Officers and Crew
Ship Rank & Roles
Unlike the captains of the navy who are appointed by their government and whose authority is supreme at all times, most pirate captains and officers are democratically elected by the ship’s crew and can be replaced at any time by a majority vote of the crewmen. Below is a list of roles on a large pirate ship. Some of these roles may be combined into one, or split amongst different crew members, depending on the size of the ship and crew.
The ultimate authority on the ship, the Captain’s word is law to all on board. The Captain chooses where to sail, what to plunder, and many other command decisions.
During combat, the Captain is the ultimate authority, and his or her decisions about strategy and tactics are final. Though in charge of all crew, the Captain may also personally lead a squad of pirates in battle.
The Quartermaster is second in command. The Quartermaster is responsible for maintaining order, settling quarrels, distributing food and water, dividing plunder, and distributing pay.
While the Captain leads in battle at sea, the Quartermaster is responsible for planning attacks on land and leading boarding parties. If the crew decides to keep a captured ship, the Quartermaster takes over as the Captain of that ship. The Quartermaster may lead a squad of pirates in battle.
Also called the Navigator, Pilot, or Helmsman, this skilled officer is in charge of navigation and the sailing of the ship. The Sailing Master may call for soundings in shallow water to navigate shoals and reefs.
During combat and storms, the Sailing Master player pilots the ship, rolls initiative for the ship, and attempts to outmaneuver the enemy ship.
The Boatswain (pronounced bosun) supervises the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the ship. The Boatswain is responsible for the smooth running of the ship.
During combat, the Boatswain may lead a squad of pirates or supervise the running of the ship.
The Master Gunner is responsible for the ship’s guns and ammunition, insuring the cannons and ordnance are kept free of rust, and that all weapons are kept in good repair.
During combat, the Master Gunner supervises all cannon and takes on the role of a Gunner for one battery of cannon. The Master Gunner also may lead a squad of pirates in boarding actions.
The Surgeon patches up injuries, treats disease, and deals with battlefield casualties. On many ships, the surgeon doubles as the Chaplain or ship’s priest if the religious order includes healing or field surgery.
During combat, the Surgeon performs emergency surgeries, and attempts to stabilize dying sailors when not engaged in battle.
The Carpenter is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the wooden hull, masts and yards.
During combat, the Carpenter can attempt emergency repairs to the ship when not engaged in battle.
On larger ships there are usually more than one Mate, numbered from First Mate down. Mates serve as apprentices to the Quartermaster, Sailing Master, Boatswain, Master Gunner, Surgeon & Carpenter. The Mate can always step in and perform the duties of another officer if needed.
In combat, the Mate can lead a squad of crewmen, or perform the duties of another officer. Mates often act as Gunners during battle, commanding a battery of cannon.
The First Mate reports directly to the Quartermaster. This officer is responsible for checking the cargo, enforces discipline, and can recruit new crew, be it through press-ganging or evaluation of those who sign up.
The Second Mate or Ship’s Mate reports directly to the Sailing Master. The second mate is often educated in sailing tools or trained in astronomy, meteorology, or the arts of divination. Any Ship’s Mate who shows skill in the arts of sorcery is held in deference and fear by the superstitious crew.
The Third Mate takes care of the fitting out of the vessel and reports directly to the Boatswain. He checks the rigging throughout the day.
Technically the cook is a normal member of the crew, but their skills make them stand apart.
During combat, the cook acts as any other member of the crew.
The sailors assigned aloft to work the running rigging and to furl/release the sails are referred to as Riggers. The lookouts are also generally riggers.
The riggers generally stay aloft during combat, working the sails. Occasionally, a skilled sniper may be sent up into the crow’s nest with several muskets and lots of shot to wreak havoc during close naval combat and boarding scenarios.
The common Sailor, which is the backbone of the ship, needs to know the rigging and the sails. He or she needs to know how to read the skies, weather, and winds.
During combat, most Sailors form powder crews to man the cannons or take to the deck to fire volleys of pistol and musket shot and prepare for boarding.
Any sailor who mops the decks or performs other menial tasks. Also used as slang for any low-ranking or unskilled crew member. Another term, Cannon Fodder, refers to their role on the front line of boarding parties.
A young boy who works aboard pirate ships as a servant. Many Cabin Boys made their way aboard ship by being kidnapped or were runaways looking for a means of escape.
In combat, they become Powder Monkeys, and run gunpowder from the armory below decks to the cannon crews during battle. The boys are also given the task of setting fire to captured ships that are too damaged to repair.