Dr Abdus Samad
Contents Stern tube
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What is a Stern Tube The stern tube is a hollow tube-like structure at the stern or rear
part of the ship. A ship needs a propeller to drive it forward
against the waves. The propeller, located outside the ship needs
to be connected to the engine inside the ships engine room. A long shaft known as the propeller shaft is used for connecting
the ships engine and the propeller. This narrow hole in the hull structure at the rear end (aft peak) of the ship, through which the
propeller shaft passes and connects the engine and propeller is
known as the stern tube.
The propeller shaft (or tailshaft) is supported in a stern tube bearing of one of a number of designs. The bearing, being at the
end of the shaft, is affected by the overhanging weight of the
propeller. The propeller mass pulls the outer end of the shaft
down, so that there is a tendency for edge loading of the stem
tube bearing to occur. IIT Madras 4
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Inside the Stern Tube
The stern tube of a ship has a peculiar shape and arrangement for carrying the propeller shaft. As the shape of the ship is
streamlined at the aft end, there is very little space to
accommodate the propeller shaft arrangement.
The stern tube is situated at the aft peak of the ships hull and the propeller shaft arrangement is also situated at the same
level. The forward end of the stern tube is supported by the aft
peak bulk head and the aft end of the stern tube gets its
support from the stern frame of the ship. Throughout the
length, the shaft is supported by specially designed brackets
and narrow floors inside the stern tube. 6
Stern tube Bearings and Glands The total weight of the propeller shaft inside the stern tube is
carried by these bearings which are known as the stern tube. The
weight of the overall stern tube arrangement, along with the
bearings is carried by the stern frame and the internal framing of
the ships hull structure at the aft peak area. Moreover, there are generally two bearings inside the stern tube for supporting the
shaft, located at both the ends. The main function of stern tube
bearings is to allow an unrestricted and smooth rotation of the
Apart from stern bearings, the stern tube also houses water and oil sealing glands known as the stern glands. It is also to note that
stern tube is that sensitive part of the ship from where the sea
water can easily seep inside the ship. The stern glands thus seal
the area between the stern tube and the propeller shaft. The glands
are attached at the forward end of the stern tube and prevent the
passing of sea water into the ship. The glands also prevent the
leaking of oil from the stern bearings into the sea.IIT Madras 7
The propeller which hangs at the aft end exerts load on the shaft, which is supported and withstand by the stern
bearing. The bearing is a cast iron bush lined with a
white metal having excellent load handling and
The stern tube is fitted at the stern frame and internal framing of vessels hull at aft peak.
This allows the tail shaft to rotate smoothly in the bearing area for uninterrupted propulsion.
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Sealing The stern tube bearing consists of sealing arrangement
to prevent ingress of water and to avoid the lubricating
oil to escape into the sea.
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Lip seals retain the
oil inside the air
end, whilst at the
same time keeping
air, dust and dirt
away from any
rotating shaft, when
a machine is off
load for instance.
Sealing arrangement The lubrication system for ships with variable draught (due to
loading and unloading of cargo) consists of header tanks
located at around 2 to 3 meters above the water line so that the
differential pressure ensures no water ingress.
Different sealing arrangements are used to prevent water ingress and oil leakage. They are as follows:
Stuffing boxes consisting of packing material.
Lip seals in contact with shaft to prevent passage of oil or water along the shaft.
Radial face seals supported with springs fitted radially around the shaft, aft bulkheads and after end of the stern tube.
Out of these, the lip seal arrangement is most popularly used. Read more about Lip seals here.
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Oil lubricated bearings
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Oil lubricated bearings When large propellers are fitted the heavy overhanging weight
greatly increases the load at the after end of the stern tube
breaking down the hydrostatic lubrication causing metal to metal
contact and seizure towards the aft end of bearing. To obviate
this it is usual to angle the shaft downwards for about 8mm over
100m length thus attempting to ensure than the weight of the
bearing is taken on the full length of the bearing. It is good
practice to leave the oil tank open to the stern tube when in port
with machinery stopped, this prevents sea water leaking into the
system. However, water has been known to contaminate
lubricating oil systems causing rusting of tail shaft particularly
when shaft is stopped for periods long enough for water to settle
in bottom of bearing.
In ships with large changes in draught it is usual to fit two gravity tanks. The upper tank is used when fully loaded or there is water
leaking in. IIT Madras 12
CAN STERN TUBE LUBRICATING OIL DISCHARGES BE ELIMINATED?
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Two options claim to reduce stern tube oil pollution by using environmentally friendly variations on the standard oil
lubricated white metal bearing system.
1) Seal manufacturers have developed more sophisticated
multi lip seals which reduce the amount of oil that escapes,
but shaft seals can still be damaged, oil can still escape into
the sea and owners still have to deal with any oil captured
2) Biodegradable oils are also available, but they are still
considered a pollutant and leave a sheen which must be
reported when leaked.
Ship stern tubes today
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Stern tube seals have 2 purposes:
There are many different types of sealing systems, but
the majority of ships use lip seals.
Stern tube seals
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Oil lubricated stern tube bearings
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Currently, this sealed oil system is the standard for
stern tube bearings
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Stop accidental discharge
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Proven available technology
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