How were old sailing ships heated?

In the olden days, sailors who braved the high seas in a wooden sailing ship required several ways to keep themselves warm in the chilly weathers. Sailing ships were the primary mode of transportation before the advent of steam engines. Heating in those times was not as simple and easy as it is today. Yet, people who sailed on this mode of travel required warmth and comfort to make their journey bearable.


The sailors used various methods to keep themselves warm. Below are some of the popular ways in which the old sailing ships were heated.

1. Furnaces:

Sailing ships have a prominent feature, which is their furnace or stove. The furnaces were stoked using coal as the primary fuel, which produced heat that warmed up the cabin. The heat radiated through the metal pipes in the cabin walls and kept it warm. The coal used to fuel the furnace had to be stored in a special place and kept dry to ensure proper burning. The ship’s cook was usually in charge of maintaining the furnace.

2. Candle or oil lamps:

Before electricity was discovered, sailors’ cabins were dimly lit with candles or oil lamps. They had a dual purpose – to provide light at night and heat. Although the heat produced by the candles was not enough, sailors often placed them under a teacup or another inverted container to concentrate and direct the heat into their hands.

3. Sailors Clothing:

Sailors dressed in layers, wearing woolen clothes with heavy coats over them. They had fur-lined boots to keep their feet warm, while their thick gloves kept their fingers from freezing. The thick clothing was necessary to withstand the freezing temperatures on the deck, but it also trapped the body heat, thus keeping them warm.

4. Hot Rocks:

Sailors used to fill clay pots with hot rocks and keep them in their beds at night to keep warm. The rocks were heated on the furnace or in the campfire and once they reach the desired temperature, they were wrapped in cloth and placed in the bed.

5. Animal Body Heat:

Sailors often kept small animals such as dogs, cats, or even chickens on board. They would cuddle up with the sailors in the cabin, producing body heat that kept them warm. Besides, these animals were also great at keeping rodents at bay.

Sailors who traveled on old sailing ships had various ways of keeping warm in the cold weather. Furnaces, candles, oil lamps, thick clothing, hot rocks, and animal body heat were some of the popular ways in which the old sailing ships were heated. Today, these heating methods may seem primitive, but they worked wonders during the time.

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