All that you need to know about pirate ranks and responsibilities

So, as children, we have all heard about pirates in books and seen them in films. Well, who has not seen movies from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise? Most of us have. However, all these never sufficiently gave us information on how a group of pirates works or what are the pirate ranks and responsibilities. Yes, you heard that right- pirate ranks! So, we see them as a chaotic band of dacoits suddenly erupting in the ship and looting but if they were so chaotic they would have never successfully pirated a ship. Therefore, pirates have an organized system of ranking and getting responsibilities without which they would not probably function. So, we will see more about pirate ranks and responsibilities throughout the article.

Hence, the pirate ship also has management just like any other ship. At the top of the pirate ship is the “pirate council”. So, all the members of the ship with different pirate ranks are a part of this council. This is the body that makes the decisions. However, pirates too needed naval officers whom the captain would lead. But, in normal Navy vessels, captains have a dominating power. This is not possible in a pirate ship because they have to work as a team and they cannot risk betrayal. So, here the captain has limited powers instead of having absolute authority in any war. Hence, every member of the council having different pirate ranks has an opinion. It is kind of a democratic setup. Moreover, the responsibilities of the pirate ranks might vary a little from ship to ship.

However, there is a common blueprint in which they work. We will see them in this article.

Pirate ranks in order

So, we already know that there are different pirate ranks and they have responsibilities as per that. Moreover, we also know that the pirate council heads this management system and everyone is a part of it. At the highest pirate rank is still the captain even if he has limited powers. So, he basically controls the movement of the ship and takes all the major decisions. The council, however, has to permit them.

Pirate ranks

After this, we have the quartermaster who was the second-in-command. Moreover, the first and second mates worked under him. So, the pirate ranks here are a little different from Navy ships where the captain had much more power. Moving on, there is the navigator without whom the ship basically would not move. This is therefore one of the most important pirate ranks. Then, there is the master at arms who is the right hand of the captain and in charge of every war strategy. So, next in the pirate ranks, we have the master boatswain who is the seniormost sailor. Therefore, he does not help the ship sail but is a bridge of communication between the authority and the workers. So, after this comes the sailing master who keeps the ship on track to reach its destination.

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Therefore, the next in the pirate ranks is the master gunner who commands the entire gun crew. After this, we have the other officers in the pirate ranks who are subsidiary to the ones we have already seen. However, none of their jobs are important. So, we have the doctor, the mate, and finally the carpenter. These are the basic pirate ranks.

Pirate ranks and roles

So, we have already seen the various pirate ranks and the order in which they find themselves at the pirate council. Hence, now let us take a look at some of the roles of these pirate ranks in detail.

Pirate ranks captain

So, the captain has the highest rank to command the moves of the ship. Therefore, he must be a good speaker, negotiator, and definitely a great decision-maker. The pirate ranks of captains make the most critical decisions and give orders to execute them. Therefore, these may include how to set a target, follow prey, baffle the authorities, and deal with an attack while capturing a ship. However, his words are not final. Therefore, the crew containing different pirate ranks has a say in it. As we already know pirates are way more democratic than the traditional navy or merchant ships. Therefore, all the members of the crew elect their captains. The person with the majority vote wins. However, in the same way, if necessary, the pirates can bring the captain down.

Pirate ranks quartermaster

So, the next in the pirate ranks is the quartermaster who further limits the powers of the Captain. Moreover, he is almost like the Captain. The only difference is when they chase a prize or fight in a battle, he has less power or share than the captain. So, just like the captain, the quartermaster also comes via the election that the crew conducts. We can tell him to be a kind of magistrate. In Royal Naval vessels, the Boatswain’s job was to look after the discipline of the ship and manage the punishment of crew members. However, in a pirate ship, the quartermaster had to take care of these. Moreover, he had to lead the attack if they were boarding a ship. Finally, he would also be in command of the boats that they would capture in the attack.

Pirate ranks navigator

So, the captain and quartermaster generally have knowledge of navigation. However, they often have a navigator who is a specialist. So, he knows about charts, coastlines, currents, winds, and local weather conditions way better than any member of the other pirate ranks. One could not yet measure longitudes. Therefore, experience had a lot of practical value. If there was a good navigator, the pirates could go where the merchant ships generally move through and have an idea of ambush, flats, and shallows. Moreover, the art of navigation was mysterious and only a few mariners knew about it. So, in many cases, they would call the navigator the artist.

Pirate ranks master-at-arms

So, along with the quartermaster, the master-at-arms is the closest one to the captain. Therefore, the captain trusts both of these pirate ranks almost blindly. Moreover, he leads the war strategies and is the best on board when it comes to the techniques of combat. However, that is not just it. He also looks after the internal management of the crew. Therefore, he makes sure that everyone in the crew carries out their responsibilities dutifully. So, he also organizes the plan of action either when the crew attacks a merchant ship or another crew of pirates.

Pirate ranks master boatswain

The master boatswain or the bosun acted as the channel of communication between the captain, the quartermaster, and the lower pirate ranks of the sailors. So, he supervised the entire band of sailors for the stable movement of the ship. Moreover, he was also in charge of the ship’s stores. He also needs to regularly check if the ship’s sails, rigging, and anchors were working properly. Hence, he would get one and a half times the share of an ordinary seaman’s booty. Moreover, he would also have a deputy, and mates to help him in case of a large crew.

Pirate ranks sailing master

So, he was in charge to keep the ship on the right course and see to it that it reaches its destination. Therefore, the sailing master had a close connection with the navigator. If the navigator was the brain of the navigation, the sailing master looked to its proper execution with the pirate ranks of the various mates and sailors. Even after the nautical chronometer, one still could not grasp the longitudes properly. So, for locating a ship, nothing beat practical experience. Therefore, the sailing master would also have great astronomical knowledge. So, the pirate ranks of the sailing master and the navigator often became one and so we can use them interchangeably. This is because the basic objectives of both are essentially the same.

