The Ranks and Roles on a Pirate Ship


Most of the days, the captain lived the same as the rest of the pirate crew. Although he made most of the decisions, he had the same rights and duties as everyone else.

The ship crew decided who the captain was by voting. And if he didn’t meet their standards, they could quickly vote him off.

The captain’s main responsibility was to keep everything under control. So, basically, a good captain had to be very decisive and charismatic. Besides that, the captain had to be highly skilled in any kind of combat.


After voting on their captain, the crew would choose a quartermaster, too. The quartermaster would take the captain’s place when he was unable to perform. But, even when the captain was around, the quartermaster was almost his equal. The captain and the quartermaster had the same share of the loot. The quartermaster’s main duty was to make sure everyone carried out their duties. Also, he would speak for the crew members and represent their interests before the captain.


The navigator, or sailing master, was a very difficult job back in the pirate days. The person in this position had to set the course, read the maps (or the stars) and overall know how to direct the ship the right way. The navigator also had to look after all the instruments and maps.

That was by far the most challenging position considering how much knowledge it required. Because the navigator had to be an educated individual, the pirates would usually kidnap one and force him to be the ship’s sailing master. On a pirate ship, he wasn’t paid as much, but he would get the same share of loot as the boatswain and the gunner.

Boatswain and Carpenter

The boatswain was a very valuable crew member. He looked after the ship and made sure everything was running smoothly. He would also oversee the cleaning, sail setting, dropping of the anchor, etc.

The carpenter had to report everything he did to the boatswain. He looked after the ship’s internal structure, as well as repair any holes or damages.

Gunner and Powder Monkey

The gunner (or master gunner) would control the artillery and people who worked on it. He had to make sure the gunpowder was dry, the cannons and guns worked, and he also took care of other important things when it came to artillery. A good master gunner was paid as much as a boatswain and the sailing master.

Powder monkey was a term for boys whose job was to help gunmen in combat. However, they often did much more than that. Unfortunately, they were rarely ever paid.


The cooper’s job was to take care of the food, water and alcohol supplies. He also had to know how to maintain and stack the supply barrels the right way. His share of the loot was fairly small.

Other Roles

The roles that were the least significant on the ship were the cook, the musician, and the doctor.

The cook was often just a crew member in charge of food preparation.

Musicians were actually very popular amongst pirates because they would help pass the time. They were usually kidnapped from other ships.

Doctors, however, were not very popular because they were hard to find. But any experienced intellectual could be qualified as a doctor on a pirate ship.

All of these positions would get a very small share of the loot, if any.


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