Minor? I hope this is sarcasm.

Any familiarity with the condition of the outer hull of a sea going vessel would convince anybody that keelhauling would be tantamount to a death sentence. Bleeding from the types of puncture and abrasion wounds that would result could not be stopped with the kind of medical treatment they had back then. Barnacles and other crustaceas growths often protrude several inches from the hull. It wouldn’t just be skin getting scraped from the sailor’s body, it would be meat! A 100 lashes with the cat o’ nine tails would be far less severe, and few sailors could survive that. (48 was the upper limit, if the capt. wished the sailor to survive) Bleeding to death might even be a moot point. One would only need to scream underwater for 60 seconds before drowning. Once the man filled his lungs with water and lost consciousness, he was done for. It’s not like the bosun’s mates back then knew CPR.

I’d love to prove this point, but I have yet to actually see a documented account of a keelhauling. It’s not for lack of trying, either. More than once I’ve posted a topic inquiring about an actual keelhauling only to be directed toward the same vague references to the 16th century Dutch navy and it’s abolition of it in the Royal Navy in 1853. Why the British felt the need to abolish something their navy never practiced is beyond me.

Navy captains are required by law to record all punishment that takes place aboard their ships, yet I’ve yet to read any entry referring to keelhauling.

I suspect that the portrayals in fiction far outnumber any actual keelhaulings. Those few that blood thirsty captains may have actually ordered, were almost surely death sentences.

I, also, was under the impression that keelhauling was fatal. A naval history instuctor told us that the only practioners of that particular sort of excecution were pirates. Of course they didn’t keep fastidious logs, so many of those reports were of the baby-in-the-microwave variety.

I tried to post saying the exact same thing, UM, but the damn board was down for maintenance seemingly forever, and by then I’d lost interest.

Another elaboration I’ve heard on the idea of keelhauling was that it was something of a test of how your shipmates felt about you. If you weren’t popular, they might not haul you around with quite the eagerness you’d hope, increasing the time you’d have to hold your breath. Bit of a trade off with the barnacle “bites”.

But one thing seems sure, it could never have been a penalty for minor offences. Looks like Cecil actually (though I shudder to say it) erred on this one!

An unfortunate typo, I fear, entrapped Cecil et al.

Checking every nautical text extant, I found this quote from FitzHugh-Dunwoodie’s comprehensive British Maritime Justice (published in 1803):

“Whilst reserving the taste of the lash and sundry other stiff punishments for the most serious offenders, officers of the line also mete out penalties for relatively minor infractions, such as stealing grog, malingering and bum-fisting. In such cases, the preferred method for giving miscreants their comeuppance is the practice of creelhauling (my emphasis).

I hope this puts the matter to rest.

Cecil mentions that it was only officially practiced by the Dutch. Where do you get 18th century Dutch logs?

<font color=#FF30c0>Jomolungma</span></font>

So, what is “creelhauling”, then?

<font color=#FCFCFC>rocks</font>

Instituut voor Maritieme Historie
Jan van Nassaustraat 112
2596 BW Den Haag
tel: (070) 316 2853
fax: (070) 316 2861

Alas, I don’t speak Dutch, but there’s the guy to contact about anything in the Dutch Navy archives.

I’d also like to know what “creelhauling” is. Was it a joke?

Elmer J. Fudd,
I own a mansion and a yacht.

any chance cecil was laying down a little sarcasm on this?

also, i’d assume that “creelhauling” is just a variation on “keelhauling,” if not a typo.


the OED online has creel as a verb, as in to carry a creel filled with something. so maybe creelhauling means hauling around a creel. the only nautical application that i can think of is that maybe the unfortunate being hauled under the boat was ensconsed in some manner of creel. strange, i admit.


  1. Sc. In certain marriage customs: To make (a newly married man) go through
    some ceremony with a creel; esp. to make him carry a creel filled with stones, till his
    wife releases him. Cf. Brand Pop. Antiq. (1870) II. 55.

1792 Statist. Acc. Scot. II. 80 The second day after the Marriage a Creeling, as it is called, takes place.
1845 New Statist. Acc. Scot., Berwicksh. 59 All the men who have been married within the last 12
months are creeled. Ibid. 263 An ancient…local usage called creeling is still kept up here. 1890
Glasgow Times 3 Nov. 3/4 A miner…having got married…his fellow-colliers…went through the process
of creeling him.

Ya gotta take into account that those boats didn’t move particularly fast. Maybe keel-hauling wouldn’t do anything more than give a couple scratches. If the ropes weren’t tight the victim might only hit the bottom of the boat a couple times.