How common were ship owner-operators ca. 1800-1850?

May 2019
218
Earth
I'm asking here about ocean-going vessels, since obviously coasters and riverine craft were smaller and cheaper to operate. I don't know as much about the operational costs of blue-water shipping back then (particularly because many of them were sailing ships). I'd be curious to know how common or uncommon it was for captains to also own their vessels during this period, rather than the owner being an entrepreneur who hired a professional mariner on his behalf.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,971
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
I am not an expert, but as far as I know in the 19th century it was common for several persons to be part owners of a ship. A big shipping company would have total ownership of many ships, as would a big time ship owner like, for example, Commodore Vanderbilt before he sold his ships and switched to railroads.

Merchant ship's captains, or masters, were relatively well paid compared to common seamen, and it was relatively easy for them to gather enough capital to invest in ships.

For example, Richard W. Haines bought a ship named Amazon cheap in 1868, since it was wrecked, salvaged it and had it repaired. Haines made himself the captain of the brigantine, which he renamed Mary Celeste. The Mary Celeste was acquired by a consortium of several owners. In October, 1872, the consortium consisted of James H. Winchester with sixth-twelfths ownership, two minor investors with one-twelfth share each, and Benjamin Spooner Briggs with four-twelfths ownership. Briggs was the new captain of the Mary Celeste. The ship was discovered sailing with nobody aboard in December 1872.
 
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May 2019
218
Earth
@MAGolding That's an angle I hadn't thought of, actually: the skipper being part-owner of the vessel. Now that you mention it, that's an arrangement I've come across too. For example, in the whaling industry of the period, I've read of captains who sometimes owned a share in the ship itself (not to be confused with the shares from the whaling profits they received).
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,599
Dispargum
Giving the captain a part ownership is a way of motivating him to maximize profits. If the captain serves only for a fixed salary he gets paid the same regardless of how profitable the voyage was. If the captain is a part owner, he makes more money if the voyage is more profitable.
 
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