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Perhaps a basic question, but were 'lifelines' intended as lifebuoys, like they are now? 
 

On the stern of the USS Constitution there are seven canvas bags with 'lifelines' hanging from above the 28 foot whale boat (or gig). What are they?

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It seems to me that this is a strange location if they were intended as I think they were.

 

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Jay,

 

The lifelines that you refer to are used to gain access to the boat when it's in the water or, for the fit and agile, to re-gain the deck from the launched boat.

 

It used to be common to launch boats with only their crew on board; the remainder of passengers boirding when the boat was in the water.  In an emergency situatiion the boat was launched and the survivors boarded by grabbing a lifeline and scrambling down to the boat.

 

In the photo below of the wrecked 'Southbank' at Washington Island, the lifeboat lifelines (two per boat) can be seen hanging down - I've marked one of them with the red arrow.

 

John

 

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Jay, further to John's post, in the navy (well Aussie Navy at least) they were also referred to as 'manropes' and had the additional purpose of being a 'safety' rope for any crew that were in the boat when it was lowered to allow it to be 'released' from the falls when it met the water.  If something went wrong and the boats/falls broke/gave way (yes I have seen it happen), these rope which were attached independently (much liker a safety harness these days) were used for the crew to grab onto and stop their fall (they were held loosely by the crew as the boat descended).  The ropes usually had knots (overhand) in them at regular intervals to provide a purchase when being used for climbing - not sure if the merchant navy followed the same practice of knotting them though?

 

cheers

 

Pat

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Pat, that is interesting. I wonder why the Constitution would have seven of those. 

 

I'll go under the assumption that they were primarily intended as John mentioned. But the knots were called out as overhead-square seasaw brittels. They will be in a bag, so it doesn't matter.

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