Running away to sea was a risky business in the golden age of pirates from the 15th to the 17th century. Joining a pirate ship had increased risks, although perhaps greater economic rewards and freedoms for the common man. However, most pirate ships ran pretty much like legitimate naval ships with similar roles and duties. Take a look at the most common pirate ship jobs below:
Every ship, even a pirate ship, needs a captain. But contrary to popular belief, pirate captains did not have absolute authority over the running of the ship, except in battle. Being a more democratic (albeit motley) crew, pirates elected their captains; therefore, if a captain did not pull his weight or was negligent, he could find himself deposed, at best, or marooned with a pistol, at worst.
Second in command after the pirate captain was the quartermaster. He would deal with all the punishments and discipline, protected the pirates from each other. The quartermaster would settle disputes and act as a representative for the pirates when presenting their wishes to the captain. It would also be the quartermaster who would be trusted to sail any ship that was captured by the pirates in battle.
An important and necessary pirate ship job was the sailing master. This officer’s duties included navigating and sailing the pirate ship. He would be skilled in map reading and charting the course of the pirate ship, which was pretty hard in those days when maps were incomplete and often erroneous. As being a sailing master was a highly skilled profession, usually this job was filled by a hostage from a captured vessel.
The boatswain was another important pirate ship job. He was responsible for the running of the ship, making sure all the supplies were in order as well as the general maintenance of the pirate ship.
It seems odd today, to think that the surgeon and the carpenter on board a pirate ship were often the same person! In general the ship’s surgeon was unskilled in medicine but good at sawing, which made him ideal for amputations! Not one of the most desirable pirate ship jobs!
As the name suggests, this pirate ship job was related to guns and ammunition. The Master gunner would look after the gunpowder and cannons etc, and would be particularly active during battle although his duties including maintaining the weapons during peacetime.
The mates aboard a pirate ship were apprentices to the quartermaster, boatswain and carpenter. They would often be responsible for the making sure that the ropes, sails and pulleys were correctly secured etc and were also responsible for the anchor. As there were more than one mate on aboard both pirate and legitimate ships, the term “first mate” and so on, was coined.
Able-bodied Sailors (ABS)
ABSs made up the majority of the crew, and were semi-skilled following the instructions of the boatswain and mates. Nevertheless, they need to know about navigation, the weather and steering.
These were young boys who acted like servants and were among the lowest ranks, not without chance for promotion.