The Oldest Vessel Afloat

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    Sam Willis

    In the latest episode of the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast, ‘Iconic Ships 6: USS Constitution‘ it is made clear that the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat – AND that the ship is in fact the oldest vessel of any type still afloat. Launched in 1797…that makes her 224 years old.

    Can anyone help me create a chronological list of the oldest ships afloat?

    Malcolm Lewis

    Some suggestions to be included in your list of oldest ships afloat (“Iconic ships” afloat perhaps) in no particular order.
    HMS Trincomalee Frigate Launched 1817 – in wet dock Hartlepool.
    HMS Unicorn Frigate L. 1824 – in wet dock Dundee
    HMS Warrior. Steam powered sailing frigate L 1860. Afloat Portsmouth.
    HMS Gannet Screw frigate L.1878 – in wet dock Chatham Museum
    USS Olympia protected cruiser L.1892 at afloat at Philadelphia USA
    RRS Discovery (Capt.Scott’s ship) L1901 Afloat Dundee
    USS Texas Battleship L.1912 in wet dock La Porte, Texas USA. Due to be dry berthed.
    HMS Caroline. L1914 Light cruiser. Afloat Belfast
    HMS President L.1918 A Flower Class Q Ship (Orig. HMS Saxifrage) at Chatham (Future uncertain)
    Malcolm Lewis

    Malcolm Lewis

    Some more suggestions
    HQS Wellington R.N. Sloop L.1934. (HQ Hon Company of Master Mariners). Afloat, moored Victoria Embankment, London
    RMS Queen Mary L.1934 Liner and troopship in WW2. Afloat Long Beach, California USA.
    HMS Belfast L.1938 Light Cruiser. Afloat Upper Pool, River Thames, London.
    USS Intrepid L.1942 A/C Carrier afloat New York USA
    USS Hornet L.1942 A/C Carrier afloat San Francisco USA.
    HMS Cavalier Destroyer L.1943 Afloat Chatham Museum
    U.S. Jeremiah O’Brian Liberty Ship L.1943 Afloat San Francisco< USA
    ML1387 Medusa – Motor Launch L.1943 Present at D-Day landings. Restored and afloat at Gosport.
    HMY Britannia Royal Yacht L.1953 Afloat Leith, Edinburgh
    HMAS Vampire (Daring Class) Destroyer. L1958 Afloat Sydney Harbour, Australia
    HMAS Onslow submarine. L.1968 Afloat Sidney Harbour.
    Malcolm Lewis

    Malcolm Lewis

    A few more-
    Sv James Craig Barque L.1874. Sydney Maritime Museum. Afloat Sydney Harbour
    Sv Falls of Clyde L.1878. Sail driven tanker. Afloat Honolulu, Hawaii.
    Sv Glenlee Barque L 1896. Afloat Port of Glasgow Museum, Point House Quay.
    Malcolm Lewis

    Frank Scott

    In this context the term ‘Afloat’ can cover a multitude of sins.
    Perhaps more useful terms would be: ‘fully seagoing’; ‘limited seagoing’, ‘harbour service only’, ‘afloat alongside’, ‘afloat in dock’.

    For vessels that are ‘fully seagoing’, custom-built steel sail training ships have a phenomenal safety record, and many are still running after over a century of service. My own alma mater, Sørlandet, comes up for its centenary in 2027, and 53 years after I was a cadet in 1968 can be said to be wearing its years rather better than I am!

    One of the oldest vessels to have ‘limited seagoing status’ is the whaler Charles W. Morgan, built in 1841. It was restored to seagoing status by Mystic Seaport Museum between 2008 and 2013, after having been a static exhibit for some 90 years. This restoration was an astonishing achievement, albeit a very expensive one, and although Charles W Morgan was licenced to conduct a three-month voyage along US East Coast in 2014, this was a ‘one-off’, and the vessel has reverted to a static exhibit since then.

    Sam Willis

    An important contribution from Frank Higham:

    ‘Would LV50 would be a contender? – built in 1879 and still afloat?’

    Absolutely! LV50 one of the oldest floating wooden lightships in the UK!

    Nicholas Kaizer

    Another couple of old vessels afloat, certainly towards the most recent end of the list:

    HMCS Sackville, the only surviving Flower Class corvette (294 Flower corvettes were built in all, in British and Canadian shipyards): she is a museum ship in Halifax, Canada, launched in 1941. She served in the Atlantic convoys and was laid up in reserve in 1946.

    CSS Acadia, a hydrographic surveying and oceanographic research ship that operated from 1913-1969, and is now owned by Halifax’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and berthed just two docks down from Sackville.

    Malcolm Lewis

    I must say Sackville K181 looks in very good condition in Halifax. What splendid work the brave little Flowers did in WW2. I note she is flying a White Ensign. Did she do so during the war?
    I see also the Halifax Museum houses the: –
    CSS Acadia {Canadian Survey/Scientific ship) Afloat L1913
    Maybe she should be included on the list too.

    Stephen B. G

    Here are a few old U.S. Coast Guard vessels still afloat:
    USCGC Lilac WLM-227, a lighthouse tender, 1933–lower Manhattan, NYC
    USCGC Ingham WHEC-35, Secretary (of the Treasury) class cutter, 1936, Key West, FL
    USCGC WHEC-37 (formerly the Taney), Secretary class cutter 1936, Baltimore, MD
    USCGC Eagle WIX-327 (formerly the Barque Horst Wessel), USCG Academy sail training vessel, 1936, New London, CT
    USCG Nantucket LV-112, Lightship, 1936, Boston, MA?
    USCGC Mackinaw WAGB-83, Icebreaker, 1944, Mackinaw City, MI
    CG36500 Lifeboat (SS Pendleton rescue, restored and occasionally afloat, 1946, Orleans, MA –this one is cradled most of the time, but due to the interest in the Pendleton rescue generated by the book The Finest Hours and movie (2016) the lifeboat has been restored, regularly launched, and run from her berth in Orleans, MA.

    Stephen B. G

    One more historic U.S. Coast Guard vessel, this one a veteran of the Prohibition Era in the U.S., in which the Coast Guard played a central role:
    USCGC McLane WSC-146 (WMEC-146), Active class patrol boat, 1927, Muskegon, MI

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