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Top 6 Fastest Civilian Ships in the World

Updated on September 5, 2019
Savio Dawson profile image

Savio is a resident of Mumbai, India. Cars, bikes, and everything fast are his passion, and he writes about them on many sites.

Introduction

When we speak about navy ships and their cruising speeds, we tend to assume them to be twice or more than that of the civilian ships. So anything in the 50 – 70 knots range would be the expected speed of the navy ships while half of that would be the expected speed of the civilian ships. Wouldn’t that be a decent assumption to start our list with? Well, not really.

Why is that? The fastest navy ship can do a cool 400 kmph while the fastest battleship can do about 550 kmph. Is that true? We are talking about ships and not aircraft, right? Yes, but it is indeed true because of Ekranoplans which are neither ships nor aircraft but uses both the principles of aircraft and ships to move forward. So then 50-70 knots is like snail-pace, we are talking about 200+ knots here. In comparison, the list of the fastest civilian ships would not be much to talk about, right?

  • You can read about the fastest navy ships here.
  • And fastest aircraft carrier and battleship here.

Not exactly. The civilian ships are no pushover either. The same concept of Ekranoplan is available in the civilian space too. So, we are once again talking about speeds in excess of 400 kmph and all this while we are referring to vehicles moving over water. How’s that for speed?

Let’s get to know the fastest civilian ships then.

List of Fastest Civilian Ships

Ship
Speed
Chaika A-050
243 knots [279.5 mph or 450 kmph]
Civilian Ekranoplans built by the USSR
(78 - 194) knots [(90 - 214) mph or (145 - 344.4) kmph]
HSC Francisco
58 knots [67 mph or 107 kmph]
Juan Patricio
53.8 knots [61.9 mph or 99.7 kmph]
Fjord Cat Catamaran
48 knots [55 mph or 89 kmph]
HSC Condor Rapide
48 knots [55 mph or 89 kmph]
Here is the list of the fastest civilian ships. Each is elaborated below.

1. Chaika A-050

Model of A-050
Model of A-050 | Source

The A-050 is an Ekranoplan but comes from the country which presented the concept to the world in the first place. Ekranoplans are high-speed low-altitude vehicles utilizing the favorable conditions of Ground Effect while flying. Flying closer to the land surface, roughly 5-10 meters over the surface, these crafts can nullify the effect of the downward push of the air on the wings because of ground interference. The ground over here is usually a water body (ocean, sea, river, etc.) but movement over land is also possible. That’s the technical explanation, a simpler my kind of explanation is that these are vehicles which can fly but closer to the ground surface.

The A-050 is being designed by Russia and the work has already started since 2015. It is expected to be ready by 2022 and many countries, including Africa and China, have evinced interest in buying it.

  • Name: Chaika A-050 Ekranoplan
  • Country: Russia
  • Top Speed: 243 knots [279.5 mph or 450 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 216 knots [248 mph or 400 kmph]
  • Displacement: 54 tons
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 2020 - 22
  • Status: Ready by 2020 - 22

The A-050 can carry up to 100 passengers and makes sea travel fast and interesting once again. The jet age killed sea travel and limited it to leisure and recreational activities such as those on cruise-ships; however, the Ekranoplan may just turn the time back. If that happens we may witness humongous changes in travel and transportation worldwide.

Though I mentioned that Russia is where the concept of Ekranoplan originated, technically it is the USSR. The USSR actually created these Ekranoplans and they were actively serving the civilian and military needs. Next, we learn about these Ekranoplans, built by the USSR and retired once the Soviet Union broke apart.

2. Civilian Ekranoplans built by the USSR

So far readers would have assumed that Ekranoplans are nice concepts expected in the future, but the fact is, Ekranoplans were flying in the past and were the brainchild of the USSR. In fact, it was in testing and development since 1961 and the last of the military Ekranoplans was in service till the late 90s, flying over the Caspian Sea. So, it is not a concept but a reality of the past being brought back to life.

Now, speaking specifically about the USSR built Ekranoplans, here are the details.

  • Name: Civilian Ekranoplans [SM1 to SM8, Volga -2, Strij, UT-1]
  • Country: USSR
  • Top Speed: (78 - 194) knots [(90 - 214) mph or (145 - 344.4) kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: (65 – 162) knots [(75 -186) mph or (120-300) kmph]
  • Displacement: 1.63 to 26.5 metric tons
  • Year of Service/ Manufacture: 1961 [first prototype] – late 1990 [last of the vehicle]
  • Status: Collapse of USSR led to the program being closed

The man behind the Ekranoplans was R. Alexseev. The concept itself emerged to challenge the known modes of sea travel and led to the development of the Ekranoplans. The concept though closed in the late 90s, it was once again opened in 2015 by Russia and soon we will be seeing more civilian Ekranoplans coming up.

The A-050 and Boeing Pelican are two of the known outcomes and more will follow.

3. HSC Francisco

Source

After reading about the Ekranoplan’s, the speed of this Catamaran will appear like something heavy being dragged across a rough terrain. At 58 knots, the Francisco does not compare anywhere with the Ekranoplans, but in a world with no Ekranoplan it is the fastest commercial passenger catamaran. It is named after Pope Francis in honor of the Argentinian.

