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The Shatter (Player's Handbook, page 275) spell description reads:

Each creature in a 10-foot-radius sphere centered on that point must make a Constitution saving throw. A creature takes 3d8 thunder damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. A creature made of inorganic material such as stone, crystal, or metal has disadvantage on this saving throw.

A nonmagical object that isn't being worn or carried also takes the damage if it's in the spell's area.

Obviously, a warship isn't a creature, and it's an object that's definitely not being worn or carried. Unlike many objects, however, it has a Constitution score (a warship has a score of 20, according to Ghosts of Saltmarsh). In fact, the GoS ship blocks are written like those of a creature, though they are classified as ships, separate from objects.

Would a ship then act as a creature within the spell's area of effect and make a Constitution saving throw against the spell, or would it take that 3d8 damage automatically?

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The ship is not a creature and thus automatically takes the damage

The DMG Chapter 8: Running the Game states (emphasis mine):

For the purpose of these rules, an object is a discrete, inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects.

Ships have the type vehicle. So they are not an object per se, but they are composed of objects. Thus we can say they are a composite object.

Shatter states

A nonmagical object that isn't being worn or carried also takes the damage if it's in the spell's area.

This ship is a non-magical object that isn't being worn or carried, and thus takes the damage automatically (or at least it's components do).

The Ghosts of Saltmarsh has specific rules on each of the components, and how they take damage, but they do take damage.

Components

A ship is composed of different components, each of which comprises multiple objects:

Hull. A ship’s hull is its basic frame, on which the other components are mounted.

[...]

Armor Class

A component has an Armor Class. Its AC reflects the materials used to construct it and any defensive plating used to augment its toughness.

Hit Points

A ship component is destroyed and becomes unusable when it drops to 0 hit points. A ship is wrecked if its hull is destroyed.

A ship doesn’t have Hit Dice.

Damage Threshold

If a ship component has a damage threshold, that threshold appears after its hit points. A component has immunity to all damage unless it takes an amount of damage that equals or exceeds its threshold, in which case it takes damage as normal. [...]

So, the components in range of shatter will automatically be affected by the damage, but if they have a damage threshold the component is immune to any damage unless it exceeds the damage threshold.

Normally objects don't make saving throws. The general rules on who or what makes Saving Throws are available in the Players Handbook section on Saving Throws:

A saving throw — also called a save — represents an attempt to resist a spell, a trap, a poison, a disease, or a similar threat. You don’t normally decide to make a saving throw; you are forced to make one because your character or monster is at risk of harm.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh introduces a number of new and specific rules around ships.

The ability scores on the ships stat block have new and specific meanings outlined in the Ghosts of Saltmarsh:

The Strength of a ship expresses its size and weight. Dexterity represents a ship’s ease of handling. A ship’s Constitution covers its durability and the quality of its construction. Ships usually have a score of 0 in Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

If a ship has a 0 in a score, it automatically fails any ability check or saving throw that uses that score.

This passage also establishes that there are situations where ships will need to make ability checks and saving throws. This is a specific exception to the general rules, quoted earlier, that creatures make saving throws.

In particular Ghosts of Saltmarsh introduces new rules for Crashing a Ship in which the ship needs to make a Constitution saving throw.

Crashing a Ship

[...]

When a ship crashes, it must immediately make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. [...]

Vessel based saving throws are also required when fighting against currents:

[...] Vessels and creatures fighting against a current must make a Constitution saving throw at the end of every hour traveled, with a bonus equal to the crew’s quality (if they have crew). [...]

or when navigating sandbars:

[...] When a ship passes over a submerged sandbar, the sandbar counts as difficult terrain, and the ship must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw. [...]

There are also a number of specific upgrades and magic items ships can have that can force new saving throws, for example:

Grasping Rounds

This weapon creates spectral chains that trail after its shots, restraining enemy vessels in their grasp. When this weapon hits a ship, that vehicle must succeed on a DC 14 Strength saving throw or it can’t move away from the attacker. [...]

[...]

Red Dragon Figurehead

[...] Each creature and object in the cone must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 21 (6d6) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. [...]

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, so if I understand you correctly, a ship only makes saving throws when those specific instances arise. But I wonder why we come to this conclusion, since a ship is a vehicle, not an object, according to the first text you quoted. Because the ship is a vehicle, not an object (as I've realized) should the rules be different? \$\endgroup\$ – user55434 Jun 9 at 17:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user55434 there is a ruling for it, in Ghosts of Saltmarsh, under hitpoints, which are listed for each component. Each component is a specific object. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Jun 9 at 17:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user55434 I've edited it into the answer. The ship itself doesn't have hitpoints, it's components do. If you destroy the Hull component you destroy the ship. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Jun 9 at 17:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user55434 "A ship is wrecked if its hull is destroyed." The Hull is not the Helm. If the Helm is destroyed the ship cannot turn, if the Hull is destroyed the ship is destroyed. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Jun 9 at 17:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I misread what you wrote, and apologize. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – user55434 Jun 9 at 17:23
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It automatically takes the damage

A ship is not a creature because it cannot take actions by itself. Many objects have game statistics, from doors to sentient weapons. Having statistics does not make something a creature. Being able to take actions makes something a creature (based on the Monster Manual introduction).

From Ghosts of Saltmarsh Appendix A (p. 186):

Ships can’t take any actions on their own. Without effort from its crew, a ship might drift on the water, come to a stop, or careen out of control.

Since it is a physical thing that exists that is not a creature, a ship is, in fact an object (or a collection of objects) which would not get a saving throw.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to add to this, whilst the ship would be automatically damaged, page 247 of the DMG describes damage threshold: “Big objects such as castle walls often have extra resilience represented by a damage threshold. An object with a damage threshold has immunity to all damage unless it takes an amount of damage from a single attack or effect equal to or greater than its damage threshold, in which case it takes damage as normal. Any damage that fails to meet or exceed the object's damage threshold is considered superficial and doesn't reduce the object's hit points.” So it’s HP may not be reduced \$\endgroup\$ – Liam Morris Jun 9 at 7:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to consider the following quotes from that appendix, "If a ship has a 0 in a score, it automatically fails any ability check or saving throw that uses that score", which could imply that it does in fact get constitution saving throws, and "A ship is composed of different components, each of which comprises multiple objects", which suggests that a ship is made of components made of objects, so one reading might be that shatter only affects an object of a component. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Jun 9 at 15:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ That certainly seems to imply that the ship, despite not being a creature, would make the saving throw. \$\endgroup\$ – user55434 Jun 9 at 17:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are no implications in 5e. If something isn't explicitly stated, there is no assumption that it is true. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Jun 9 at 22:39

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