If there is one thing that all pirate ships generally had in common, that would be the fact that they were not bought and sold as a pirate ship, but rather stolen and conditioned for the purpose of piracy. What this generally meant was making more space for a larger crew and cannons by removing cabins and changing the sail arrangements.

Varieties of Pirate Ships

Take a look at the different varieties of potential pirate ships below:

Sloops were the most common choice during Golden Age of Pirates during the 16th and 17th century for sailing around the Caribbean and crossing the Atlantic. These were commonly built in Caribbean and were easily adapted for pirate antics. A large bowsprit also meant that an increased canvas area added better maneuverability. The great advantage of the sloops were that they were quick and could attack swiftly and get away fast with a top speed of over 10 knots. Another advantage is that it could hide in shallower waters to escape warships because of its shallow draft.

Another favorite of the pirates of the Caribbean and Atlantic were the two-masted schooner. Like the sloop, this boat was fast, easy to maneuver and enjoyed a large capacity for guns and cannons. A narrower hull and even shallower draft meant it could easily hide in shallow estuaries and escape its enemies. The downside was that it couldn’t hold as much booty or crew.

Another shallow-draft boat, the brigantine was popular in the Mediterranean thanks to its great maneuverability and speed. Oars were also common in some designs that could be employed during low winds. This kind of boat was favored for longer battles targeting large spoils with its larger hold and great firepower. Could also hold over 100 men.

Square-rigged Ships
These were more often than not merchant ships, identified by their large square sails and three masts. The large hold meant that they were slow but great for longer crossings. Not very agile, pirates were not likely to choose a square-rigged ship as their first choice, but would be great for stealing large amounts of booty. You might have seen these kinds of ships among a pirate fleet.

The Dutch Fleut
This ship was perfectly designed for carrying large amounts of cargo. Flat-bottomed, wide and strong, this was not very swift and weighed over 300 tons. Pirates would have plenty of space to customize this ship with canons and guns, but many preferred to steal its cargo and leave the ship.

A Spanish design, the galleon combined the need to carry cargo and be able to defend itself at the same time with cannons. A galleon, could sustain a crew of over 200 with more than 70 canons and guns. However, its cumbersome maneuvers and slow speed because of its large square sails made it fair game for pirates.