Shipping, central to the rise of the Atlantic economies, was an extremely hazardous activity. Between the 1780s and 1820s, a safety revolution occurred that saw shipping losses and insurance rates on oceanic routes almost halved thanks to steady improvements in shipbuilding and navigation. Copper sheathing, iron reinforcing, and flush decks were the major innovations in shipbuilding. Navigation improved, not through chronometers, which remained too expensive and unreliable for general use, but through radically improved charts, accessible manuals of basic navigational techniques, and improved shore-based navigational aids.
“Curse thee, thou quadrant!” dashing it to the deck, “no longer will I guide my earthly way by thee; the level ship’s compass, and the level dead-reckoning, by log and by line; these shall conduct me, and show me my place on the sea.”
Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Ch. CXIII