Encyclopedia > Keelhauling

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Keelhauling was a form of corporal punishment meted out to sailors at sea. The sailor was tied to a rope looped beneath the vessel, thrown overboard, and then dragged under the keel and up the other side. Alternatively the sailor was dragged from bow to stern. Keelhauling was generally a death sentence since it could take as long as three minutes, and perhaps longer, to walk the ropes all the way back to the stern. Often the ropes caught and dragged on barnacles on the ship's hull: the barnacles ripped the victim's clothing and skin to shreds as he was dragged along.

Keelhauling was legislated as a punishment only by governments in the Netherlands, although the English navy also practiced the punishment. The earliest official mention of keelhauling is a Dutch ordinance of 1560: the practice was not formally abolished until 1853.

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