Pirate ranks master gunner

So, he would be in charge of the gun crew. Therefore, this would include the pirate ranks of the first gunner, the second gunner, the loading gunner, the wiper, the deputy loading gunner, deputy wipers, and also a powder monkey. Hence, he had a joint responsibility. He had to at once direct the crew to aim and shoot at the perfect time. A lot of experience and training were needed for such a rank. Moreover, he also had to see to the upkeep of the cannons. The captains would look for good members in these pirate ranks because the firearms would often have very poor targets.

Pirate ranks doctor

So, having a doctor becomes very important on a pirate ship. This is because, during an attack, there might be uncontrolled bleeding or life-death situations. Moreover, the pirates were not endless. So, life was important for them. Moreover, the ships would often have insects, lice and so on that would spread diseases in the middle of the course. Therefore, the doctor would have to look after them. However, having a doctor on board was often a luxury. So, the doctor would often be the cook, or the carpenter, or the cooper, or the musician at once. This is because these people hardly had knowledge of the medical sciences which was not at all developed back then.

Pirate ranks mate

He is a second officer. Therefore, he is an apprentice to the senior pirate ranks like the sailing master, master gunner, or master boatswain. So, either the pirate council elects members for these pirate ranks or senior officers simply select them. There might be a number of mates, like first, second and so on.

Pirate ranks

Pirate ranks carpenter

There are a lot of menial pirate ranks which we will not be discussing in detail because they are not directly linked with the process of piracy. However, the carpenter is an exception because these pirate ranks are crucial. He looks after the ship’s structure. If the ship does not keep afloat, especially in the middle of an attack, everything else becomes meaningless. Therefore, he is also the leader in damage control. So, he would run to any boat that would be leaking and manage it. Getting the ship on track and bringing it to shore for repair works as fast as possible was his prime task. Moreover, he also had to rebuild whole sections of the hull. Therefore, to do this, he usually had to bring the damaged ship to a desolate beach.

Pirate ranks

Pirate ranks on a ship

So, the pirate ranks that we saw in the above two sections are the most crucial ones when the pirates are aboard a ship. All of them, as we know, together form the pirate council. However, these ranks are functional only as long as they are on the ship or in a quest, not outside it. The basic difference between the navy ships and the pirate ships is that in the former the ranks are essential social positions. On the other hand, for pirate ranks, all they care about is doing the task correctly because they are a band of dacoits. So, organizing themselves inside and outside a ship becomes important. Moreover, the pirate ranks might belong to different people at different times due to the democratic election process.

Pirate ranking system

The system in which the council formed pirate ranks was excellent. Even hundreds of years ago, they showed the rudiments of democracy as everyone’s opinions mattered. So, just as the captain was part of the council, the carpenter also was. Therefore, everyone had an equal say. This was crucial because unlike in merchant or navy ships, trust was very important for the pirate ships. Moreover, this is because trust gives rise to unity among members of the different pirate ranks. However, in those days, we could hardly find such a democratic set-up in the normal naval or cargo ships.

Pirate ranks and titles

So, to sum up, a little, the major pirate ranks and titles are-

  • The pirate captain
  • The pirate quartermaster
  • The navigator or/and the sailing master
  • The pirate master-at-arms
  • The pirate master boatswain
  • The doctor
  • The primate mate(s)
  • The carpenter
  • Moreover, there are a few other pirate ranks as well like the cook, cooper, gunmen, sailors, musicians, ordinary seamen, etc.

Pirate ranks naval action

Naval action means the responsibilities that fall on different ranks of naval officers and workers. So, this is more or less the same as most of the pirate ranks except for some differences. The most crucial difference is that in a navy ship the captain has absolute power. However, on a pirate ship, the captain is answerable to all the pirate ranks in the pirate council. Moreover, pirate ships are far more democratic. So, the responsibilities are shared amongst the captain, the boss, the quartermaster, the mates, the gunmen, and so on. Therefore, the power structure changes considerably and even if one betrays, the others can still handle the quest. Pirates were, in a way, way more advanced than the members and management of merchant or navy ships. Key to this was the responsibilities that they shared among themselves evenly.

Pirate ranks FAQs

What is a female pirate called?

Ans. Well, in those days, you could hardly find female pirates. It was primarily a men’s job. However, some women did disguise themselves as men to fit into the band. However, openly female pirates were almost non-existent. So, there is no particular term to label them. But today we simply refer to them as girl pirates or women pirates.

Pirate ranks

How were pirate captains picked?

Ans. So, we have already seen the democratic procedure of the election via which the members of different pirate ranks elected the captain. They gave their votes to the candidate they thought was capable of both commanding and navigating. So, the one with the majority of the votes won and became the captain. The crew members respected the captain more than they feared him. So, this was how the personality of the captain would be. Therefore, he was not abusive or handled everyone with an iron fist.

What is the lowest role on a pirate ship?

Ans. Well, technically the lowest pirate ranks would be the powder monkeys. So, they would run from below the deck, supplying gunpowder to the cannon crews in the middle of a battle. Moreover, they would also have to mop the surface of the ship regularly.

Pirate ranks

Why did pirates wear eye patches?

Ans. So, when pirates wear an eye patch, it means that one of their eyes is always in a state that can adapt to darkness. This is important. So, let us say, the pirate is in an area with a lot of light like the deck of the ship. So, one eye is completely in darkness. Therefore, it helps in the chemical process of dark adaptation. Moreover, if you close one eye, you can also have a better focus on your target.

Did pirates have a code?

Ans. Yes, pirates have a code that governs them while they are at the sea.

About the Author: mike

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