Pirate weapons

Pirate weapons could be very destructive, but they might not have been used the way you imagine. Modern weapons are used to destroy the enemy and their ships, planes, tanks, and etc. from great distances, if possible, but pirates in history used their weapons with a much different goal. They were focused on capturing the enemy's ship, contents, and people with as little damage as necessary to the attackers or the prizes. This would make the up-close-and-personal tactic more necessary at times. Read on to discover more about pirate weapons, including pirate guns, pirate swords, and pirate cannons. The weapons used in a pirate attack were important.  A pirate was not immune to death.  And you all know, a Dead Men Tells No Tales, or spends their ill gotten booty!  The pirates survival was the most important aspect during a pirate raid.  The weapons they used were to give themselves the edge in battle, and ensure their own survival.

             Cannons and Artillery

A single cannon required a few men to operate it.  One to load, a few to position, one to fire.  The cannon improved over the years and by the 1700's had improved dramatically in range, accuracy and ease of use from their predecessors.  The effectiveness of a metal ball hurling at the opposing ship was a sure fire way to do some serious damage.  The damage to the ships hull, sails and personnel was devastating.
There were several different types of cannon shot used in a battle.

Cannon Balls

Typical shot used a heavy iron ball shot from a cannon.  This shot would do heavy damage to the enemy hull.


A bomb consisted of a hollow iron ball filled with gunpowder and toped with a fuse.  The idea behind this was that the bomb would explode when it hit its mark.  The fuse would have to be the exact length to burn at just the right speed to cause it to explode at just the right time.  Certain gunners were experts at judging the timing and could pull this shot off.

Bar Shot- Bar Shot was a large iron bar that would be shot at the ships.  It would make rather large holes as it hurled into the wood.  It had a much shorter range then regular cannon shot due to the lack of a predictable trajectory.

Chain Shot

A chain shot was two iron balls joined together with a length of chain.  When fired the balls would spin rapidly as it struck it's mark.  The chain shot wasn't very effective against the thick hulls of the ships.  It was however, very effective against personnel and the ships sails and rigging.

Stinkpots - A stinkpot was a small pot, made of clay, and filled with burning sulfur, or rotten fish.  These pots were tossed onto the deck of the enemy ship.  The stench of the smoke was enough to cause the crew inhaling it to become rapidly sick, thus incapacitated in a fight.

Hand grenades - A hand grenades of the pirate days were a make shift device made from glass bottles, wood, iron or clay.  They would be filled with gunpowder and topped with a fuse.  Often times they would be filled with shrapnel such as broken glass or twisted metal.  The were effective anti-personnel weapons.

Bundle Shot - A bundle shot was a pack of metal bars shot at the enemy crews.  This tended to cause heavy casualties.

Grape shot

Grapes shot was small metal balls, about the size of a grape, clustered together and fired out of the cannons.  Much like a modern shotgun, these little balls spread out and caused heavy damage to sails and crew.

              Pistols and Rifles

Swivel Guns

A swivel gun was a portable cannon that could be carried around the deck and placed in a holder.  It would swivel and be easier to both fire and aim.


The musket was a long range rifle.  It was more accurate then the other types of rifles of the time.  During an attack, the musket shooters took position in the rigging and at a distance were able to pick off the helmsmen or officers.  The movement of the sea and the rocking of the ship proved a challenge for the marksmen.


The musketoon was similar to a musket.  The difference being it had a shorter barrel and could be used as a boarding weapon.


The blunderbuss was a muzzle loading weapon that fired like a modern shotgun.  It was known as the personal cannon. The muzzle of the gun opened to a wide end, resembling a funnel. It was common to see this weapon fired from the hip of the holder due to its heavy recoil action.  It was used during boarding parties as its shotgun like spread could take out large numbers of closely standing opponents.

Flintlock Pistol

The flintlock pistol was the staple of piracy firearms.  The small size and ease of carrying made this weapon an essential piece of personal weaponry.   The pistol was a single shot, muzzle loading weapon that was time consuming to reload.  Often times the butt of the gun would be reinforced with iron to be used as a club when the shot was spent.  Some pirates even carried several pistols all loaded and ready on themselves as they prepared to board an enemy ship, or raid a town.

Multi-barreled Pistol -  This variation on the flintlock pistol was a highly unreliable weapon.  It consisted of many barrels containing one shot each.  They were inaccurate and often misfired.

             Bladed Weapons


The cutlass is the most common weapon found on a pirate, and is what we modern day pirate enthusiasts think of when we think of pirate weapons.  The cutlass was generally shorter then a regular sword or saber.  This made it easier to swing in closer quarters during a ship battle.  The blade was a sharp on a single side and had a curved blade.  The handle on the cutlass varied for the taste of the pirate wielding the weapon.  Most times it would offer some type of protection for the hand that held the weapon.

Dagger  - A dagger was also a common weapon as it was easy to carry and could come in handy in many situations.  A dagger was a smaller weapon then the cutlass and varied in size and functionality.  They were used as a secondary weapon in a cutlass fight, or used in stealth attacks.  They also came in handy for cutting down rigging, or in everyday life on a ship.

Dirk -  The dirk was a smaller knife then the dagger.  Commonly used as a thrown weapon.

Boarding Hooks -  The boarding hooks were metal clawed shaped devices hooked to a strong line.  They were used in boarding parties and were tossed aboard the enemy vessel.  The crew would pull the enemy closer so they could more easily board.

Boarding Axes - A boarding axe was an axe on one end, and a hammer on the other.  They often had a 2 or 3 foot handle and could be easily wielded as a deadly weapon.   They were swung around on the ship after the boarding to cut the lines, sails or the enemy combatants.  The heavy end of the axe could be used to knock down doors or break through windows.  The boarding axe also used in fighting fires aboard ship, and in general cutting and wood working.

Make Shift Weapons - Often times a weapon could be made from any part of the ship.  A belaying pin could be used as a club for instance.  During a fight on a ship, any thing is fair game.  Much like the cannons being loaded with whatever was around, anything that could swing, bludgeon, or cut was used in a fight.

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