The Causes of Shipwreck

In 1841 the Nautical Magazine listed 50 causes of ship loss which included at number 6 - Teetotality!

However, the most common cause of shipwreck was navigational error - we thought we were somewhere else! This was reduced as charts were improved and various pieces of equipment such as the chronometer, octants and the log were improved and developed. It was then that the weather became the biggest killer - storm, blizzard, fog etc. These weather related risks naturally increased in winter.

Collision with other vessels was a frequent occurrence especially in the narrow approaches to the main ports, However, because there was no legislation covering the construction of ships, many vessels were lost simply because they were unseaworthy. It wasn't until the 1870s that the English MP, Samuel Plimsoll, took up the issue of safety at sea.

When a vessel was wrecked at sea most seamen remained with the vessel as long as possible. Taking to the ship's boat was only done as a last resort because these were intended for auxiliary duties rather than for use as lifeboat. This meant that they were rarely equipped with water and emergency stores, and, of course, being forced into ship's boats resulted in real hardship and starvation. In extreme cases men were driven to cannibalism in order to survive.


Click to return to Shipwrecked front page