Trend in North Atlantic tropical cyclone frequency is subject to uncertainties related mainly to observational deficiencies. These uncertainties make assessments of anthropogenic effects on present and future trends problematic. Here we document that, contrary to received opinion, ship numbers actually peaked in the mid-nineteenth century and reached a minimum in the early twentieth century. The greater opportunities for ship encounters with tropical cyclones is demonstrated in re-analysis of Eastern Atlantic tropical cyclones from 1851–1898.