  • Name: HSC Francisco Catamaran
  • Country: Argentina
  • Top Speed: 58 knots [67 mph or 107 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 50 knots [57 mph or 93 kmph]
  • Displacement: ~3000 tons
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 2013
  • Status: In active service with Buquebus

The catamaran has a capacity of 1000 passengers and 150 cars and boasts of one of the biggest Duty-Free areas on a commercial passenger catamaran. In a fully loaded condition, the Francisco can do 50+ knots quite easily while returning an impressive fuel economy.

4. Juan Patricio

Source

Juan Patricio is another ship from the Incat stable. It was the fastest one before the HSC Francisco (also from Incat) and was operational since 1995. Juan Patricio operates under Buquebus. Here are some stats:

  • Name: Juan Patricio
  • Country: Argentina
  • Top Speed: 53.8 knots [61.9 mph or 99.7 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 44 - 48 knots [50.6 - 55.2 mph or 81.5 - 88.9 kmph]
  • Displacement: ~2000 tons
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 1995
  • Status: In active service with Buquebus

See the smaller wake?

Incat Tasmania was known to build high-speed wave-piercing catamarans. They could be easily credited with opening up a whole class of sea-faring vessels. Most South American countries took to this class of ships and as we can see both the catamarans discussed so far belong to the Argentinian flag. It could be possible that in the near future we may actually have even faster catamarans.

Will the new-gen catamarans be closer to the speed of the Ekranoplans? That would be wishful thinking, in my opinion.

5. Fjord Cat Catamaran

Source

Here’s another fastest catamaran coming from the same builders as the HSC Francisco – the Incat. Incat are quite famous for their supremely built high-speed catamarans. A bit of a trivia - for three consecutive years all the catamarans holding the Blue Ribband for fastest travel across the Atlantic came from the Incat shipyard. No wonder, barring the Ekranoplans, the Incat manufactured ships are the fastest in the world. This one was manufactured before the Francisco and was the former speed record holder.

  • Name: Fjord Cat
  • Country: Originally Bahamas
  • Top Speed: 48 knots [55 mph or 89 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 41 knots [47 mph or 76 kmph]
  • Displacement: ~2,970 tons
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 1998
  • Status: In active service with Fjord Line

The Fjord was originally called Cat-Link V and held the record for the fastest transatlantic journey in 1998. It then changed names multiple times before coming under Fjord Lines and being renamed as Fjord Cat. It can carry up to 900 passengers and 240+ cars.

6. HSC Condor Rapide

When it comes to catamarans the fastest ones invariably bear the Incat badge. The HSC Condor is one more from the Incat shipyard and a fast car-carrying catamaran which served briefly with the Royal Australian Navy as HMAS Jervis Bay.

  • Name: HSC Condor Rapide
  • Country: Originally Bahamas
  • Top Speed: 48 knots [55 mph or 89 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 40 knots [46 mph or 74 kmph]
  • Displacement: 1,250 tons
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 1997
  • Status: In active service with Condor Ferries

The Condor has a capacity of 900 passengers and can carry 200 cars. It can operate at a service speed of 40 knots and is quite in shape for operations despite being laid up for a year during its lifetime.

Special Mention: Turbinia

Source

The Turbinia warrants a special mention as it was the world’s first steam turbine powered steamship. It can be referred to as the grand-daddy of all the current generation ships and yet it did speeds which were close to the ones done by ships today. In fact, the Turbinia was so fast and impressionable that there was a generation of steamships that followed it.

  • Name: Turbinia
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Top Speed: 34.5 knots [39.7 mph or 63.9 kmph]
  • Sustained Speed: 34.5 knots [39.7 mph or 63.9 kmph]
  • Displacement: 44.5 tons
  • Year of Service/Manufacture: 1894
  • Status: Out of Service in 1927. Refit in 1960 and located at Discovery Museum in England

There is an interesting story of how the Turbinia was demonstrated at the Spithead Navy Review in 1897 for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The ship arrived unannounced and sailed at full speed. It was the fastest ship of the time and could easily navigate between two rows of navy ships. Trying to catch the intruder a navy boat did attempt to reach it, but the Turbinia was too fast and left the boat waddling in its wake. The point was made and even the royalty noticed the fastest and most potent technology of the time. In fact, the Turbinia was then invited to different destinations to showcase its prowess.

Back to Port

Readers may find the list to be populated by the Ekranoplans and Catamarans, so it appears as if other sailing boats have not been covered. However, they are covered in other articles speaking about the fastest boats, container ships, and yachts, to bring in an aspect of natural clubbing based on speed. There are also articles on the naval version of the fastest ships. Readers can have a look at those articles at leisure.

The question this article highlights is that if there is a possibility of the world changing with the Ekranoplan's launch in 2022. Or will it be an expensive experiment without much of an impact on our daily life? It will be half a decade before we can come to the conclusion of this discussion, however, for the time being, I hope readers enjoyed knowing about the fastest civilian ships.

Which of the civilians ships was the best to read about?

See results

Disclaimer: The videos added in the article belong to the users who have posted them on youtube. The Author does not own them nor validates that they belong to the ones who posted them on youtube. The videos are included to give some additional information about the subject being discussed.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Savio Koman

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