Recent studies of the innovation process have viewed it as the outcome of organizational dynamics rather than as the product of technological developments exogenous to the governance of firms. We apply this approach to our examination of British coastal shipping companies during the early nineteenth century as they grappled with the problem of making a successful transition from sail to steam technology. Within the industry there were contrasting responses to this transition, but also common elements in the decision-making process. Before the 1840s, there remained a widespread assumption of shareholder involvement in this sector as in others. The evidence suggests that shipping company directors were generally able to determine resource-allocation decisions, but not without first taking into account governance relations.