Last updated
An Old Whaler Hove Down For Repairs, Near New Bedford, a wood engraving drawn by F. S. Cozzens and published in Harper's Weekly, December 1882 An Old Whaler Hove Down For Repairs, Near New Bedford.jpg
An Old Whaler Hove Down For Repairs, Near New Bedford , a wood engraving drawn by F. S. Cozzens and published in Harper's Weekly , December 1882

Careening (also known as "heaving down") is a method of gaining access to the hull of a sailing vessel without the use of a dry dock. It is used for cleaning or repairing the hull. Before ship's hulls were protected from marine growth by fastening copper sheets over the surface of the hull, fouling by this growth would seriously affect the sailing qualities of a ship, causing a large amount of drag. [1] :164



The term, and similar terms in French, Spanish and Italian, derive from the term for a ship's keel—carène (French), carena (Spanish), carena (Italian). These come from the Latin term for keel, carīna. [2]


The ship was grounded broadside on a steep beach or, in dockyards, moored at a permanent facility for careening known as a careening wharf. [3] A beach favoured for careening was called a careenage.

The vessel was then pulled over with tackles from the mastheads to strong-points on the shore. If this was being done on a beach, then the ship's guns might be moved to the shore and used as anchoring points. [4] However a careening wharf in a dockyard was preferred as it would have been equipped with the capstans and rope tackle necessary for hauling over the ship. The ship would have been lightened beforehand by removing all stores and a careening wharf would have had large sheds available to protect them from weather and theft. [4] With one side of the ship raised out of the water, maintenance work would be carried out. Then the ship would be floated off and the process repeated on the other side. [5]

HMS Formidable careened in Malta Dockyard, 31 January 1843 HMS 'Formidable' careened in Malta Dockyard, 31 January 1843 RMG PW8039.jpg
HMS Formidable careened in Malta Dockyard, 31 January 1843
A diagram of careening, from the Larobok i sjomanskap (Textbook of Seamanship) by Wilhelm Linder, 1896 Teckning - Sjohistoriska museet - OB 510.tif
A diagram of careening, from the Lärobok i sjömanskap (Textbook of Seamanship) by Wilhelm Linder, 1896

While a competent crew could careen their ship without outside assistance, [4] it was a laborious task. [6] In early-1843, HMS Formidable was careened at Malta Dockyard to carry out repairs after the ship had grounded a few weeks earlier. An account of the work done notes that every movable item on the ship had to be taken off. Additional structural reinforcements had to be installed in the hull and all the masts and rigging removed except for the lowest parts. The lower gun ports were sealed, reinforced and made water-tight. Also a large number of thick, timber outriggers were installed; these were up to two feet (61 cm) across and 40 feet (12 m) long. The ship was pulled-over by ropes wound around three capstans; each was turned by 120 men. [7]

In the 18th century, careening wharves existed at overseas Royal Navy dockyards such as Port Mahon and Halifax. They were important facilities and often the first things built when the navy was establishing a new overseas base. [4] However dockyards in the United Kingdom typically had dry docks. [3] Careening placed a hull under a considerable strain and even a strongly-built ship could be structurally weakened or damaged by the procedure. Using a dry dock was preferred if one was available. [6]

At the end of the century, the Royal Navy had 24 dry docks available in Britain so careening was not usually necessary for ships stationed in British waters. This gave an advantage over their French rivals as France had few dry docks and the French Navy had to routinely careen its ships for maintenance. [6]

Pirates would often careen their ships because they had no access to dry docks. A secluded bay would suffice for necessary repairs or hull cleaning, and such little "safe havens" could be found throughout the islands in the Caribbean and nearly around the world. One group of islands, Las Tres Marías in Panama, became popular after Francis Drake had sailed there in 1579, and they became a popular place for piracy. [8]

A practice similar to careening was a Parliamentary heel, in which the vessel was heeled over in deep water by shifting weight, such as ballast or guns, to one side. In this way the upper sides could be cleaned or repaired with minimal delay. Famously, HMS Royal George sank at Spithead off Portsmouth while undergoing a Parliamentary heel in 1782, killing hundreds of people on-board. [5]

Modern practice

Careening in the traditional sense can only be done on a sailing vessel as its masts are used for hauling it over. Today, larger ships are placed in dry dock; [5] smaller vessels can be lifted from the water by a crane or a Travel lift.

