How Could Noah’s Ark Survive the Storm?
“People in the early 1900s built an extraordinarily large wooden ship, the Wyoming.
It was a six-masted schooner, the largest ever built. . . . [but] it would twist in the sea . . .
and leaked like crazy. The crew could not keep the ship dry, and indeed it eventually foundered and sank;
loss of all 14 hands. So there were 14 crewmen aboard a ship built by very, very skilled shipwrights in
New England. These guys were the best in the world at wooden shipbuilding, and they couldn’t
build a boat as big as the ark. . . . Is it possible that the best shipbuilders in the world
couldn’t do what 8 unskilled people, men and their wives, were able to do?”
Bill Nye, the Science Guy
In his widely publicized 2014
debate with Answers in
Genesis president, Ken
Ham, Bill Nye the Science
Guy cited the sinking of the Wyoming
as proof that the biblical account of
Noah’s Ark is impossible. He was simply
repeating one of skeptics’ most
common challenges against the Ark’s
To answer this challenge, some
Christians have appealed to God’s
miraculous intervention. But is this
Before examining the many challenges
that large wooden ships must
overcome, we need to be careful not
to fall into the trap of accepting Nye’s
unprovable assumptions. He claimed
that the Ark’s eight builders were
unskilled. Far too often, Christians
go along with skeptical arguments
instead of exposing the false premises
on which they are constructed.
For example, many Christians repeat
Nye’s assertion when they happily
state, “The Titanic was built by
experts, and the Ark was built by
amateurs.” But where does the Bible
ever tell us that Noah was an amateur
or that only eight people worked
on the Ark?
We know from Scripture and our
own experiences that when the Lord
calls a person to a specific task, he
will make sure the person has the
capabilities and resources to complete
the work. Does it make any sense to
think God would have called Noah to
such a vital purpose if he were inexperienced
or incompetent? Noah may
have been a highly skilled shipbuilder
or he may have hired people who were.
Implicit in Nye’s claim is the notion
that ancient people were primitive, yet evidence to the contrary has
been found around the globe. In the
first several centuries after the Flood,
for instance, people built engineering
marvels that still stand today, such as
the Great Pyramid and Stonehenge.
Schooner Wyoming (1909), the largest wooden ship built in modern times, foundered and sank.
Problems for Large Wooden Ships
Bill Nye touched upon just one
of the many challenges a large
wooden ship must overcome to
remain afloat. The ship’s hull is
made of long wooden boards, called
strakes, which can twist and pull
apart under stress from waves, or they
can expand when wet and contract
To minimize these difficulties, the
strakes must be joined in ways that
allow motion without failure of the
joint. Each strake must also be connected
in a similar way to those above
When the strakes are securely connected,
the ship is said to be tight. This
is where the phrase “tight ship” comes
from. However, if forces on the hull
cause the strakes to slide past each
other, a process called slip, then the
vessel becomes a “loose ship.”
The problem becomes greater when
ships exceed certain lengths. These
difficulties are magnified in large
ships because the waves and the
troughs between the waves create different
stresses on different parts of the
boat at the same time.
Consider two successive waves about
150 feet apart. If the ship is longer than
the distance between these waves,
then one end will be struck by the first
wave at the same time the other end
is struck by the second. As the waves
lift both ends of the boat, the middle
(called the amidships) is at higher risk
of sagging than smaller vessels.
The opposite problem is hogging.
This occurs when the ends of the ship
are over the troughs, while a wave is
lifting the amidships. Can you picture
this extra strain? Both sagging and
hogging put tremendous stress on a
But things can get even worse if the
vessel is not turned properly into the
waves. If a long ship turns at an angle
into the waves (called a quartering sea),
it can undergo multiple stresses at once.
Imagine some of the possibilities. In a
quartering sea, the bow (front) of the
craft might face stress from one direction,
while the stern (back) endures a
force from a different direction.
