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Thread: Rescuing sailors.

  1. #1
    Peerless Senior Member johnhughthom's Avatar
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    Default Rescuing sailors.

    How difficult was it in the era for other ships to rescue the sailors from sinking ships? If it was possible was it common and would ships rescue enemy sailors? I must say I find it frustrating watching sailors drown with ships nearby who could possibly rescue them. I know it would have little in game effect, but rescued sailors could possibly add crew to depleted ships rescuing them or enemy sailors could be ransomed back, especially admirals.
    Last edited by johnhughthom; 04-29-2009 at 17:16.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    I'm far from being a naval expert, but two things come to my mind instantly:

    Sailing ships are not that easy to stop or to turn and manouvre to a specific spot, so you would need a lot of time and most probably smaller rescue boats brought to water, which would take even more time. So it's most probable not possible during an ongoing battle. And after the battle is over, the ships will have moved on, as battles were not fought stationary but while moving. And then, even finding the spot where another ship sank would be very difficult.

    Secondly, most sailors couldn't swim, so unless they found some planks to hold onto, they would simply drown.

    Just my thoughts, no sources to back this, so maybe I'm completly wrong. But I strongly doubt it was possible or common to save sailors after battle.

  3. #3
    Peerless Senior Member johnhughthom's Avatar
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    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    Quote Originally Posted by Leodegar View Post
    Secondly, most sailors couldn't swim, so unless they found some planks to hold onto, they would simply drown.
    I'd forgotten about that, the rest of your answer seems sensible also.
    Last edited by johnhughthom; 04-29-2009 at 17:18.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    The ships typically towed their long boats behind them because having them on board cluttered the deck and added a fire hazard. Having them behind gave the sailors in the water a small chance to save themselves.

    When you sailed past the drowning men it was a simple matter to cut the lines of the longboats and let them try to swim to safety. Sure most would die but trained crew were always in high demand.

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    Slixpoitation Member A Very Super Market's Avatar
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    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    I find it a bit silly how every sailor will jump off their ship before it even gets close to sinking.
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    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    Quote Originally Posted by johnhughthom View Post
    How difficult was it in the era for other ships to rescue the sailors from sinking ships? If it was possible was it common and would ships rescue enemy sailors? I must say I find it frustrating watching sailors drown with ships nearby who could possibly rescue them. I know it would have little in game effect, but rescued sailors could possibly add crew to depleted ships rescuing them or enemy sailors could be ransomed back, especially admirals.
    With the exception of coastal battles fought on galleys in antiquity, people who went overboard in battle almost invariably drowned, and would be difficult to distinguish from floating bodies. Keep in mind that before highly bouyant air bladders and low-density foam rubber, anyone falling in deep water was very likely to drown, particularly water below about 70'F.

    Just look at the casualty rates for nearly any sinking or capsizement before about the 1930s and you can see just how few people survive a non-belligerent swim, much less one in which it would take a sailing ships hours to maneuver back to where any given person went into the water, drop a longboat, etc.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    Even sillier, trying to board another ship by ordering the entire crew to climb up to the crow's nest and attemp to board enemy vessel via a long agonizing head-first dive onto the deck or into the water.

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    Member Member Marius Dynamite's Avatar
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    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    I wonder why so few sailors could swim in those days. I understand swimming in the middle of the Atlantic is near impossible, but surely they could swim in normal waters?

    If you were going to be a sailor, it must be fair to assume you lived rural or near the coast. Surely when you were young you would have went to swim once in a while? It doesn't really take that long to learn does it?

  9. #9

    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    Quote Originally Posted by Marius Dynamite View Post
    I wonder why so few sailors could swim in those days. I understand swimming in the middle of the Atlantic is near impossible, but surely they could swim in normal waters?

    If you were going to be a sailor, it must be fair to assume you lived rural or near the coast. Surely when you were young you would have went to swim once in a while? It doesn't really take that long to learn does it?
    If you were a civilian sailor, you would have likely come from coastal areas. As for the Navy, press gangs grabbed anybody. Seamen were preferable of course, but there were never enough around, and they would rather serve on a merchantman in any case, as it was better treatment and vastly better pay. So the press gangs pulled anyone off the streets, in the pubs, and from prisons as well. Most of these have never been on a ship, and some have never seen the ocean.

