The 218-Year-Old Constitution Is Getting A Refit In Its Ancient Dry Dock

After standing guard on Boston Harbor for nearly twenty years, the centuries old USS Constitution, the U.S. Navy’s symbolic flagship and floating museum will be put into her almost equally as vintage dry dock for inspections and repairs to her wooden hull and complex rigging.

Top shot of the USS Constitution in dry dock in 1996


Boston Naval Shipyard, which is no longer active, was almost the first yard in the hemisphere to have a dry dock, a claim to fame it missed by just one week when Norfolk Naval Shipyard opened their first dry dock on June 17th, 1833. Still, the achievement was a huge one, and the first ship to be brought into Boston’s then state-of-the-art Dry Dock #1 was, you guessed it, the USS Constitution.

Shot above, the oldest known picture of the Constitution in dry dock and below, a sweeping shot of historic Dry Dock #1


The Constitution still uses this nearly purpose built vintage facility today to get refreshed every two decades or so. This is not only very cool, but it also offers visitors to “Old Ironside” and her museum a spectacular view of the entire ship, including its weathered hull, in a setting that looks nearly period correct.


Just like when she was originally pulled in for a refit nearly 200 years ago, special wooden keel and hull blocks, along with other wooden support rigging, will be used to keep the ship in a stable state while allowing workers to reach her every nook and cranny.

The last time the floating icon was put into dry dock was in 1995 and stayed their for two years. For this major restoration and overhaul, which will begin May 19th, she will remain at Dry Dock #1 for nearly three years. During her time there, her hull will be re-coppered, worn rigging will be replaced, an rotting planks will be replaced with new ones. Other repairs and restoration efforts will be centered around the bow, stern and the captain’s cabin. The effort is supposed to cost roughly $15M and the ship will be open for tours throughout the process. The ship normally sees about 500,000 visitors per year.


Top and Bottom photo via U.S. Navy photo of empty dry dock via Marc N. Belanger/wikipedia. Shot of Constitution in dry dock in 1990s via the Constitution Museum website.


Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address

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