What Are the Types of Pirate Ships?

Pirates have always been a subject of fascination for many people across the age divide, and for this reason, there have been numerous myths, facts, and misconceptions flying around. Pirate ships, in particular, have been a topic of wonder for many pirate enthusiasts.

What was a Pirate Ship?

A pirate ship was, in essence, any vessel that was used by sailors to perform piracy activities. Pirates were best known as members of a certain ship that would attack other ships at sea and steal valuable goods from them. At this point, it is important to point out that the valuable goods stolen by pirates were not limited to anything in particular, and if they liked the actual ship from which they were robbing, they would steal it as well. In most cases, the ship’s crew members would be thrown overboard or detained.

Bear in mind, however, that there were not any particular ships that were made or constructed to be pirate ships. Pirates would use all sorts of ships as long as they served the purpose. Size, too, was not an issue as there are pirate crews that also used small boats and even canoes to get their work done.

Pirate Ship types

The types of Pirate ships

Below is a detailed breakdown of some of the most common pirate ships that were used by pirates on the high seas.



Small as these boats were, they were very popular among pirates. Sloops would be used to ferry items and even crew from the larger ships to the mainland and vice versa. They were most commonly used in the 19th century, and they were fairly common where inexperienced seamen received training.

Sloops were characterized by long bodies, and they also featured a single mast. On the boat would be one headsail and one mainsail in front of and behind the mast respectively. The name sloop was coined from the Dutch word ‘slupan’ which can be loosely translated as ‘to glide’ in English.

Apart from transporting items from big ships and training inexperienced seamen, sloops were used in races. They were especially popular because they were very light, allowing them to move swiftly in the wind. They also sailed pretty smoothly, and this allowed them a good deal of speed without the need for excess rowing.

Even though most sloops were small, there were those that were considerably large. There were certain vessels that could carry 70 to 80 men who would have an average of 15 to 20 guns.



These ships were considerably larger than sloops, and they were rigged with fore and aft sails on two or more of their masts. The ship’s design is thought to have originated from a Dutch shipbuilder, but it was first designed and built by an American shipbuilder called Andrew Robinson in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1713.

Schooners were essentially best for very long voyages, especially in waters that experienced very windy storms and coastal environments. The ships bore the capacity to handle quite well, and this is why they were used for fishing. They were excellent for sailing in shallow waters, especially because they had shallower drafts.

These ships were also ideal for smaller crews and the fact that they were fast made them excellent choices for pirates to catch on to ships that they intended to take over. Because of its popularity, the schooner was adopted in Europe, and its design was merged with that of the infamous merchantman to create the huge clipper ships.

There were several types of schooners, with the most common being square topsail schooners, two-masted fishing schooners, grand bank fishing schooners, coastal schooners, and four-masted schooners.



These particular ships were incredibly popular among pirates, largely because they were big and would often ferry highly valuable merchandise. Brigantines would, on average, weigh anything between 50 and 200 tonnes, and they were larger than schooners and sloops by quite the margin.

These ships had two masts, and they featured square-rigged foremasts. In the 13th century, these ships were commonly used as war vessels and they were mostly pushed by oars. The ship’s design would later evolve, and the vessel became a lot more popular in the 17th century.

Even though it was larger than schooners and sloops, this ship was a lot faster and much easier to maneuver than the two, and this is why it was very popular among pirates.

As a result of their massive masts, these ships had the capacity to withstand the extreme weather of the west indies, hence pirates’ preference for them.

Square-rigged ships

Square-rigged ships

These ships were very large, and they were characterized by their huge square masts. They were, because of their very large size, most commonly used as merchant ships. Their size, however, made them a lot less agile than other ships, and this characteristic did not work in their favor.

While most pirates would steer clear of using them as their own navigation ships, square-rigged ships made excellent targets because of the valuable goods they would carry.

Square-rigged ships were made to handle very long voyages, and the massive masts were particularly made to help steer the ship by taking advantage of the winds as well as ocean currents.

When it came to size, square-rigged ships cut across the divide, with some weighing only a couple of tonnes, to others that were so large they weighed more than two thousand tonnes. Bigger ships were, of course, harder to steer, but better targets for pirates.

The Dutch Fluyt

The Dutch Fluyt

The Dutch Fluyt was a Dutch work of genius that revolutionized the way cargo was carried in ships. Before this vessel was designed and built, most ships were built with massive decks and smaller hulls, largely because they were used to ferry cargo and for combat. The Dutch Fluyt was specifically designed to ferry merchant cargo, and it was built with a considerably smaller deck and massive hull that bulged outward, making the ship look, in essence, fat.

One of the reasons why this design was genius is the fact that it helped in reducing ship tolls. The Danish toll was based on the size of the main deck, and by reducing its size, the Dutch were able to get away with not paying as much as they should have. The ship was a lot lighter than most others of its caliber, but it was not exactly swift.

Because of its massive size and slow speed, this ship was not a particular favorite for pirates. It, however, made an excellent target for them since it almost always carried loads of valuable booty. One of the reasons why it also made an easy target was the fact that the Dutch Fluyt was known for carrying very few crew members. Also, unlike other ships that had canons and other weapons, this particular one did not. This made it fairly easy for pirates to get on board and steal whatever merchandise they preferred.



These ships were primarily designed and built for war. Galleons were full-rigged ships that were popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. They were very large ships, and most of the largest ones were built by the Portuguese and Spaniards.

Initially, these ships were designed to be merchant vessels, and they were used to ferry such commodities as silver and silk. One of the reasons why this ship was popular was the fact that it was a very swift ship that was easy to maneuver and steer. Because of its massive masts, it would ride the winds and ocean currents with ease.

The hull of the ship was quite large, and this is where most of the merchandise and ammunition would be stored. Each ship would have a full crew that would be ready for war at all times. One of the reasons why this ship was popular among pirates was the fact that, even though very large, this ship was quite fast. Pirates would sail in these as it would allow them to sail fast, and it also provided lots of room for them to store their booty. In addition, the fact that it was also designed as a warship made it ideal for the kind of lives that pirates lived.


For several centuries, pirates were a real menace on the high seas. They would take over ships and steal whatever merchandise, food, weaponry, and even crew that were on the said ships. Seeing as there was an abundance of ship designs, it would be easy to wonder which ones were preferred the most by the pirates. When it came to targets and ships to steal from, pirates often went for massive merchant ships that had very small crews and an abundance of valuable goods to carry. To navigate the oceans and seas, however, pirates preferred vessels that were swifter and easier to maneuver, but that also had a good amount of room inside which to hide or carry their stolen goods. There is, of course, an abundance of ship types that many pirates would go for, but the ones highlighted in the article made up most of their preferred vessels for various reasons.