A procedure known as careening is still sometimes done with smaller boats, but differs from what was done historically in that the boat is not winched-over by cables attached to the mast. The boat is simply moored at a location where it will be grounded and its hull exposed at low-tide. For a few hours, it is possible to carry out inspection or maintenance before the rising tide refloats the boat. [9] [10]

Further reading

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rig (sailing)</span> Description of the specific ways that a sailing craft is rigged

A sailing vessel's rig is its arrangement of masts, sails and rigging. Examples include a schooner rig, cutter rig, junk rig, etc. A rig may be broadly categorized as "fore-and-aft", "square", or a combination of both. Within the fore-and-aft category there is a variety of triangular and quadrilateral sail shapes. Spars or battens may be used to help shape a given kind of sail. Each rig may be described with a sail plan—formally, a drawing of a vessel, viewed from the side.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dry dock</span> Basin drained to allow work on a vessel

A dry dock is a narrow basin or vessel that can be flooded to allow a load to be floated in, then drained to allow that load to come to rest on a dry platform. Dry docks are used for the construction, maintenance, and repair of ships, boats, and other watercraft.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Woolwich Dockyard</span> Naval dockyard in Kent, England; in use from 1512 to 1869

Woolwich Dockyard was an English naval dockyard along the river Thames at Woolwich in north-west Kent, where many ships were built from the early 16th century until the late 19th century. William Camden called it 'the Mother Dock of all England'. By virtue of the size and quantity of vessels built there, Woolwich Dockyard is described as having been 'among the most important shipyards of seventeenth-century Europe'. During the Age of Sail, the yard continued to be used for shipbuilding and repair work more or less consistently; in the 1830s a specialist factory within the dockyard oversaw the introduction of steam power for ships of the Royal Navy. At its largest extent it filled a 56-acre site north of Woolwich Church Street, between Warspite Road and New Ferry Approach; 19th-century naval vessels were fast outgrowing the yard, however, and it eventually closed in 1869. The former dockyard area is now partly residential, partly industrial, with remnants of its historic past having been restored.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chatham Dockyard</span> Former Royal Navy Dockyard located on the River Medway in Kent

Chatham Dockyard was a Royal Navy Dockyard located on the River Medway in Kent. Established in Chatham in the mid-16th century, the dockyard subsequently expanded into neighbouring Gillingham.

This glossary of nautical terms is an alphabetical listing of terms and expressions connected with ships, shipping, seamanship and navigation on water. Some remain current, while many date from the 17th to 19th centuries. The word nautical derives from the Latin nauticus, from Greek nautikos, from nautēs: "sailor", from naus: "ship".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thames sailing barge</span> Type of commercial sailing boat

A Thames sailing barge is a type of commercial sailing boat once common on the River Thames in London. The flat-bottomed barges with a shallow draught and leeboards, were perfectly adapted to the Thames Estuary, with its shallow waters and narrow tributary rivers. The larger barges were seaworthy vessels, and were the largest sailing vessel to be handled by just two men. The average size was about 120 tons and they carried 4,200 square feet (390 m2) of canvas sail in six working sails. The mainsail was loose-footed and set up with a sprit, and was brailed to the mast when not needed. It is sheeted to a horse, as is the foresail; they require no attention when tacking. The foresail is often held back by the mate to help the vessel come about more swiftly.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Royal Navy Dockyard</span> State-owned shipbuilding and maintenance facilities for the British navy

Royal Navy Dockyards were state-owned harbour facilities where ships of the Royal Navy were built, based, repaired and refitted. Until the mid-19th century the Royal Dockyards were the largest industrial complexes in Britain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">HMNB Portsmouth</span> British Royal Navy base

His Majesty's Naval Base, Portsmouth is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy. Portsmouth Naval Base is part of the city of Portsmouth; it is located on the eastern shore of Portsmouth Harbour, north of the Solent and the Isle of Wight. Until the early 1970s, it was officially known as Portsmouth Royal Dockyard ; thereafter the term 'Naval Base' gained currency, acknowledging a greater focus on personnel and support elements alongside the traditional emphasis on building, repairing and maintaining ships. In 1984 Portsmouth's Royal Dockyard function was downgraded and it was formally renamed the 'Fleet Maintenance and Repair Organisation' (FMRO). The FMRO was privatized in 1998, and for a time, shipbuilding, in the form of block construction, returned. Around 2000, the designation HMS Nelson was extended to cover the entire base.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cockatoo Island Dockyard</span> Australian dockyard

