomplish its mission, then the design must be modified so that ship motions are reduced.
A number of factors affect seakeeping or how correctly the ship responds.