Life at sea

Gain a fascinating insight into the lives of sailors and seamen throughout history. From the protocols of the Royal Navy to the traditions, customs and working lives of 18th and 19th century crewmen, we explore what life was really like on the high seas.

Alan Villiers was a distinguished sailor, author and photographer. His work vividly records the period of early 20th century maritime history.

The gold lace on naval officers’ uniforms has traditionally be used to indicate rank. But what are its origins?

The hornpipe dance hasn't always been associated with sailors and dancing on deck. 

As well as being a naval hero, Lord Nelson was an interesting and complex man. His letters and diaries reveal much about his character.

Life at sea meant short bursts of work followed by short periods of rest, these four-hour long segments of the day are called watches.

Life at sea during the age of sail was filled with hardship. Sailors had to accept cramped conditions, disease, poor food, pay and bad weather.

The ‘standard’ nautical mile is taken as 6080 feet (1.151 statute miles or 1853 metres) and is the unit of length used in sea and air navigation.

In the 19th century, MP Samuel Plimsoll campaigned for load lines to be painted on the side of ships to prevent them being overloaded and sinking.

The introduction of steam power in the 19th century revolutionised the shipping industry and made Britain a world-leader in shipbuilding.

A captain going down with his sinking ship is one of the strongest and most honourable traditions of the sea.