ducking at the yardarm

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An early form of naval punishment said to be first instituted by the French for blasphemy, sedition, or desertion. ‘The ducking at the main yard-arm is when a malefactor,’ wrote Captain Nathaniel Boteler (c.1577–c.1643) in his manuscript A Dialogicall Discourse Concerning Marine Affaires (1634), ‘by having a rope fastened under his arms and about his middle and under his breech, is thus hoisted up to the end of the yard and from thence is violently let fall into the sea, sometimes three several times one after another, and if the offence be very foul, he is also drawn under the keel of the ship, which is termed keel-hauling. And while he is thus under water a great gun is fired right over his head, the which is done as well to astonish him so much the more with the thunder of the shot, as to give warning unto all others of the fleet to look out and be wary by his harms.’

These forms of punishment went out of fashion in most navies at about the end of the 17th century, being superseded by the less elaborate but more brutal form of punishment with the cat-o'-nine-tails or by cobbing.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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