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SNAME Remembers - Robert N. Herbert

A Legacy of Innovation and Partnership Remembered through SNAME Scholarships


At the request of SNAME’s Council and with the enthusiastic support of Presidents Robert Kramek, Keith Michel and SNAME’s Executive Committee, the Society has committed to enhancing its scholarship program in the coming years. SNAME recently introduced its “Matching Scholarship Contribution Program”, which is intended to stimulate giving to the named scholarship funds and encourage new named scholarships. SNAME will match dollar-for-dollar donations given by SNAME members to the various funds. Provision is made on the dues notice to contribute to these funds, and we hope many SNAME members will take advantage of this unique opportunity to assist in the development of future generations of marine professionals. For newly established scholarship funds, SNAME will match the first $50,000 given to the Society. Thus, donations of $50,000 or more by individuals or corporations together with the Society’s matching contribution will provide sufficient funds for a perpetual named scholarship, which would be awarded annually.

Upon graduating from MIT with a degree in naval architecture, Robert N. Herbert served in the U.S. Navy. He began his ship design and maritime consulting career as an employee of P.F. Spaulding & Associates in Seattle, where he rose to the position of chief naval architect. In 1963, Bob moved to San Francisco and established his own consulting firm, R.N. Herbert, Naval Architects. All employees became shareholders of the company when it incorporated as Herbert Engineering Corp. (HEC) in 1975. Bob oversaw a purposely slow and deliberate growth in HEC, which currently has offices in Alameda, Annapolis, and Shanghai.

Bob Herbert is well known for his many innovative developments in containership and forest product ship design. For example, Bob was the principal designer of the first two classes of open hatch forest product carriers which were built in the early 1960’s for Crown Zellerbach’s U.S. West Coast service and Svenska Cellulosa AB’s Baltic service. Subsequent designs for Weyerhauser, MacMillan Bloedel, and others enhanced the cargo protection and container stowage features of these ships, establishing this ship type as the international standard for transport of forest products. Bob was a believer in total system design, from the mill to the customer, and the open hatch bulk carriers are a classic example of the success of this approach. These innovative ships with their open holds and large hatch covers proved uniquely suited for movement of forest products, bulk cargoes, and containers. Bob also contributed to the concurrent development of shipboard gantry cranes, specialized vacuum and bar clamps for the efficient handling of paper, pulp and lumber, and customized warehouse and shore handling equipment that were equally important to the commercial success of these ventures.

Bob Herbert was committed to the design of safe and environmentally sound ships. All of HEC’s ships, including ro-ro’s and bulk carriers, were designed to meet high standards of survivability, even before international regulations for cargo vessels had been adopted by IMO. Professionalism and ethics were of the utmost importance to Bob. For instance, when a young naval architect came to work at HEC, part of his or her first day was spent reading and discussing SNAME’s Code of Ethics. When Bob Herbert was awarded SNAME’s David W. Taylor medal in 1986, he explained, “The Society has been my framework, my guide, and my inspiration. It’s impossible to conceive of functioning as a professional naval architecture without the presence of this Society.”

In memory of Bob Herbert’s commitment to SNAME and to young marine professionals, Helen Herbert, Bob’s wife and partner throughout his career together with Bob’s former colleagues and friends have established the Robert N. and Helen H. Herbert Undergraduate Scholarship, formerly the Robert N. Herbert Undergraduate Scholarship. The first scholarship was awarded in 2008.