December 30, 2009

Mikolaj Habryn: Residential Shipsteading

Mikolaj Habryn’s presentation entitled “Residential ShipSteading” is now available online:

“You could do this right now.”

Seasteading is typically thought of as a feat of complicated coordination involving the construction or purchase of an anchored platform. But cruise ships are veritable floating cities already. So why not just get a group of 500 of your closest friends together, refurbish a cargo or cruise ship, and set sail for freedom?

Google engineer Mikolaj Habryn set out to answer this question, and discovered that while long-term habitation in a cruise or cargo ship may not not be as easy as buying an apartment building, in many ways it could be easier than previously thought.

For one, the residential cruise ship scenario has actually been done. The floating luxury condominium residence dubbed “The World” has been housing jet-setters since March of 2002.

The question is, can The World be called “seasteading in the TSI sense”? Not really, if permanent settlement is the qualification, since the majority of residents spend around 3 months or less on the boat. As Habryn explains, the people who can afford the costs to live aboard the world typically are not willing or cannot afford the time to live there. The World fails to create a real community, since no one has long-term stake in the settlement.

If the goal is to create a permanent settlement with a real community, therefore, positioning costs and comforts to attract a certain demographic of people who can spend long protracted amounts of time in residence should be a primary consideration.

Habryn has done much of the work of understanding the accounting behind the operation of a cruise ship, and lays these numbers out in detail. Interestingly, the main advantage of a shipstead would be its cost: both up-front purchase and maintenance are far more advantageous than that of any platform ever designed to date.

Questions remain about the length of time a cruise or cargo ship could sit in the ocean before needing to come back to shore. Fresh water capacity, waste water capacity, and other supply / maintenance concerns will likely be resolved differently per ship. Indeed, unresolved is whether large vessels, which are designed for movement and delivery rather than continuous occuption, could be relied upon to sit at all — perhaps it will be necessary for safety and/or regulatory standards to keep moving, come to dry dock, and receieve yearly survey and inspection.

Nevertheless, achieving a functional, permanent settlment by ship stands to improve the outlook for seasteading in general. Government? Trade? Commercial accommodation? Internet access? Cabin fever? Ocean madness? These are wide open questions for any seastead. A shipstead would be able to rely on the time-tested strength of its construction, spending its efforts on developing solutions to those external problems without the additional challenges of managing an experimental platform.