Monday, April 20, 2015

All the Things on a Pirate Ship.

A pretty good pirate ship just came up for sale, and I began thinking… If you have the ship, what else do you need? What are the things that a ship needs to do business on the water?

It helps to remember that, in the 18th century, a ship was very much like a space station. It was headed into a hostile environment and needed to carry with it all the supplies necessary for itself and its crew.

We will assume that your pirate ship comes with all the sails and rope it will need, and with cannons and a Jolly Roger.

So the first thing you will need is another full set of sails. Sails wear out, tear, and are sometimes carried away by the wind. Without sails to move the ship, it is dead in the water, and everything on it will probably die as well. So you need to have spares for everything, one set at least. Plus a lot of spare canvas, to make things like canon cartridges and hammocks. You will also need enough rope to replace every piece of cordage on the ship, at least twice over, for the same reason.

You will need water and food for your crew. Since this is the 18th century, this will be stored in barrels. In addition to a minimum of 2 month’s supply of water, you must supply your crew with a nutritious diet. This means beef, pork, cheese, dried peas, dried fruit, oatmeal, hard tack, flour, salt, spices and more. If you want to have milk, you must carry a cow or goat, and if you want eggs, you must carry chickens. Then you need to carry food and water for the animals.

For the galley, you will need pots and pans, spoons, buckets, mixing bowls, etc. You will also need to carry all the fuel (firewood) necessary to heat your food.

It would be very pleasant to have coffee, tea, teapots, coffee pots.

You should have replacements for, at least, every mast, spar, crosstree, yard and boom. Plus extra wood for miscellaneous purposes, such as repairing holes shot in the ship and replacing rotten or otherwise damaged parts. And you will need a full set of carpentry tools to form and shape this wood.

We assume the ship has one anchor, but you will need a spare or two.

The ship requires one or two small boats, for getting back and forth to shore.

It really helps to have a portable blacksmith’s forge (the size of an outdoor grill) and a full set of a blacksmith’s tools. Oh, and charcoal to run the forge.

You will need navigational equipment, a compass, equipment to estimate speed, a barometer, charts, telescopes, and a logbook to write it all down.

If you are going to fight, you need cannons, gunpowder, shot for the cannons. And you will need measuring equipment for the powder. To fire the guns, you will need, for each gun, a rammer, a sponge, a worm, fuses, a fuse-holder, a pick, and a tub for water.

Also, in case you get into a fight, you will need a complete range of medicines, scalpels, needles, sewing gut, compresses, and splints. It would help if this included pain killers like opium. 

We will assume your pirate will bring all the swords and pistols they will need, plus their own hammocks, clothes, plates and eating utensils.

You will need crew, of course. While you can have a few landsmen, most of the people on your boat must be skilled sailors. These should include a navigator (and hopefully a spare, so they can compare results for a more accurate reading). A gunner will have the expertise to care for, repair and operate the guns, and he should have a gunner’s mate to help him. A carpenter will do the woodworking the ship needs. A surgeon will take care of the ship’s medical needs, and he should have an assistant, called a loblolly boy. A boatswain helps organize the crew. A quartermaster will manage the ship’s money and make sure the crew gets its fair share of the plunder. It would be nice to have a sailmaker. It would also be nice to have a cooper, to take care of the barrels.

Lastly, and very importantly, you will need alcohol. Navy ships allotted one pint of liquor per man per day, but pirates expected more than that. Figure one quart of liquor per man per day, plus wine, plus beer. If you run out, you’ll just have to capture a ship and take what you need.  


  1. TS Rhodes,

    I assume that ships had a variety of ports to call upon to procure these supplies, depending on how long the season was.

    Joseph d Artist

  2. TS Rhodes,

    I assume that ships had a variety of ports to call upon to procure these supplies, depending on how long the season was.

    Joseph d Artist

  3. Most of this stuff you absolutely needed to get out of port safely. Fortunately "Water" means a stream, "Food" means dead pigs, Most of this stuff is very generic, and can be picked up anyplace "Civilized".

  4. I just made my pirate ship and put it in my pond and started to shoot cannons at my neighbors. Arggh matey!!!!!!!!

  5. Thank you for your post. This is excellent information. It is amazing and wonderful to visit your site.
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  6. id always wanted to sail the seven seas this may help me -thanks mateys

  7. Great writing resource. Thank you.

  8. This is all very helpful, but do you know where they got their supplies? If they were very dangerous then they couldn't just go into town without getting shot in the arm.