How to Calculate Dead Weight

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Dead weight (often referred to as Dead Weight Tonnage or DWT) is a term used to measure the carrying capacity of a ship . It refers to the difference between the ship's displacement while full and while empty. Put another way, dead weight describes the weight of everything aboard the ship: passengers, crew, cargo, ballast, provisions and fuel. This is an important figure for anyone involved in shipping to understand and is relatively simple to calculate.

Calculating Dead Weight Directly

    Note down all provisions and cargoes being loaded onto the ship.

    Add together the weights of each piece of cargo, each passenger or crew member, and all provisions that have been loaded onboard.

    Calculate the weight of fuel. This is done by multiplying the volume of fuel taken aboard by its density. Calculations are commonly done in metric units. Fuel oil has a density of 890 kilograms per cubic meter, meaning that a ship that has loaded 1 cubic meter (or 100 liters) of fuel has added 890 kilograms to its weight.

    Add the fuel weight to the weight of cargo, passengers and provisions to calculate total dead weight.

Calculating Dead Weight by Displacement

    Find the ship's displacement marks. These are white ruler lines on the bottom of the bow and stern of the hull.

    Note which displacement line is sitting at the water level before loading the ship.

    Load the ship with all crew, cargo, fuel and provisions.

    Note which displacement mark is now at the waterline.

    Consult the ship's displacement tables, which have formulas to calculate how much water has been displaced based on the shape of the ship's hull. Because the weight of the displaced water is equal to the weight loaded onto the ship, that is the dead weight.

    Things You'll Need

    • Ship
    • Draft marks
    • Calculator or computer


About the Author

Joshua Smyth started writing in 2003 and is based in St. John's, Newfoundland. He has written for the award-winning "Cord Weekly" and for "Blueprint Magazine" in Waterloo, Ontario, where he spent a year as editor-in-chief. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science and economics from Wilfrid Laurier University.