    As they were forced to join against their will, the navy was discouraged on training their crew to swim so they wouldn't try to escape from the ship (even in port the crew was not allowed off the ship).

  10. #10

    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    Quote Originally Posted by Marius Dynamite View Post
    Surely when you were young you would have went to swim once in a while?
    Why would they? They've got no reason to go running about in the water. Quite likely many of the officers could swim, but lets not forget that slavery never took off in England itself because we were too busy treating our own people like slaves, the common man, woman and child in British Empire England was scum. No-one would have had the time, inclination, or probably even the fitness to do something as frivolous to them as learning to swim. And they'd probably catch a waterbourne disease while doing it too.
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    Member Member IRONxMortlock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    Quote Originally Posted by Marquis of Roland View Post
    If you were a civilian sailor, you would have likely come from coastal areas. As for the Navy, press gangs grabbed anybody. Seamen were preferable of course, but there were never enough around, and they would rather serve on a merchantman in any case, as it was better treatment and vastly better pay. So the press gangs pulled anyone off the streets, in the pubs, and from prisons as well. Most of these have never been on a ship, and some have never seen the ocean.

    As they were forced to join against their will, the navy was discouraged on training their crew to swim so they wouldn't try to escape from the ship (even in port the crew was not allowed off the ship).
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    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    Impressment wasn't that common against normal people as made out. It definitely preferred sailors, and grabbing random peasants was very rare, since they would frequently be opposed by local authorities even up to the point of armed conflict when trying to just drag random people off the streets. It was safer and easier to justify taking sailors, as well as frankly just plain better for the ship. Eventually any non-sailor was legally referred to as a 'Landsman' and exempt from impressment except during wartime, and furthermore could not be tricked into going (the shilling in the beer myth) and had a 4 day period in which to change his mind with no ill effects.

    Even on the rare instances of legal impressment into the army in Britain, it only applied to anyone who couldn't manage to prove they had a legitimate trade, so only the 'idle' were taken.
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    Bastion of Sanity Member Captain Blackadder's Avatar
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    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    Quote Originally Posted by Marius Dynamite View Post
    I wonder why so few sailors could swim in those days. I understand swimming in the middle of the Atlantic is near impossible, but surely they could swim in normal waters?

    If you were going to be a sailor, it must be fair to assume you lived rural or near the coast. Surely when you were young you would have went to swim once in a while? It doesn't really take that long to learn does it?
    To a highly superstitious sailor learning to swim was sometimes considered to be tempting the fates. If you were good at your job there should never be a reason that you should ever have to swim. To learn to swim was to say you don't think your good enough to win.


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    Member Member MrWhipple's Avatar
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    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    It is shocking to find out how few sailors of the time could swim. The numbers were less than one in ten. The normal practice when one found himself in a position where he was apt to drown was to just accept the fact and swim towards the bottom and breathe in as much water as he could and die quickly rather than struggle.
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    Member Member Fwapper's Avatar
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    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    Sailors and fishermen deliberately avoided learning to swim so that they would drown quickly without struggling. Some even carried lead weights in their pockets to make the whole process quicker. No-one cared much for the tiny extra chance of rescue when the alternative was a slow and painful death. :)

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  16. #16

    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    I watched the History Channel about WW2 and was amazed at the amount of sailors at Pearl Harbor who could not swim. Many of the survivors stated as much.

    Secondly, my uncle joined the US Marine Corp in 1944. He did not know how to swim but thought it was a good idea they taught you in bootcamp. While the "training exercise" time came, it involved throwing him in the pool. He had to be fished out 4 times and in the end they told me he could swim! I guess by walking on the bottom or something.

    I know a lot of superstitions were based even upon the premise that you would "catch cold" if you went swimming....probably due to water quality issues in many rivers etc.

  17. #17
    Member Member hoom's Avatar
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    Default Re: Rescuing sailors.

    The Wikipedia article on the Battle of the Nile says that from ~1000 sailors on board, about 100 who survived the explosion of Orient managed to swim to safety, with several of them being rescued by HMS Goliath.

    Curiously the quote there also indicates there were some wives & children onboard Goliath during the battle!

    Edit: Also the painting of the Orient shows some ships boats rescuing people out of the water.
    Last edited by hoom; 05-01-2009 at 14:20.
    maybe those guys should be doing something more useful...

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