Punishment was often severe on ships. These punishments included such things as whipping, keelhauling, and execution.


Sometimes whipping would be given with the "cat."  The cat o nine tails, commonly shortened to "cat," is a type of multi-tailed whip that originated as an implement for severe physical punishment, notably in the Royal Navy and Army of the United Kingdom, and also as a judicial punishment in Britain and some other countries.

The still-popular sailor's song What shall we do with a drunken sailor? has a verse that goes "Give him a taste of the captain's daughter" or "Throw him in bed with the captain's daughter". While this doesn't sound a dire fate for the tipsy seaman, in actuality the term "captain's daughter" refers to the cat o' nine tails or a similar whip.

Also, the common phrase, "not enough room to swing a cat," is derived not from the swinging of a real cat, but of a cat o' nine tails.

Usually, the average number of lashes was


Keelhauling (Dutch kielhalen; "to drag along the keel"; German Kielholen; Swedish kölhalning; Danish kølhaling; Norwegian kjølhaling) is a form of punishment meted out to sailors at sea. The sailor was tied to a line that looped beneath the vessel, thrown overboard on one side of the ship, and dragged under the ship's keel, either from one side of the ship to the other, or the length of the ship (from bow to stern). 

As the hull was usually covered in barnacles and other marine growth, if the offender was pulled quickly, keelhauling would typically result in serious cuts, loss of limbs and even decapitation. 

If the victim was dragged slowly, his weight might lower him sufficiently to miss the barnacles, but this method would frequently result in his drowning.

Keelhauling was legally permitted as a punishment in the Dutch Navy. The earliest official mention of keelhauling is a Dutch ordinance of 1560, and the practice was not formally abolished until 1853. Keelhauling has become strongly associated with pirate lore.

Today, keelhauling can refer to the spinnaker sheets getting stuck under the hull after dousing the sail. This occurs especially in dinghy sailboats because nothing prevents the sheet from being pulled under the bow.

Methods of executionEdit

Hanging from the yardarm is one of the most notorious execution methods. This was the normal punishment for mutiny in the naval fleet. The last execution was carried out in 1860, during the Second Chinese War, on a marine who attempted to murder his captain. Yardarm execution as carried out in the navy is well described by Nordoff and Hall in Mutiny on the Bounty. 

As a capital punishment it was by no means instantaneous. The prisoner's hands and feet were tied, and with the noose about his neck a dozen or so men, usually boats' bowmen (the worst scoundrels in the ship) manned the whip and hoisted him to the block of an upper yard, to die there by slow strangulation.

Another method seldom used is the firing squad. The sailor would be blindfolded, and tied to the mainmast of the ship. Then, 5 men with rifles would stand at attention facing the prisoner. The captain would read the death warrant which would be signed by him and his mates, and then signal the firing squad. They would aim and fire at a target pinned over the sailor's heart. It was a very quick death, and not very often used except in the British Royal Navy.

In the days of the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, the execution methods were varied. Magellan faced a mutiny on October 15th 1520 and had to deal with. He had one rebellious captain stabbed to death, and then cut into quarters and the quarters were hung from the foremast of the Victoria. Another captain was forced to kneel down on the deck of the Trinidad and was decapitated by his own loyal servant by the sword, and then his body was cut into quarters and displayed from the mainmast of the Concepcion.

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