It is safe to say that life as a pirate was a very hazardous one prone to serious injuries and even death. Besides death, a pirate’s worst fear was becoming disabled. If the injured pirate survived the amputation and received proper medical attention (which was highly unlikely aboard a pirate ship) he received some sort of primitive substitute for his arm or limb in the form of pirate compensation.
Pirate Compensation for Injuries
For obvious reasons, an injured pirate was no longer as effective as an able bodied seamen, and for the most part could no longer carry out his designated duties, but he was nonetheless compensated for his injuries. Providing compensation to injured pirates was part and parcel of the success of pirates; it encouraged risk taking, which was an essential component to the pirate strategy.
The life of a pirate was hard and hazardous, and those who were badly injured in the line of duty could find themselves in danger of death or disability. Disability was one of the worst things that could face a pirate because it would limit, or remove, their capability to work. Such men were generally compensated for their injury in quite generous terms. Sometimes they would even be offered non-strenuous work on board the ship, if they were injured but still generally able-bodied. If they were badly injured, however, they would receive compensation on a sliding scale with arms and legs receiving the most compensation.
Pirates who received grievous leg wounds would generally have to have the offending limb amputated by the ship’s doctor (or the closest thing available – usually the carpenter!!!!). If there was no doctor or surgeon the ship’s cook or carpenter would generally do the job. Of course mortality was high thanks to infection and blood loss, but those who survived would have a crude leg fashioned from available materials.
The loss of a hand in battle was fairly common, and it was not unusual for a pirate to look for a useful substitute. A hook would be easy to make from handy materials if there was a competent blacksmith or carpenter on board the ship. With this in mind it was probably, but not certain, that hooks would have been a temporary or permanent prosthetic hand. Such things could be fashioned with a bowl, some cloth, the aforementioned hook and then strapped to the arm with leather belts.