The Transatlantic Liner

Cunard Line is famous for its fleet of transatlantic liners

Many people get confused about the definition of a transatlantic liner. A transatlantic liner is an ocean liner which is designed to undertake the transatlantic crossing.

The transatlantic crossing refers to a passage of the North Atlantic Ocean. The first true transatlantic liner was the Great Western, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Great Western entered service in 1838. Cunard’s first transatlantic liner was the Britannia of 1840. She was the first ship to offer a regular scheduled transatlantic service.

All transatlantic liners (and indeed all ocean liners) share certain traits that make them unique and different to cruise ships.

Ocean Liner vs. Cruise Ship

Ocean Liners are designed to undertake a line voyage, between point A and point B across a large expanse of open ocean (such as the transatlantic crossing between North America and Europe). Because of this, the ships designed as Ocean Liners have certain traits, such as:

  • A long bow: The bow on ocean liners are typically longer than cruise ships, designed to ensure the superstructure is protected from the waves experienced in the open ocean,
  • Strong hull: Ocean Liners are very strong, with steel typically several inches thicker than that used aboard cruise ships,
  • Bridge set high atop the ship: Nearly all ocean liners had their navigation bridge on the top most deck. This is to ensure not only a good view but also to protect the navigation from the weather,
  • Lifeboat location: Ocean Liners are subject to heavy seas, particularly during winter crossings. As such, the boat deck is usually near the top of the vessel to protect the boats from high seas,
  • Speed: Ocean Liners are designed to undertake a scheduled voyage and as such require more speed than cruise ships, largely due to the need to maintain schedules that may be interrupted due to bad weather.

QE2 was the last of the transatlantic liners in service for much of her life, but since her retirement in 2008, Cunard’s QM2 is the last true transatlantic liner in service.