The Cockatoo Island Dockyard was a major dockyard in Sydney, Australia, based on Cockatoo Island. The dockyard was established in 1857 to maintain Royal Navy warships. It later built and repaired military and battle ships, and played a key role in sustaining the Royal Australian Navy. The dockyard was closed in 1991, and its remnants are heritage listed as the Cockatoo Island Industrial Conservation Area.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nelson's Dockyard</span> UNESCO World Heritage Site in Antigua, Antigua and Barbuda

Nelson's Dockyard is a cultural heritage site and marina in English Harbour, located in Saint Paul Parish on the island of Antigua, in Antigua and Barbuda.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">In ordinary</span>

In ordinary is an English phrase with multiple meanings. In relation to the Royal Household, it indicates that a position is a permanent one. In naval matters, vessels "in ordinary" are those out of service for repair or maintenance, a meaning coming over time to cover a reserve fleet or "mothballed" ships.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Esquimalt Royal Navy Dockyard</span>

Esquimalt Royal Naval Dockyard was a major British Royal Navy yard on Canada's Pacific coast from 1842 to 1905, subsequently operated by the Canadian government as HMC Dockyard Esquimalt, now part of CFB Esquimalt, to the present day.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gibdock</span> Dockyard in Gibraltar

Gibdock is a shipyard in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. It formerly operated as a Royal Navy Dockyard.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">HMNB Devonport</span> Operating base in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy

His Majesty's Naval Base, Devonport is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy and is the sole nuclear repair and refuelling facility for the Royal Navy. The largest naval base in Western Europe, HMNB Devonport is located in Devonport, in the west of the city of Plymouth, England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Willemsoord, Den Helder</span> Maritime museum in the Netherlands

Willemsoord is a large former naval base of the Royal Netherlands Navy in Den Helder. It is now connected to the city center of Den Helder, and focuses on entertainment and tourism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sheerness Dockyard</span>

Sheerness Dockyard also known as the Sheerness Station was a Royal Navy Dockyard located on the Sheerness peninsula, at the mouth of the River Medway in Kent. It was opened in the 1660s and closed in 1960.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Deptford Dockyard</span> Former naval dockyard and base at Deptford on the River Thames

Deptford Dockyard was an important naval dockyard and base at Deptford on the River Thames, operated by the Royal Navy from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. It built and maintained warships for 350 years, and many significant events and ships have been associated with it.

HMS <i>Lily</i> (1874) Arab-class composite gunboat

HMS Lily was an Arab-class composite gunvessel built for the Royal Navy. She was launched in 1874, saw service in Chinese and North American waters, and was wrecked on the coast of Labrador on 16 September 1888.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ships husbandry</span> Maintenance and upkeep of ships

Ships husbandry or ship husbandry is all aspects of maintenance, cleaning, and general upkeep of the hull, rigging, and equipment of a ship. It may also be used to refer to aspects of maintenance which are not specifically covered by the technical departments. The term is used in both naval and merchant shipping, but naval vessel husbandry may also be used for specific reference to naval vessels.

This glossary of nautical terms is an alphabetical listing of terms and expressions connected with ships, shipping, seamanship and navigation on water. Some remain current, while many date from the 17th to 19th centuries. The word nautical derives from the Latin nauticus, from Greek nautikos, from nautēs: "sailor", from naus: "ship".


  1. Smyth, W. H. (2005). The sailor's word-book : the classic source for over 14,000 nautical & naval terms, including some more especially military and scientific, but useful to seamen ; as well as archaisms of early voyages, etc. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN   0-85177-972-7.
  2. "careen, v." OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2023, Accessed 24 May 2023.
  3. 1 2 MacDougall, Philip (1989). Royal Dockyards. Shire. pp. 17–20. ISBN   9780747800330.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Baugh (1965), p.344
  5. 1 2 3 Kemp, Peter, ed. (1976). The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea . Oxford University Press. p.  140.
  6. 1 2 3 Rodger, Nicholas (2014). The Command of the Ocean. Allen Lane. p. 301. ISBN   0713994118.
  7. "The Nautical Magazine: A Journal of Papers on Subjects Connected with Maritime Affairs". 14. Brown, Son and Ferguson. 1845: 80–84.{{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. Gerhard, Peter (August 1958). "The Tres Marias Pirates". The Pacific Historical Review. Vol. 27, no. 3. pp. 239–44.
  9. Post, Guest (2017-12-20). "How to careen a sailboat - the low cost haulout - Waterborne". Waterborne. Retrieved 2023-05-29.
  10. "Careening". Rigging Doctor. 2018-02-16. Retrieved 2023-05-30.