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.

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.

The Royal Navy introduced coloured cloth on to their uniforms in 1863, so that it was possible to distinguish between naval departments.

The first naval Victoria Cross was awarded to Charles Lucas while serving as a Mate on HMS Hecla in 1854 during the Crimean War.

A Matthew Walker Knot keeps the end of a rope from fraying but its origins are a mystery.

Tattoos have adorned the highest born royals and the lowliest sailor in Europe for at least 5,000 years.

The ‘Vikings’ were seafaring raiders and traders from Scandinavia. The period known as the Viking Age lasted from AD 700 until 1100.

From brass buttons to bell-bottoms, garments traditionally worn at sea have long been adopted and adapted to create new fashions and statements.

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