Loading . . .


Harry Belafonte's "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" evokes images of the tedious labour of plantation workers cutting and carrying branches laden with bananas to be counted and loaded on boats to be carried to distant ports. But the banana boats did not just carry freight. In an age before inexpensive and convenient air travel, they accomodated tourists, business travellers and immigrants on routes between the banana producing countries primarily (although not exclusively) in Central and South America and the Caribean, and the markets in North America and Europe.

The banana carriers were designed to carry refrigerated cargo at relatively high speeds because bananas spoiled easily. Their speed also often qualified them for subsidies as mail carriers. The ships often had date stamps resembling cancellers for mail posted at sea. Technically these were to be applied to the back of covers but in response to customer requests they were often applied to the front of covers and they were sometimes accepted as cancellations.

Large fruit companies such as Standard Fruit Company and United Fruit Company in the United States and Elders & Fyffes Shipping in the United Kingdom (which itself came under control of the United Fruit Company in 1910) built ships for their trade. The United Fruit operated a large fleet, advertised as "The Great White Fleet." At its peak it controlled the world's largest fleet of over 100 ships. This site displays stamps, covers and other items of philatelic interest documenting the history of banana boats.


S.S. Antigua

S.S. Carrillo

S.S. Comayagua

S.S. Gulfport

S.S. Jamaica

R.M.S. Lady Drake

R.M.S. Lady Hawkins

R.M.S. Lady Nelson

R.M.S. Lady Rodney

R.M.S. Lady Somers

S.S. Quirigua

S.S. Safco I

S.S. San Bruno

S.S. Santa Marta

S.S. Sixaola

S.S. Tivives

S.S. Waitomo


"Banana boat (ship)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 20 Oct. 2022. Web 19 Nov. 2022.

Chapman, Peter. Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2007. Print.

Horry, David. "The Maritime Postmarks of the British West Indies 1937-1935 Part 1."
     Gibbons Stamp Monthly. Sep. 2009: 93-97.

Koeppel, Dan, Banana - The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. New York: Plume, 2008. Print.

"L'épopée maritime de la banane." Extra ordinaire Banane. 2020. Web. 12 Oct. 2020

Swiggum, S. and M. Kohli.The Ships List. 23 Nov. 2006. Web. 20 Nov. 2022.

Go to the Grose Educational Media Home Page.

© Derrick Grose, 2022