Pirate Ships > Boarding a Ship

Boarding a Ship

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

Boarding is the process by which pirates would seize a ship without actually destroying it, allowing a steady stream of soldiers to enter the ship via rope lines, rowboats, grappling hooks and many other methods. This often was met with opposition by the boarded ship which the crew may have been armed with guns, swords, axes and other weapons.

In order for boarding to be successful, a ship must be disabled which often occurred through the use of chain shot and mortar rounds. While the use of boarding in Imperial battles declined by the 17th and 18th centuries, the pirates of the Caribbean used this technique to great effect to seize cargo and loot ships.

Pirate Ships - Boarding a Ship - Taking the Spanish Vessel

Taking the Spanish Vessel - The British Navy Book (1915)

Using the technique of boarding, pirates would often be able to salvage a captive ship and often repurpose it and add it to their own fleets. Since the main goal of piracy in the 1600s and 1700s was to capture intact cargos and return them to the crown (in the case of privateers), it was preferable for pirates to board.

Pirate Ships - Boarding a Ship

Boarding a Ship - Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts (1898)

In order to start the boarding process, first the pirates must bring their ship close enough to either toss grappling hooks or be able to jump across to the enemy deck. Grappling hooks would allow pirates to pull the ship closer to theirs and lock it on so there was no chance of escape (there usually wasn't anyways with a broken mast) and then pirates would stream over the side to attack the merchants or Imperial defenders. A second method of boarding involved putting many men in small boats and rowing silently up to the victims ship and then climbing aboard via stealth or grappling hooks.

Pirate Lifestyle - Naval Batltes - Boarding Party

Boarding Party Attack - Book of Pyrates (1921)

Often, boarding was the most dangerous action of conquering a ship. Defenders had many gun ports with which to shoot incoming pirates and often used weapons like a pike to stave off defenders who crawled via grappling hooks, and rope lines between ships. The classical idea of a pirate swinging from the rigging onto a ship was most likely based in fiction as this was not a practical method of boarding a ship.

Pirate Lifestyle - Naval Battles - Blackbeard Boarding Maynards Ship

Blackbeard Boarding Maynard's Ship - George Edmund Varian (1903)

Boarding a ship involved the use of swords, pistols, muskets, grenades and many other forms of pirate weapons. Pirates and sailors alike preferred the flintlock pistol because it was less dangerous to fire aboard a ship loaded with gun powder. Often an overlooked weapon was the boarding axe which was useful in breaking down bulkheads, cutting grappling lines and also close quarters combat.

Once a ship was successfully boarded and the crew subdued, often the officers and captains were paraded in front of the captive crew and given an informal trial. A just captain would often retain his ship and even some of his cargo where as a unjust captain would often be lucky to have his life, after seeing his ship burned to the depths after the cargo was removed.

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