All Hands on Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812

Exhibition at the USS Constitution Museum explores life at sea

USS Constitution museum, All Hands on Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812, Boston

Furl a sail or curl up in a hammock while visiting All Hands on Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812. Photo by Flickr contributor Loco Steve

July 23, 2013
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For those with sea legs, and even those without, it’s anchors away when you travel back in time with All Hands on Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812. The exhibition on view at the USS Constitution Museum offers a fascinating look at what life was like onboard the USS Constitution during the War of 1812. The vessel, frequently referred to as “Old Ironsides,” now resides in the Charlestown Navy Yard. First launched in 1797, it is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat today.

All Hands on Deck explores life at sea through a combination of authentic storytelling and hands-on activities. Drawing on the lives of some of the 1,243 sailors and officers who served aboard the USS Constitution during the War of 1812, it exudes a uniquely personal feel. There are even artifacts from the ship on display—including an actual biscuit that a sailor saved as a souvenir.

Visitors can choose to furl a sail, scrub a deck, or nap in a hammock. There’s also a station where you can test your knot-tying abilities. At the end of the exhibition, you can spin a wheel to determine your ultimate fate at sea. But even if you don’t make it off the ship alive, you can still visit the museum store on your way out. And be sure to pay a visit to Old Ironsides herself while you’re at the Navy Yard.

The USS Constitution Museum is in Building 22, Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, Mass. Hours: daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; phone: 617-426-1812. Entry is free, but the privately run museum has a suggested donation of $5 for adults and $3 for children. Although the exhibition contains interesting information for visitors of all ages, the interactive activities are geared specifically toward children.

By public transportation, take an MBTA Green or Orange Line trolley to North Station. Walk east on Causeway Street towards the Zakim Bridge/North End. At the first light (North Washington Street), turn left and cross the Charlestown Bridge. Follow the Freedom Trail red line to the Charlestown Navy Yard and enter through Gate 1.

Irene Berman-Vaporis can be reached at

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All Hands on Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812

  • Irene Berman-Vaporis (COM’14)

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  1. Thanks for the update on “Ironsides”. One time, may years ago, event though I was an experienced boat person, the Coast Guard determined that I got too close to the old lady during her turn around. I was fined and paid it after arguing and getting the amount reduced. JLA

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