It is safe to say that life on a pirate ship was a very hazardous one prone to serious injury 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. 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.
Injury and compensation aboard pirate ships
It will come as no surprise to you that the life of a pirate was, in general, quite a dangerous one! Injury, disease and even death were common aboard any vessel, but one of a pirate’s biggest fears was becoming disabled. If pirates became badly disabled they would be unable to work and support themselves on the pirate ship.
If badly injured, a pirate might have to have a limb amputated and, providing he managed somehow to survive the operation and received proper medical attention, would receive some sort of primitive substitute for the limb. For obvious reasons a disabled or injured pirate, if sufficiently hurt, would no longer be able to carry out the more strenuous duties of a crew member on a pirate ship. Those who were badly injured would be compensated depending on the severity of their loss. Arms and legs were most heavily compensated.
Why was compensation offered on pirate ships
The idea that pirates would be compensated for losing limbs in battle seems contrary to what one would think about a pirate. While pirates were terrors on the seas to their enemies and targets, the success of a pirate ship was based on incentives and rewards. In order to incentivize pirates on a pirate ship to risk their life (and limbs) for their prize rather than mutiny or surrender in exchange for their lives, pirates were given the security of compensation.
Injuries on a pirate ship
A leg would generally only be amputated if there were no other options, but in such cases it was often needed to save the pirate’s life. If there was no doctor on board the pirate ship (which was likely) the carpenter or cook would be called upon to do the bloody operation. Such procedures had a high mortality rate as the inexperienced surgeons might fail to stop the bleeding, or might not clean the wound properly. If the pirate survived, however, they would be given a peg-leg made from whatever could be found.
It was common to lose a hand in battle, and just as usual for a pirate to seek a useful substitute for the lost limb. A hook was pretty easy to fashion from materials found on-board a ship if there was a carpenter or blacksmith, and as such it is probably, not certain, that it was used as a temporary or permanent prosthetic.