What was the typical speed of a tramp steamship in their heyday? I mean cruising speed, not flank speed; the figure you would divide into distance to see how long it would take to travel between ports.

The Wikipedia article on the Tramp Trade says

The size of tramp ships remained relatively constant from 1900 to 1940, at about 7,000 to 10,000 deadweight tons (dwt.).

This is a fairly narrow size range, and the Wikipedia article on the steamship suggests the technology of steamships was mature by the late nineteenth century, and remained so for the first few decades of the twentieth century until replacement by diesel engines, which suggests there should be a correspondingly narrow speed range.

But all the steamship speed figures I can find, are for the big famous liners, e.g. the top speed of the Titanic was 23 knots (more than 26 miles per hour). The article Booking Passage On A Steamship - 1910 says

There are many factors connected with the price of staterooms; the time of passage must he considered, for every increased knot of speed means a vastly increased coal consumption, which is almost inconceivable to the layman; the saving of a day in passage may mean double coal consumption.

which confirms a tramp steamer should be slower.

So what was a typical speed? (If there exists a record of tramp steamer journey time between two ports, the distance between which is known, that would also work.)

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure there was a 'typical' speed. Most that I've read about have a speed in the range 9 - 11 knots. Some examples include:

  • The tramp steamer SS Monarch was launched in 1885, and had a design speed of approximately 10 knots.

  • The SS Daleby was built in 1900, and had a speed of 9.5 knots.

  • The Sizergh Castle was launched in 1903, and had a speed of 9 knots.

  • The SS Sutherland was launched in 1918, and had a speed of 11 knots.

  • The MV Silver Fir was launched in 1924, and had a speed of 10 knots. The Silver Fir was sunk by the German raider Gneisenau.

  • The SS Hartismere was built in 1933, and had a speed of 11 knots.

It may be worth noting that the design for the Liberty Ships evolved from the design of

"... a simple ship originally produced in Sunderland by J.L. Thompson & Sons based on a 1939 design for a simple tramp steamer"

Liberty Ships had a speed of 11–11.5 knots.

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