A sea chest is a type of wooden trunk used historically by sailors to store their personal possessions. Many sea chests were extremely well built, and as a result sea chests have become coveted antiques in some communities, with some families retaining sea chests which belonged to their ancestors. In addition to antique sea chests, it is also possible to find modern replicas, which can be used to store a wide variety of items.
The design of a sea chest varies, depending on the era it was produced in and the nation it originates from. Many sea chests have a distinctive profile, with a large bottom and slanting sides which lead to a smaller top. Some sea chests had curved tops, while others were left flat for ease of storage, and many included drawers or shelves for the purpose of storing small and especially important items. Typically, a sea chest is also equipped with a sturdy lock and heavy handles so that it can be moved easily.
Historically, a sea chest would have been a sailor's sacred personal possession, and sailors did not touch each other's sea chests without permission. All number of things would be held in a sea chest, including eating utensils, extra clothes, curios from various journeys, and mariner's papers, papers which detailed a sailor's skills and official position on board ship. Sailors also kept references from former employers and mementos of home in their sea chests.
Storage on a boat is often limited, so sailors would be expected to fit all of their personal possessions into their sea chests. Sea chests were typically kept in bunkrooms, butted against the wall or in another location which would be as out of the way as possible. Some were quite ornate, with elegant carving and beautiful construction, while others were kept plain and relatively simple.
In the modern era, it is common to see people using a sea chest for its original intended purpose of storage, but these chests are also used as ornamental devices in some homes, and they may be used as tables or seating as well. Many modern sea chests are made just like their historical versions, by talented artisans who work by hand to create a customized sea chest, complete with dovetailed edges and carved accents. Whether antique or modern, a sea chest tends to be an expensive acquisition; when examining sea chests for purchase, it pays to inspect them carefully for signs of rot and poor construction.