Life Aboard a Pirate Ship

After Pirates of the Caribbean became a worldwide hit, people began wondering anew what the pirate life was really like. Did they have any rights? Was there really a pirate code? What did the life at sea look like? If you want to find out more, read on!

Endless days at sea, starlit nights with just the sound of waves to assure you that you are still on Earth, and your crew of trusty, tough seamen – that is the romantic image of the pirate’s life that we all imagine. But what was life aboard a pirate ship really like? Were pirates lovable rogues, or violent criminals?

The crew

If you compare them to sailors aboard “normal” vessels, pirates had a lot more freedom. The main reason why most men became pirates, was the fact that their superiors would tend to treat them very badly on warships and merchant vessels, and they didn’t want to stand it any longer.

On those ships, they would sometimes have to eat rotten food, full of maggots. Illnesses and serious injuries took their lives more often than not, and they were, basically, just a bit more than common slaves.

Captains of those ships kept the men who had to live in such poor conditions in line with harsh punishments, including floggings.

When you have all of this in mind, it’s easy to understand why the pirate life was the one they craved for.

The diet

Don’t let the movies fool you, pirates did not really eat turkey legs and fruit while on board. Their main foods were tough biscuits known as hardtack, and salted pork. More often than not, this food was infested with weevils.

When even that ran out, the crew had to boil bones, and make soups out of them. Sometimes, the only remaining food on the ship was old leather – that is the one thing that the popular culture got right.

And although it is true that pirates drank beer and rum, they didn’t do it because they favored it over water. No, the problem was that water became undrinkable within several days.

On long trips, this diet would often cause scurvy among the crew, making them weak.

The pirate code

Even criminals had to have a code at the time. Especially ones who lived at sea and depended upon each other. So, anyone who wanted to join a pirate crew had to promise that they will keep their weapons clean and working, that they will fight bravely, that they will never steal from their mates, and that they will not desert the ship.


A pirate captain wasn’t the supreme power on the ship, the crew was. He had to have a magnetic personality and be able to scare his crew into obedience. If he was too cruel to his crew, a simple show of hands could replace him. Some ships changed captains several times.

Whenever a captain tried to ignore the voices of his crew he would be killed, left on a desert island, or betrayed to the authorities.

They all shared the loot, and they all shared food, so it was pretty much fair. As good as democracy could be in those conditions.

The dangers

There were no doctors onboard pirate ships, so pirates were in danger of injuries, tropical disease, and infection.

Next to that, they had to fear execution, storms, hidden reefs…

A pirate’s life wasn’t easy, and their careers lasted approximately two years before they either retired or died.

Playing Pirate

If you want to play pirate yourself you may be interested in a pirate ship of your own! You can read more about getting a toy pirate ship by clicking here to see our review of the best options on the market!