In this situation, the bow may be
riding on top of a wave, so the force
lifts it straight up. Meanwhile, the current
will drive the stern forward at an
angle, producing a nasty twisting force
(technically called torsion) amidships.
Talk about twisting and turning! No
wonder the Wyoming sank.
Another rather obvious difficulty for
ships, often overlooked when talking
about the Ark, is the danger of collisions
with rocks on the shore or debris
in the water. With the Flood ripping
apart the earth and stripping it of all
its forests and vegetation, the potential
for obstructions in the water is mindboggling.
Creation geologists who
have studied this issue believe that the
raging waters shaved the continents
down to their foundations, creating a
mixture of rapidly moving boulders,
rocks, and debris that could destroy
any normal boat trying to stay afloat.
With the exception of collision
dangers, most modern vessels
minimize these risks because
their hulls are made of steel.
Also, they have engines and a rudder,
so they can turn into the waves, where
they are safest. Most wooden ships in
history have had a method of propulsion
and a rudder, too. But as far as
we know, Noah’s Ark did not possess
a moveable rudder or any means of
So what did Noah do? To survive
the Flood, the Ark must have been
engineered to account for these risks.
The box-shaped Ark so often depicted
in picture books would have been at
a major disadvantage. Without any
mechanism to turn it into the waves,
a box-shaped vessel would have
broached (turned side-on to the waves)
repeatedly, and the battering waves
would have put enormous stress on
the hull, making an unbearably rocky
ride for its occupants.
Thankfully, the Bible does not force
us to view the Ark as a giant box. While
it gives us the overall dimensions, it
does not tell us the shape. In the past,
some people have asserted that the
Hebrew word translated Ark (teyvah)
means “box”; but this is inaccurate.
The full-size Ark reconstruction
recently opened at the Ark Encounter
theme park in the United States took
all these nautical factors into account.
Mechanical engineer Tim Lovett spent
years researching ancient shipbuilding
techniques and consulting with
naval architects to develop a design
that could survive the many dangers
Designing an Ark that would continually
face the waves at a right angle
was absolutely essential. Lovett concluded
that one simple solution for
Noah would be to place two prominent
structures on the exterior. On the bow
he could put a large sail-like structure,
though contrary to some assumptions,
this is not a sail for propulsion. Instead,
this rigid “bow fin” would catch the
wind and constantly turn the stern
into the waves, similar to the way wind
turns a weather vane. In addition to a
bow fin, a kind of skeg, or large fin-like
projection, at the bottom of the stern
would restrict side (lee) motion, thus
keeping the vessel rotated to face the
passing waves (called a following sea).
Similar structures were built on
ancient ships. For example, the famous
Greek triremes boasted one end turned
upward, like a small rigid sail, and a
projection for ramming at the opposite
end, similar to the skeg. Unlike the
Ark, however, these ships were propelled
through the water by the wind
and oars. So the rigid sail rose from the
stern and the “skeg” cut into the waves
at the bow, similar to the bulbous bow
seen on many modern ships.
Preventing sagging and hogging on
a large wooden vessel is perhaps the
main challenge. So Tim Lovett proposed
that Noah could have built three
keels running lengthwise along the
ship’s bottom. Three massive beams,
along with an intricate system of
sturdy timbers running up to the roof,
would allow the ship to counteract the
tremendous stresses of a long voyage.
Having three keels instead of just one,
as seen on most ships today, would
also allow the Ark to be constructed
without supports and to remain
upright after it landed.
What about the danger of the planks
sliding? Lovett realized that skilled
shipbuilders knew how to design a
multilayered covering for the hull. The
outer layers are “sacrificial,” meaning
that they are not necessary for structural
integrity but merely absorb blows
from obstructions and wear away, without
damaging the underlying layers.
Lovett borrowed his design for the
strakes from ancient shipbuilders. The
Greeks and Romans became masters
of the sea because they had perfected
a technique known as mortise and
tenon planking. These interlocking
pieces kept the ships tight by securing
each plank to the strakes (planks)
above and below it. Chinese vessels
from the 1400s used multiple layers
of planking. Each successive layer of
planking dramatically increased their
resistance to stress. Both ancient and
modern builders of wooden ships have
used another technique to prevent
leakage, which Noah could have used.
