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Naval Battles

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration


While early buccaneering usually occurred on land by seizing cattle or making small raids on Spanish settlements, eventually piracy evolved into full scale naval warfare between pirates and privateers and the Imperial powers. While most people think of as pirates sailing around on ships, they neglect to consider the actual implications and implements used to fight and conquer merchant and Spanish ships.

Naval Battles - Naval Warfare

Naval Warfare - François Aimé Louis Dumoulin (1782)


There were many different weapons used in naval warfare at the time. Cannons were the most prominent weapon used, however there were many others such as fire barrels, stinkpots and boarding that ultimately would help pirates win over any ship that chose to defy them.


Cannons were the most popular weapon for damaging ships from afar or from land based fortresses. A cannon is a large tube designed to fire a cannonball or other projectile such as chain shot across a long distance. They were first used in land based engagements in China and Europe, the first form of artillery.

Pirate Lifestyle - Naval Battles - British Naval Cannon

British Naval Cannon - The British Navy Book (1915)

Pirates did not want to sink their victims ships, so often cannons were loaded with different types of ammunition designed to destroy the mast, rigging and other implements of a wooden sailing ship. This "buckshot" type of ammunition also included nails, gravel, musket balls or other small weapons as not to destroy the integrity of the ship. Often after looting a ship, pirates would commandeer it for their own private fleets.

Pirate Lifestyle - Naval Battles - Spanish Cannons

18th Century Spanish Cannons - Artillery Through the Ages (1949)

Pirate Lifestyle - Naval Battles - Sea Gunner

Sea Gunner Engraving - John Seller (1692)

In the first half of the 17th century, most ships were equipped with the demi-cannon which fired a 32 pound cannonball. A full size cannonball at this time contained a 42 pound shot, but they were removed from service by the 1700's due to being unreliable at sea. Overall cannons were probably one of the most effective weapons at sea for disabling a ship to be boarded.

Pirate Lifestyle - Naval Battles - Cannon Loaders

Cannon Loaders - Artillery Through the Ages (1949)

Chain Shot

Pirate Lifestyle - Naval Battles - Chain Shot

Chain Shot Drawing - Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1736)

Chain shot is a unique type of cannon ammunition that is formed when 2 half cannon balls are chained together and fired at once. They were good for shooting down masts, yards or any of the rigging on a ship. When fired the chain extends and hits it target with enough force to take out any sort of wooden implement on a ship. This was a devastating shot usually used to cripple a ship before it was boarded.

Pirate Lifestyle - Naval Battles - Types of Cannon Shot

Types of Cannon Shot - Artillery Through the Ages (1949)

Swivel Guns

Pirate Lifestyle - Naval Battles - Swivel Guns

Swivel Guns Engraving - Artillery Through the Ages (1949)


Mortars were used by ships to launch artillery shells from a great range. Mortars were good for warning merchant ships as an early warning shot and often when combined with the Jolly Roger could force a merchant to surrender without firing a shot.

Pirate Lifstyle - Naval Battles - 18th Century French Mortar

French Mortar - 18th Century Drawing

Mortars were often custom pieces that were outfitted on state of the art ships. Pirates could acquire mortars by capturing another ships and retrofitting theirs. Pirates often augmented and repaired their own ships after capturing another ship.

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