Boat Ed's Top 10 Most Famous Ships in History

Before trains, planes, or automobiles, boating was the way to get where you wanted to go. In the past, sailing was the sole method for transporting goods and supplies around the world. During wartime, ships were also an integral part of strategy and tactics. As you can guess, that means there were quite a lot! But out of all those, some stand out as particularly significant. Here are the 10 most famous ships in history.

The Santa Maria

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue...”


The Santa Maria, known as a clumsy, complicated vessel, famously transported Christopher Columbus from Spain to the “New World” in 1492. That same year on Christmas Day, the ship ran aground. But not all was lost — another ship, the Navidad, was built with its salvaged wood.

H.L. Hunley

The H.L. Hunley was built by the Confederate Army during the American Civil War as a means to sink Union Navy ships. Ironically it sank twice in the testing process, killing a dozen people (including its designer, Horace L. Hunley). Eventually, the submarine did manage to launch a torpedo, sinking the Housatonic and becoming the first combat submarine to sink a ship. Afterward, the submarine unfortunately sank itself, for a third and final time.

The Mayflower

In 1620 the Mayflower transported English Separatists and Puritans, who we know today as Pilgrims, to the “New World.” The Pilgrims lived on the Mayflower for a few months, but eventually the ship made its way back to England. The Pilgrims, of course, stayed behind, establishing the first British colonies in America.

USS Constitution

USS Constitution

The USS Constitution holds the title of the longest-serving warship in history, retiring from service at 85 years old in 1882. In its time, the ship struck fear in the hearts of the British Royal Navy and gained quite the reputation as “Old Ironsides.” Even today, the ship is still intact and serves as a museum in Boston, where it takes museumgoers on a short annual cruise.

Battleship USS Arizona

In 1941, the USS Arizona was destroyed by the Japanese in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack killed 1,177 crew members, including the captain, and engulfed the ship in flames that burned for days. The ship could not be salvaged, but remains in Pearl Harbor as a war memorial.

Battleship USS Missouri

The surrender documents that announced the end of World War II were signed on the USS Missouri, aka “Mighty Mo,” in September 1945. If that wasn’t enough to warrant a spot on our list, the ship was also used in the The surrender documents, and again in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm.

HMS Victory

HMS Victory

Used by the British Royal Navy during the late 18th and early 19th century, HMS Victory is the world's oldest commissioned warship. Currently, it serves as the Flagship of the First Sea Lord, while also acting as a “living” museum in England.

Battleship USS Maine

In 1898, a mysterious explosion ripped the USS Maine in two while it was anchored in Havana, Cuba, killing most of its crew. To this day, no one knows the cause of the explosion, but at the time it was suspected to be an act of sabotage, which sparked a short war between the U.S. and Spain.

German Battleship Bismarck

The massive Bismarck, known as the most hunted ship in history, took several hits from the British Navy in 1941 before it finally sank. It remained at the bottom of the sea until 1989 when it was located by Robert Ballard (the same man who had found the Titanic).

British Luxury Liner RMS Titanic

RMS Titanic

In its time, the Titanic was known as the largest ship on the sea. Considered “unsinkable,” the large luxury ship went down two hours after sideswiping an iceberg. Because of a lack of lifeboats, more than 1,500 people died in the tragedy. The ship’s wreckage was discovered in 1985 by Robert Ballard and went on to inspire one of the highest-grossing films of all time.

What do you think of this list? What ships would you add? Let us know!