The Wikipedia article on keelhauling says:

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).

What I can't figure out is, how did the sailors manage to run a line under the ship? Having a diver swim it across seems prohibitively dangerous, especially on big ships, and even more so for lines running bow to stern. And I can't think of any other way to get a rope from one side to the other without getting snagged.

Is there any historical record of how this was accomplished? If not, I would also welcome reasonable speculation.

2 Answers 2


Go to the bow. Pass the line under the bowsprit and let out line on both ends until it is in the water. Walk back to midships.

When done, let go of one end and haul away.

  • You obviously have never keel hauled anybody. The offender is brought under from amidships by the yard arm, not fore and aft. Jun 4, 2014 at 22:15
  • 4
    I said to walk the line back to amidships. Both ends.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 4, 2014 at 22:17

You just throw the line over the side.

Normally the line would be anchored at a yardarm. On a big ship the lower yardarms would have big rings at either end. So, you run the line through one, bring it around the stern, then you tie it to the guy, then loop it through the other ring on the same yardarm.

The punishment was more often a threat than a reality.

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