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Powering a Space-Ship: How Scenic River Ships Navigate Europe

Scenic Space-Ships are the pinnacle in luxury river travel, transporting guests across the continent in 5-star comfort, safety and elegance. But how exactly do they work, and what technological features help them navigate from A to B on Europe’s rivers?

To find out, we quizzed Scenic Corporate Cruise Director, Marin Dimow, on the ins and outs of Space-Ship technology – from their engines and power, to how they steer, dock and navigate. We’re often asked about the inner workings of our Space-Ships and how they stay afloat, so this is your chance to go behind the scenes and explore the complexities of European river cruising with help and insight from a knowledgeable expert.

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Use the links below to navigate to the section you’re interested in or read on for the complete guide.

Interactive Deck Plan: Explore the Tech Behind Our Space-Ships

Each Space-Ship in our fleet is filled with innovative features which allow for safe and luxurious passage on the rivers of Europe. From the latest fuel-efficient engines to advanced navigation equipment, there’s a lot going on beneath the bonnet, and you can explore the technology behind our Space-Ships using the interactive deck plan below.

Now that you have an idea of where the nuts and bolts of our fleet are found, it’s time to take a more in-depth look at how our Space-Ships work with the help of our trusty technology expert, Marin.

What Type of Engines do Space-Ships Use and How Powerful Are They?

While Space-Ships are designed to glide effortlessly through the water, powering something as big and heavy as a river ship – with all its equipment, facilities and guests – requires a big engine. Three of them in fact.

The engines in question are two Caterpillar C32 ACERTs and a 4-stroke-cycle turbocharged diesel unit. Here, Marin explains how much power the main engines produce, and the advantages they offer to the captain and crew:

“The majority of ships in the Scenic fleet use twin Caterpillar C32 ACERT engines, each producing 1,000 HP/1,800 RPM, as their primary power source. These advanced, turbo-charged engines offer outstanding reliability and performance, as well as excellent low-end throttle response for smooth manoeuvring at low speed.

“In addition to these two main engines, both of which are located in the aft engine room, most Space-Ships also have a separate V12 diesel engine producing 482 HP. This secondary engine is used to power the bow thruster, which helps with navigation and steering – but we’ll get to that later.”

While the main engines do the legwork of powering the propulsion system, another three auxiliary diesel generators power the electronic gadgetry of the ship – from the navigation technology in the captain’s wheelhouse to the Scenic Sun Lounge system in selected guest suites. There’s also an emergency generator – just in case.

How Do River Ships Steer?

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With most Scenic Space-Ships spanning over 130m in length, accurate and reliable steering is imperative on the narrow passageways of Europe. Our ships are equipped with the very latest propulsion and navigation systems to guarantee safe travel on even the most winding and busiest stretches of the river.

Explaining exactly how river cruise ships steer is where things get a little more complicated, so we’ll hand over to Marin for his expert insight: “To help them steer, Space-Ships rely on a series of engine-powered propellers, which speed up and slow down depending on the ship’s current heading.

“The captain and crew control the ship’s heading using an engine throttle joystick in the wheelhouse. In some ways, this is very similar to a car steering wheel, though it requires several more turns and lots more time to set the ship off on a new course.

“When making manoeuvres at low speed or travelling around a particularly tight river bend, the crew may engage the bow thruster. This unit, mounted at the front of the ship, is separate to the main propulsion system, and offers 360° steering without the need for any forward motion – so it’s great for making tight turns.”

What Navigation Features Do They Have?

Scenic Space-Ship captains need to know exactly where the vessel is on the river at all times, not only to help with navigating upcoming turns, but to make sure the speed is appropriate to the schedule. For this reason, all ships are equipped with advanced communication technologies – from GPS and radar to internet and TV satellites.

Here, Marin offers extra insight on the importance of this tech: “Our ships have all kinds of technical wizardry mounted on their wheelhouse roofs, and these masts and antenna are what make our European river cruises possible.

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“One of the most important systems is radar, which tells the crew exactly where the ship is in relation to other vessels and obstacles, enabling safe navigation and an autopilot feature. It also gives a reading of the water depth front and aft, to prevent running-aground.

Other useful navigation systems include GPS, for current positioning, weather reporting on wind speed and air temperature, and a chart which measures how much the river’s current is affecting the ship’s drift.

“With all this information at their fingertips, our captains can ensure smooth and safe passage through the continent.

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“Other useful navigation systems include GPS, for current positioning, weather reporting on wind speed and air temperature, and a chart which measures how much the river’s current is affecting the ship’s drift.

“With all this information at their fingertips, our captains can ensure smooth and safe passage through the continent.”

What’s the Docking Process Like and Is It Difficult?

One of the questions we’re asked most often by our guests is – how do you dock a Scenic Space-Ship, and is it difficult?

Whether in the heart of Budapest or the hills of the Douro Valley, docking a Space-Ship safely and smoothly can be a fine art. Remember that these ships measure upwards of 130 metres and weigh over 2,000 tonnes – so they’re not the easiest things to handle on a narrow stretch of water.

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To explain how it’s done, here’s Marin: “Everything is against our Space-Ship crews when docking in a new port – from the forward momentum of the ship to the drift caused by the wind and the river’s current. Luckily, they’ve years of experience in manoeuvring these large vessels, and make it look very easy.

“Basically, the entire docking procedure is done by the bow thruster – a transversal propulsion device installed in the bow of the ship to make it more manoeuvrable. Bow thrusters make docking easier, since they allow the captain to turn the vessel to port or starboard side without using the main engine (propulsion mechanism) – which requires some forward motion for turning.

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“Docking a river ship may look impossibly difficult to us, but for our Space-Ship captains, it’s just another day on the river.”

We hope you’ve enjoyed this in-depth look at how our Space-Ships work, and how they’re able to transport you in complete luxury between Europe’s extraordinary destinations. Special thanks to Marin for shedding light on the inner workings of our 5-star river fleet.

To find out more about where our signature Space-Ships can take you, visit the homepage to browse our full collection of river cruises or call us now on 0808 159 9801.

Dominic Keely
Dominic Keely
Dominic is Scenic's Marketing Exec. His favourite river is the Seine, because of the rich history of the region. Dom's a huge football and Manchester United fan, and plays on a team himself.