When Was Keelhauling Used for Punishment?
Keelhauling was first referred to as a punishment for offenders in a Dutch naval ordinance of 1560. It was carried out in the British Navy at least as early as the first half of the 17th Century.
The punishment consisted of lowering the victim down one side of the ship and dragging him under the keel to the other side. As the hull was often covered in barnacles and other marine growth, this could result in cuts and other injuries.
This generally happened if the offender was pulled quickly. If pulled slowly, his weight might lower him sufficiently to miss the barnacles but might result in his drowning. It was never “official” in the British Navy but the Dutch retained in 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. The term still survives today, although usually in the sense of being over-punished or receiving extreme discipline for lightly violating the rules.