Maritime Milestones: How GE Made Its Mark On Modern Marine History
Apr 30, 2015
Rachel Connor

From steering to speed, navigation and power supply, the marine industry has seen great progress since the start of the twentieth century.

GE’s systems have played an important part in the marine industry’s evolution, from building the earliest steam powered turbines to designing the latest electric propulsion technology, always with a view to driving greater efficiency and reliability through innovation.  Its expertise has helped customers across the marine and offshore industries, including merchant vessels, navy ships and oil rigs to name but a few.

Far from treading water, GE has set its sights firmly on the future with the recent launch of GE Marine, which combines the expertise of several GE businesses into a new, single unit.  

In recognition of this progress, here are just a few of the most significant GE innovations and milestones that have contributed to the growth and development of the marine industry globally and helped launch some of the world’s most famous ships:

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1912: First electrically propelled U.S. navy vessel

In 1912, the USS Jupiter, a U.S. Navy coal collier, became the first electrically propelled ship. This was the start of a propulsion trend in the U.S. Navy that would see many more ships powered by GE Electric Propulsion Systems.

1914: The Panama Canal opens, with GE-powered locks and tugs

When the Panama Canal opened in 1915, its locks and pumps relied on the world’s largest electrical systems designed and built by GE. The canal also used GE-powered tugs to move ships through its locks. Today, over a hundred years later, more tugs with GE Marine engines are under construction, as the canal undergoes massive expansion.

1930s: Submarine engineering reaches new depths

During the 1930s GE was heavily involved in U.S. submarine development. It designed a small, high speed electric motor, which connected directly to the propeller shaft through reduction gears. This helped to conserve space and reduce weight on vessels.

1935: The Normandie wins Blue Riband with GE’s electric propulsion system

In 1935 the French liner Normandie won the Blue Riband (a trophy for the ship which crosses the North Atlantic fastest on a commercial voyage), by reaching 30.31 knots. It was equipped with GE’s 160,000 HP electric propulsion system. From this heritage, GE continues to create efficient electric power and propulsion systems based around its range of variable frequency converters, rotating machines and distribution equipment.

1955: Better ship manoeuvring capabilities

GE was one of the early pioneers in podded electric propulsion units. These consist of marine propellers placed in pods that can be rotated to any horizontal angle, giving ships better manoeuvrability than a fixed propeller and rudder system. Since the early days, the technology has continually improved. GE’s latest podded thruster, the Inovelis*, offers high performance and can enable fuel savings of up to 10%.

1960s:  GE introduces gas turbine mechanical drive technology

In 1969 a significant development in ship propulsion technology occurred. GE’s LM2500 gas turbine aboard the W.M. Callaghan ushered in a new era of gas turbine powered navy ships which continue to this day. The installation of two LM2500s in the Callaghan resulted in an annual saving of approximately 100,000 barrels of fuel.

1970s: GE becomes an early pioneer in Dynamic Positioning

Dynamic Positioning (DP) is a computer-controlled system for maintaining a vessel’s position. GE’s first ever DP was installed on the Wimpey SeaLab drilling vessel in the early 1970s. Since then, GE has built more than 800 systems, from joystick manoeuvring and ‘simple’ DP to multi-redundant DP and Thruster Assisted Mooring Systems. GE’s expertise in DP includes predictive software and energy efficient mode, ensuring mariners can cut down emissions and machinery-wear, reduce maintenance time and costs and increase fuel economy.

1975: The first all-gas turbine ship arrives

In 1975 the first all gas turbine ship, the Spruance Class Destroyer, was put into service in the U.S. Navy. It was powered by four compact, high power density LM2500 gas turbines from GE.

1980s: Significant deepwater drilling begins

The offshore drilling industry saw significant progress in the design and construction of deepwater drilling systems in the early 1980s, creating access to previously untapped oil resources. GE is a leading player in this area; its drilling systems are today installed on more than 100 drill ships, semi-submersibles, jack-ups and platforms in all conceivable environments, from the tropical seas of Brazil to the icy waters off Russia’s northern and far eastern coasts. 

2002: Electric propulsion used for full-size LNG carrier for first time

GE was the first company to equip a full-size LNG carrier, Gaz de France Energy, with electric propulsion in 2002. It was a major landmark in helping the LNG industry become cleaner as electrically propelled LNG carriers have lower fuel consumption and emissions than previous propulsion systems. GE also fitted BP’s LNG Carrier, British Emerald, with electric propulsion and recently partnered with China State Shipbuilding Corporation on its first electrically propelled LNG carrier.

2006: The U.S. Navy’s first hybrid ship launches

The USS Makin Island is the first U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship with a unique hybrid propulsion system which relies on either two GE LM2500+ gas turbines or two diesel electric motors. The ability to select the best mix of power plants to match the immediate mission offers significant fuel savings and reduces operating costs. During its first seven-month deployment it saved the U.S. Navy more than four million gallons of fuel, worth $15 million.

2012: The world’s fastest ship sets sail

At 58 knots, Francisco is the world’s fastest ship. This wave-piercing catamaran is powered by two GE 25 MW marine gas turbines and is used as a commuter boat across the River Plate (between Argentina and Uruguay). The energy-efficient vessel’s GE gas turbines can burn LNG or diesel, and drive two water-jets.

2014: The UK Royal Navy’s next-generation aircraft carrier launches

HMS Queen Elizabeth took to the water for first time in July 2014. The ship contains GE electrical systems that allowed the shipbuilder to shrink the overall size of the cables, equipment and propulsion machinery that power the propellers, and leave more room for crew and aircraft. 

2015: GE Marine launches

Starting 2015 with a bang, GE combined its expertise in the marine sector under GE Marine - from gas turbines and diesel engines to motors and generators, from variable speed drives and drilling systems to automation and control systems and all the electrical equipment in between. GE Marine builds on the foundations of the GE Global Offshore Marine organization established in 2013 to provide integrated solutions to GE’s offshore customers. 

And into the future – digital marine

Developments in technology are crucial in continuing to drive the marine industry forward. Smart analytics, including the performance of marine technologies, both on-board and remotely, are transforming the efficiency of the industry and reducing the cost of maintenance and repairs.


* indicates a trademark of the General Electric Company and/or its subsidiaries


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Rachel Connor

Rachel Connor is the Marketing Leader for the Marine vertical for GE’s Power Conversion business, responsible for strategy development, market intelligence, sales activation and innovation. Rachel joined GE from Rolls-Royce where she had held various roles including recently Sales & Marketing Director in Defence sector and head of Marketing. Rachel held various previous role in Marketing with Vickers Specialist Engines, Mycon Marketing and Schneider. Rachel holds a MSc Degree in Marketing Management, chartered Marketer and Institute of Marketing (CIM) Diploma in Marketing.