They pound wooden pegs, called trunnels,
into holes drilled into the strakes.
Along with holding the planks in place,
the trunnels also swell when the ship
is in the water, thus providing an extra
measure of waterproofing.
The Bible specifically says that
God instructed Noah to coat the
inside and outside of the Ark with
pitch. Throughout history, builders of
wooden ships have done this on the
outside to prevent leakage. The internal
pitch would provide an extra barrier
against leakage and, depending on
when it was applied, it may have acted
as a preservative during the extended
These are just some of the technical
details about ship construction that
Tim Lovett considered to show how
the Ark could be a tight ship.
Noah could have added a few basic features to help the Ark avoid destructive waves.
Bow Fin—Fixed “Sail”
Noah could have added a fixed “sail” on the upper bow of the Ark so the wind
could turn the ship into the rough waves.
Stern Projection—Fixed “Rudder”
Noah could have added a fixed “rudder” at the
lower stern of the Ark to keep the ship turned into the rough waves.
Noah could have added a few basic features to keep the ship watertight.
Layered Strakes—Overlapping Planking
Multiple layers of overlapping strakes (planks) would give the Ark more durability.
The outer layers could wear away without damaging the underlying layers.
Shipbuilders have always covered a ship with pitch to prevent leakage. But God commanded Noah to coat the inside too, which would have improved waterproofing.
Mortise & Tenon—Interlocking Joints
Planks can be “snapped” together with interlocking joints (tenons)
that slip into matching holes (mortises) cut into each plank.
Holes can be drilled into planks and wooden pegs pounded into the holes to hold the planks together.
These pegs swell in the water and close any gaps.
Did It Float?
We need not appeal to God’s miraculous power
to explain how the Ark survived the Flood.
The Bible explains that only eight
people survived the Flood in
Noah’s Ark (1 Peter 3:20). So,
yes, the Ark floated and kept its
human and animal passengers safe
from the most devastating catastrophe
this world has ever known. We need
not appeal to God’s miraculous power
to explain how it survived the Flood.
Instead, we can trust that God chose
the man he had prepared to carry out
this vital task and that righteous Noah
was capable of obeying God’s instructions
Large wooden ships like the Ark
certainly have many design challenges to overcome, but God did not
give Noah an impossible task. The
Lord knew such a boat could be constructed,
and although Scripture does
not indicate that he gave Noah all
the solutions to these challenges, it
is quite logical that through careful
planning and ingenious design, Noah
could lead the building of a ship that
met God’s parameters to protect its
Bill Nye referred to the Wyoming as proof that large ships
can’t handle the open sea, but he left out some important details.
- The Wyoming had six
large masts, unlike
the Ark, which had
none. The tall masts
and large sails significantly
increased the stress on the
hull and introduced major
stability issues that the Ark
did not face.
- The Wyoming
remained afloat for
over 14 years. While
it was not as large as
Noah’s vessel, the fact that
a long wooden boat floated
for so long should make us
pause before proclaiming that
Noah’s Ark could not survive
five months before landing on
the mountains of Ararat.
- Investors built the
larger wooden sailing
ships in the 19th
and early 20th centuries
cheaply and quickly
to serve as commercial
workhorses. They shuttled
goods back and forth, and
they were expected to last
only 10–15 years.
- Furthermore, these
had a single-layer
hull braced by iron
straps, and the strakes were
held together by caulking.
With great stresses on larger
ships, it did not take long for
the planks to slip and leak.
in apologetics and theology and a ThM in church history
and theology from Liberty University School of Divinity.
He is content manager for Answers in Genesis’ attractions
https://answersingenesis.org/noahs-ark/how-could-noahs-ark-survive-storm/ This article originally appeared on answersingenesis.org