In recent years ships have been designed and built for a 20 year life expectancy. They have internal combustion (Diesel) engines that wear out more quickly than did steam engines of earlier years. Steam engines would last for years, much longer than the hull of a ship, which is exposed to salt water and after 20 to 30 years need shell and deck plating replaced. It is not uncommon for owners to cut off the cargo areas of older ships, and put a new hull on the old machinery. In the Great Lakes, where ships stay in fresh water, the hull can last a long time. Lakers can still be in useful service after 50 or more years. Naval architects are now more practical in designing ships to be cheap and efficient. That means that all parts should wear out about the same time. For that reason the ship's have lost some of their character, and become more boxy in their lines. Much of my career at sea was spent on older ships. They presented maintenance problems not found on newer ships, but made for more interesting work.

Years ago we had a 30 year old freighter that was chartered to the U.S. Navy to transport military cargo. We could not carry passengers under the terms of the charter, unless they were U.S. military personnel who were travelling aboard in order to guard or maintain the military cargo. They were listed as "persons other than the crew" and were not officially passengers. A ship that carries passengers from the United States must have a U.S. Public Health Service Certificate of Sanitation. In order to get that, an inspector comes and fills out a lengthy form, checking the food preparation and serving areas, storage areas, refrigerated spaces, potable water making and storage, and sewage disposal equipment. You can check a particular vessel's certificate and inspection data on the Internet, and many cruise lines work hard to maintain high scores.

Many of the regulations have been made in recent years, and do not take into account that older ships were built to a different standard. On older ships the ability to make fresh water was limited. The crews were also at least twice as large as today. Therefore, we often had to have arrangements to keep fresh water in our forepeak, afterpeak, or double bottom tanks. Keeping fresh water in a "skin tank" or one that had only one shell plate between fresh water and salt water was prohibited by inspectors, and they took off about 10 points for that violation. You had to have a 90% to pass, so that violation alone kept us from passing. Add to this the normal violations such as dirty cooks clothing, cockroaches, and rat droppings that were not uncommon, and we usually got a score in the 70% range. The port captain sent me a copy of the inspection with instructions to improve that score the next trip. I worked hard correcting the deficiencies. I had all pipelines marked and stenciled as required, had the chief engineer disconnect water piping to the fresh water skin tanks (he could still use hoses) and had everything pretty well shipshape for the next inspection. When the inspector came, he was impressed, we went through the ship, and I thought we had a passing score. After the inspection I invited him to the officer's pantry to have a cup of coffee. That was my mistake. He was stirring his coffee and looked up. He noticed a rusty clean-out plug in a trap in the overhead, over the pantry sink. It was just below the Captain's bathroom, his toilet trap. There was no sign of dripping water from the trap, but it was still a MAJOR violation. He got really mad when I tried to explain, jokingly, that it was after all the CAPTAIN'S toilet, just not anyone's. He adjusted our score to somewhere in the 60% range. I thought that it would cause me a lot of trouble with the port captain, but I never heard from him again. He never even required us to go through another Public Health inspection. It was just as well, we scrapped the ship a couple of years later.

Ship's built 50 or more years ago had no sewage disposal system. You flushed the toilet with water from the ocean, and it went untreated right back into the ocean. The ocean was considered an infinite sink, and was able to handle anything man could dump into it. Attitudes have changed, but older ships haven't. Perverse Naval Architects designed the "Sanitary Overboard Discharges" to come out under the house, just where the gangway went down, or where you lowered the lifeboat or pilot ladder. We had "splash boards" aka "s--- chutes" to place over the end of the pipe to deflect the discharge away from the gangway and into the ocean. Needless to say, there are many "sea stories" about accidents that happened when the splash boards were not rigged.