"Keel-haul" redirects here. For the G.I. Joe character, see Keel-Haul (G.I. Joe).
Keelhauling in the Tudor period (1485–1603)
The keelhauling of the ship's surgeon of admiral Jan van Nes, Lieve Pietersz. Verschuier. 1660 to 1686

Keelhauling (Dutch kielhalen;[1] "to drag along the keel"; German Kielholen; Swedish kölhalning; Danish kølhaling; Norwegian kjølhaling) is a form of punishment once 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 as punishment was introduced by the Royal Navy in the 11th century,[2] and was legally permitted as a punishment in the Dutch Navy by a Dutch ordinance of 1560, and the practice was not formally abolished until 1853. Keelhauling has become strongly associated with pirate lore. The earliest known mention of keelhauling is from the Greeks in the Rhodian Maritime Code (Lex Rhodia), of c. 800 BC, which outlines punishment for piracy. It is also pictured on a Greek vase from the same era.[3]

The term still survives today, although usually in the sense of being over-punished or receiving extreme discipline for lightly violating the rules.

See also


  1. Etymological origins
  2. Store norske leksikon: ‘kjølhale – straffemetode’
  3. H. A. Ormerod, Piracy in the Ancient World (New York: Dorset Press, 1987), 54-56.


External links

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