Pirate glossary

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This article is intended to contain a list of terms that are likely to appear in discussions about LEGO Pirates. Any term here should link to the internal article (where one exists) or to an external article on Wikipedia or elsewhere.

This is not intended to be a complete list of every nautical term possible (as such a list would go far beyond the scope of the typical LEGO hobbyist), but rather serve as a tool to understanding some of the more common terminology AFOLs might use to describe Age of Sail MOCs and other Pirates themed subjects.

You are encouraged to add to this list even if you don't know the meaning of the term, just put it in the list. If you have term that clearly doesn't fit one of the catagories, you may also add a new catagory.

It should be noted that the terminology of the age of sail is two to several hundred years old, and while there exist many sources of information from the time, many are incomplete and/or contradictory. One nation's corvette is another's sloop-of-war, what one writer refers to as a brigantine, another calls a hermaphrodite brig and so on.



Definition Sources

The following places are good places to seek definitions: (note, some may be US centric, you are encouraged to add more.)



A Glossary of Pirate (Age of Sail) Terms



General Nautical Terms

  • Belaying Pin - a short, stout wooden bar, which is in inserted in a pin rail, to secure (belay) a line. Often used as a improvised club.
  • Boat - A typically smaller craft often used to ferry crew, passengers or cargo to and from an anchored ship. See Types of Boats below.
  • Broadside - The side of a ship, though for Age of Sail, more specifically the simultaneous (or near simultaneous) firing all guns on one side of a ship to inflict the most assured damage on a nearby vessel.
  • Jolly Roger - The traditional flag of European and American pirates, envisioned today as a skull over crossed bones on a black field. Many famous pirates actually had their own unique variations.
  • Larboard - The age of sail term for the the left side of the ship when facing forward, in general use until after the Napoleonic era, when it was superceded by 'port'.
  • Port A regular harbor of commerce or seaside city. Also now used to indicate the left side of a ship when facing forward.
  • Privateer - A privately-owned ship (or its captain) authorised by a national power (by means of a Letter of Marque) to conduct hostilities against an enemy. Also called a private man of war.
  • Ship - A large sea-going vessel. See Types of Ships below.
  • Starboard - Towards the right-hand side of a vessel facing forward.
  • Stern - The rear part of a ship, technically defined as the area built up over the sternpost, extending upwards from the counter to the taffrail.


