A bow wave is the
wavethat forms at the bow of a ship when it moves through the water. As the bow wave spreads out, it defines the outer limits of a ship's wake. A large bow wave slows the ship down, poses a risk to smaller boats, and in a harbor can cause damage to shore facilities and moored ships. Therefore, ship hulls are generally designed to produce as small a bow wave as practical.
The size of the bow wave is a function of the speed of the ship, its draft, surface waves, water depth, and the shape of the bow. A ship with a large draft and a blunt bow will produce a large wave, while ships that plane over the surface of the water will create smaller bow waves. Bow wave patterns are studied in the field of
computational fluid dynamics.
The bow wave carries energy away from the ship at the expense of its kinetic energy—it slows the ship down. A major goal of
naval architectureis therefore to reduce the size of the bow wave and improve the ship's fuel economy. Modern ships are commonly fitted with a bulbous bowto achieve this.
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