6 October 2022 — Exploring Maritime History Through YouTube

On 13 April the decommissioned Fletcher-class destroyer The Sullivans (DD-537) suffered a hull breach and began to take on water. The naval museum ship community held its breath as the recovery efforts at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park proceeded, involving Buffalo Police and Fire Departments, the Department of Homeland Security, the US Coast Guard, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, BidCo, T & T Salvage, and Miller Environmental Group. We were reassured by the regular updates provided by Director of Museum Collections Shane Stephenson and Director of Education Steven Tedesco, telling us about the challenges the team was facing, and what steps were being taken. Viewers near and far sounded off in the comments, and the team was able to see, in real-time, the depth of support from the community. The platform that gave us this direct connection with the museum’s team was YouTube.

New of shipyard with text: Battleship Texas - Walk on a Dry Dock

"Boop! I just booped her nose!" Vice President of Ship Operations Travis Davis shows us the hull of the battleship Texas (BB35), discussing her present condition and the work planned for her drydock period.

You can find almost anything on YouTube—music videos, television clips, home improvement how-tos and craft tutorials, product reviews and computer user tips. And particularly since the initial pandemic response closed public spaces and limited travel two years ago, our museum ships, maritime museums and other historic sites have been innovating ways to use this platform to teach, to engage, and generally to connect with friends and supporters old and new. Now that most museums are open to the public again and travel is easier, an in-person visit is still the best way to experience a museum, lighthouse, or ship—but the expanded opportunities of online resources continue to offer us a wealth of information and connections to the maritime community. 

Museums have taken to YouTube to offer us a peek behind the scenes, whether it’s a portion of a museum ship that is typically closed off to the public, an item in the collection but not on public display, or even a video of staff or volunteers performing maintenance. Videos of vessels during restoration provide us with many “so that’s how they do that!” moments. The New Bedford Whaling Museum shares with us, through its YouTube channel, the remarkable marathon reading of Moby-Dick, and in the same manner we are able to overcome the limitations of travel and time zones and listen to lectures, panel discussions, and other presentations hosted by institutions around the world. Our own NMHS YouTube channel currently enables us to share videos of many of our recorded seminars, as well as profile videos of recent honorees from our awards dinners, produced by vice chair Richardo Lopes of Voyage Digital Media. 

Man stands on deck of USS Kidd with text High Seas History: The Battle of New Orleans

It never hurts to have a sense of humor. The team at the USS Kidd Veterans Museum knows that it helps if you make learning fun. Here, it's team member Orrin Bordelon's turn to brave the "waves," delivering the High Seas History lesson. 

Another exciting use for this platform is for teaching. Have you got a minute? Look for short lessons on knot-tying, navigation, nautical vocabulary, and a guide to the typical tools found aboard ship. Do you have a few more minutes? Learn about naval warfare, significant events in the service of a given historic vessel, or privateering. Something more restful? How about a guide to appreciating a specific painting in the collection of the Mariners’ Museum and Park? Feel like testing your knowledge? Royal Museums Greenwich has a “Know Your Nelson” quiz. How many answers did you guess correctly?

Many organizations will share their recommendations for other YouTube channels you might find interesting or useful. Look for the Channels tab, at the top and towards the right. These are just some of the sites recommended by Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial.

Many institutions will also point you in the direction of other YouTube channels with similar content; just look for the Channels tab on their YouTube home page. We at NMHS want to suggest sites as well; check out the list of featured channels on our YouTube pageThe sites on this list are just a beginning—if you have any to add, let us know! And keep coming back to see what’s new. There’s always something interesting to be found in the online maritime heritage community.  


Sea History Today is written by Shelley Reid, NMHS senior staff writer. Past issues can be read online by clicking here.

National Maritime Historical Society

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