An engineering software company with an office in Arlington wants to send computers out to sea to keep ships afloat.

Stephen Drabouski, program manager for ship stability and damage assessment systems at Pacer Systems Inc. of Burlington, Mass., has developed a computerized system that he says permits ship personnel to determine with unprecedented speed how to prevent a damaged ship from sinking.

Vessels become unstable and liable to break up or roll over if cargo is distributed improperly, if they run aground, or if they are damaged. "If you're on a ship today and the ship for some reason has a flooding problem, before anyone can take corrective action, he has to determine where the center of gravity is by ascertaining the condition of each compartment and using formulae to calculate the situation," Drabouski said.

Drabouski has developed software that takes a unique database created from a vessel's blueprints, adds reports from crew members or acoustic sensors, and quickly determines not only what corrective action is best, but projects the results of this action.

He said that solving a stability problem involving flooding in 30 compartments -- which he said could be caused by two torpedoes or medium-size missiles -- would take about 4 1/2 hours under current methods, 45 minutes under an experimental system he developed for the USS Midway, and about 5 minutes under Pacer's system. The company calls it the BALLAST system, for Balanced Loading via Automated Stability and Trim.

According to Drabouski, not only is 4 1/2 hours too long to determine what action to take to keep a damaged vessel afloat, but the person in charge doesn't have the time to do the requisite math because of other typical damage-related problems, such as fires and injured crew.

"We've gone through a number of U.S. Navy and foreign navy loss studies" and found that 48 percent of ship losses are stability-related," he said. "In most of those cases, the damage-control officer had to guess what to do and he guessed wrong."

BALLAST was developed last December, but Pacer was under a Navy secrecy order until May. The company began marketing the BALLAST system in July to the U.S Navy, British Navy and managers of floating oil rigs.

BALLAST consists of a Wang Professional Computer, which retails for about $11,000 to $13,000 and can store 640,000 bits of memory; a color monitor, a printer and a disc drive for storing additional data. The price includes software, installation and training.

Drabouski said that the size and cost ($300,000 to $500,000) of computers sophisticated enough to do the job had prevented development of such a system. "Now you're looking at somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000 for the BALLAST system" in a commercial vessel and about $10,000 less in a military vessel, he said.

He said that outside the Eastern bloc, there are some 40,000 ships weighing 1,000 gross tons or more, the size for which Pacer's damage-control system is designed. "We figure we'll get about 15 percent of the market," he said. "The minute this starts getting on ships," competition from other companies can be expected, he added.. But he believes Pacer can stay ahead of the competition by improving its system while competitors imitate previous versions of the computer.

Drabouski has a bachelor's degree in computer science and master's degree in financial services and management information systems. He served for 26 yearsas a Naval Reserve officer specializing in damage control.. He showed the system to an officer on the Midway, who liked the program and invited Drabouski to spend five weeks of active duty in 1982 adapting the program for the Midway's computers.

"When I came back from the Midway, I decided to team up with Pacer Systems" on commercial development, he recalled. Pacer is an engineering software firm that does 75 percent of its business with the Navy.

The Washington-based Intellectual Property Owners Inc. again is looking for someone to honor as its Inventor of the Year. Since 1973, winners have included Robert K. Jarvik, whose artificial heart was implanted for 105 days in Dr. Barney B. Clark; Paul MacCready, whose human-powered airplane, the Gossamer Albatross, was pedaled across the English Channel; and last year's winner, Robert Fischell of Johns Hopkins University, who invented a computer-operated implantable medication dispenser.

Nominees must have patented an invention during 1984 or made it commercially available for the first time this year. To nominate someone, send a written description of the invention and a one-page biography of the inventor by 5 p.m. Jan. 31, 1985, to Herbert C. Wamsley, Executive Director, Intellectual Property Owners Inc., Suite 1030N, 1800 M St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.