“There is a daily routine onboard.

Ship operations run 24-hours a day. It’s my job as first lieutenant to split the crew in half so they can alternate working and sleeping. Your day will be divided into a series of 4-hour shifts called watches. Remember, EVERYONE’s job is interconnected and important.”

“A ship contains a set of human machinery…all moving with wonderful regularity and precision to the will of its machinist – the all-powerful captain.”

Thirty years from home; or, a voice from the main deck, being the experience of Samuel Leech…, first published in 1843.

Daily Activities: MEALTIME

We eat picnic-style on the berth deck. Where do you have your meals?
Breakfast is at 8am, dinner at noon, and supper one hour before sunset. When do you eat? 
We take turns retrieving our food from the ship’s cook and cleaning up. Who cooks and cleans in your family?

“We sailors eat with our friends …

… sitting cross-legged on the deck. What we eat is usually better than what we’re used to on land. But after we’re at sea for a while and the fresh provisions run out we get the same salty stew, meal after meal, day after day.”
William Long

“As ship’s cook I prepare the food …

… for over 450 hungry sailors in one large stove, called a camboose. The crew takes turns bringing me the ingredients for their meals and fetching the finished dish when it’s ready. The menu is pretty much the same day after day. Stew anyone?”

This animation was created by students at MASSART

“As distinguished officers, we eat at tables.

We pay extra for fresher food cooked separately and served to us on fine tableware. Our good manners are tested during storms when the high waves toss our ship from side to side. On those days we struggle to prevent our meal from sliding off the table!”

Daily Activities: SAILING

David Debias

“Sailors have to know how to tie many knots.

One of the first knots we learn is called a reef knot, which is necessary in shortening sail (reefing). I am David Debias, from Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. My father thought I should go to sea, as there are few options for free Black folks looking to make a living on land. That’s how I ended up on board Constitution in 1814.”
Watercolor of sailors furling a sail

How many sailors fell?

Balancing on a footrope 150 feet above the water…

in the dark of night

or in a rolling storm

or during the chaos of battle

…was dangerous. On board Constitution during the War of 1812, there are four instances recorded of sailors falling from the rigging. None survived.

Today's Crew: What is it like being aloft?

What is it like being aloft?

What does everyone do when?

Explore the crew’s watch duties.


“What time is it? Listen for the bells.

I’m in charge of the half-hour glass. I wait for the sand to empty, indicating 30 minutes have passed. I then notify a sailor to strike the bell. He adds an additional strike every half hour until he reaches eight, signifying four hours have passed, and that the watch (shift) is over.”

Ship's Bell

This is bell dates to 1765 and was purportedly removed from HMS Guerriere and used as a substitute for Constitution‘s bell, which was destroyed during the battle on August 19, 1812. The story is not confirmed by firsthand accounts, however.

USS Constitution Museum Collection, 1954.1.

Isaac Hull's Pocket Watch

The moving deck makes this watch completely inaccurate. We cannot use a regular watch or clock to keep time aboard ship.

On loan to the USS Constitution Museum from a Private Collection.

Half-Hour Glass

In 1812, many crews still used half-hour glasses like this one to keep track of time at sea.

Morning Watch: 4am - 8am

Forenoon Watch: 8am - 12 noon

Afternoon Watch: 12 noon - 4pm

First Dogwatch: 4pm - 6pm

Last Dogwatch: 6pm - 8pm

First Watch: 8pm - 12am

Middle Watch: 12am - 4am

Daily Activities: CLEANING

Sailor scrubbing shirt with a brush

How did sailors wash their clothes?

Sailors had two hours a week to scrub their clothing and hammocks. With hundreds of sailors competing for buckets filled with salt water and soap, many had to wait a long time or missed out completely. Clean clothes were tied to clotheslines and raised into the rigging to dry. The unlucky sailors who reported to duty in dirty clothes were punished.


A sailor’s life was highly regulated and controlled by strict rules enforced by swift punishment. Sailors had to show obedience and respect to the officers, whose commands were law. The punishment varied according to the infraction and the captain’s discretion, ranging from withholding a sailor’s grog ration to flogging, a form of severe corporal punishment.

Moses Smith

“My name is Moses Smith.

I was aloft shortening a sail when the man next to me left his part of the sail loose. When the lieutenant asked who was responsible, no one uttered a word. Sailors don’t tell on each other. He warned we’d all be flogged unless we told.

I didn’t want to be whipped, but I didn’t want to tell either. What would you do?”

Officer with cat-o-nine tails

How often were sailors flogged?

The frequency of flogging varied by captain. Flogging did not occur every day, but the threat of it was always present. When it did happen, all hands gathered to witness the punishment as a grotesque reminder of the officers’ control over the sailors.

According to the surviving records between 1812 and 1815, approximately 11 men were flogged for offenses ranging from desertion to smuggling liquor on board. During the same period, courts martial (military courts) awarded seven men between 50 and 100 lashes each for more grievous offenses, such as theft and mutinous conduct.