Parts of Ships

  • Anchor - An object designed to prevent or slow the drift of a ship, attached to the ship by a line or chain; typically a metal, hook like, object designed to grip the bottom under the body of water.
  • Backstays - Long lines or cables, reaching from the rear of the vessel to the mast heads, used to support the mast. A type of Standing Rigging.
  • Beam - A ship's width at the widest point, or a point alongside the ship at the mid-point of its length.
  • Binnacle - The stand on which the ship's compass is mounted.
  • Boom - A spar used to extend the foot of a sail.
  • Bow - The front of a ship.
  • Bowsprit - A spar projecting from the bow used as an anchor for the forestay and other rigging.
  • Bulkhead - An upright wall within the hull of a ship.
  • Capstan - A vertical winch, turned by capstan bars slotted into a wheel on one or more decks. Used when much force is required, including raising anchor or other heavy loads, tensioning stays and stepping masts. Used sometimes in lieu of a vertical grate for administering floggings.
  • Capstan Bars - Timber bars which are used primarily for turning the capstan, or windlass, but which are convient due to their size and strength for a number of other functions aboard shift (strengthining sprung masts, subduing prisoners etc)
  • Cabin - An enclosed room on a deck or flat.
  • Course - A course sail is the lowermost square sail on a mast. Individual courses are identified by their mast - eg forecourse, maincourse.
  • Crow's Nest - Specifically a platform at a masthead constructed with sides and sometimes a roof to shelter the lookouts from the weather. See also masthead.
  • Decks - The structures forming the approximately horizontal surfaces in the ship's general structure. Unlike flats, they are a structural part of the ship.
  • Fighting Top. The lowermost top on a mast, on warships, a substantial platform from which marksmen and even swivel guns may fire in combat.
  • Figurehead - A carved wooden decoration, often female or bestiary, found at the prow of ships of the 16th to the 19th century.
  • Forecastle - A partial deck, above the upper deck and at the head of the vessel; traditionally the sailors' living quarters.
  • Foremast - The forward most most on a vessel, where the forward most mast is not the mainmast. For example, the forward mast on a brig or ship rigged vessel.
  • Forestays - Long lines or cables, reaching from the front of the vessel to the mast heads, used to support the mast. A type of Standing Rigging.
  • Gunport - Openings in a ship's hull through which cannon can be aimed and fired, often with a closable hatch for weather and travel. Usually modeled in LEGO as a 2x2 opening in the brick built portion of the hull, and with 2x2 flags with clips as the gunport lid.
  • Halyard - A rope used to haul sails or yards (or other items) up and down a mast.
  • Hull - The shell and framework of the basic flotation-oriented part of a ship.
  • Jib - Any of a series of triangular fore-and-aft sails flown foreward of the foremost mast, fixed to the jibboom(s), bowsprit, to the bow, or to the deck between the bowsprit and the foremost mast. Each jib has an individual term, innermost to outermost: Inner Jib, Outer Jib, Flying Jib, Jib of Jibs and Spindle Jib. Inside the Jibs, the similarl appearing Foremast Staysail and the Foretopmast Staysails may be flown.
  • Keel - The central structural basis of the hull.
  • Mainmast (or Main) - The tallest mast on a ship, or, in the case where a ship has two or three masts of equal height, the one that is not the foremast or the mizzenmast.
  • Mast - A (near) vertical pole on a ship which supports sails or rigging. Named, foreward to aft Foremast, Mainmast, Mizzenmast. Where less than three masts are present, the naming depends on the location of the mainmast. Where more than three masts are present (large, late era schooners and clippers, for instance), the mainmasts are named as "foremain", "aftermain" and so on. The mast itself often consists of a number of smaller poles named as follows mainmast, topmast (usually located forward of teh main), topgallantmast (usually located forard of the topmast, but sometimes aft of it), and royalmast. Naming of the sections of the other masts is similar - mizzen, mizzentopmast, mizzenroyal and so on.
  • Masthead - The highest point on a mast. See also Crow's Nest.
  • Mizzenmast (or Mizzen) - The aftmost mast on a vessel, where the aftmost mast is not the mainmast. For example, the third mast on a ship or the second mast on a ketch.
  • Pinrail - a rail to which ropes (typically sheets and halyards) are secured using belaying pins.
  • Poop Deck - A high deck on the aft superstructure of a ship, often the location of the ship's wheel.
  • Port - Towards the left-hand side of the ship facing forward (formerly Larboard). Also, a regular harbor of commerce or seaside city.
  • Ratlines - Horizontal ropes strung between the shrounds of a mast to assist crew in climbing. Also, and particularly in the LEGO context, the ladder formed by a combination of shrouds and ratlines.
  • Rig - The configuration of a ship's sails. See Types of Rigs, below.
  • Rigging - The system of masts and lines on ships and other sailing vessels. See Running Rigging and Standing Rigging.
  • Rudder - The tall flat panel used for stearing a vessel, typically of wood or metal, and attached to the ship's wheel.
  • Running Rigging - Rigging used to manipulate sails, spars, etc. in order to control the movement of the ship. Typically not coated in tar and thus lighter in color than standing rigging.
  • Shrouds - Lines or cables running from a mast to the sides of a ships, generally anchored to the chains. A type of Standing Rigging.
  • Squaresails the more or less rectangular sails flown from arms attached to the masts. From the foot of the mast upwards are: Course, topsail, topgallant, royal, skysail, moonsail. In practice, the setting of any royals was uncommon (particularly on merchant vessels) and the higher sails very rare. The spritsail, a square sail flown below the bowsprit is also a squaresail.
  • Standing Rigging - Rigging which is used to support masts and spars, and is not normally manipulated during normal operations. Includes forestay, backstay, and shrouds. Often coated in tar for protection and thus black in color.
  • Starboard - Towards the right-hand side of a vessel facing forward.
  • Stay - Part of the standing rigging of a vessel, stays support the masts. Generally forestays run from the mast to an an anchoring point on the hull (or forward mast) forward of and in line with the mast, while backstays run from the mast to a point aft of the mast, and either in line with the mast or to points anchoring points on both sides of the hull.
  • Staysail - The generic term for a sail whose leading edge (luff) is attached to a stay. Staysails may be either triangular or four sided. Individual staysails are identified by the stay (and therefore mast) to which they are attached - eg foremast staysail, mizzen topgallant staysail, main topmast staysail.
  • Stern - The rear part of a ship, technically defined as the area built up over the sternpost, extending upwards from the counter to the taffrail.
  • Topgallant - the mast or sails above the tops.
  • Top - A platform located atop a mast section.
  • Topmast - The second section of the mast above the deck; formerly the upper mast, later surmounted by the topgallant mast; carrying the topsails.
  • Topsail - The second sail (counting from the bottom) up a mast. These may be either square sails or (rarely) fore-and-aft ones, in which case they often "fill in" between the mast and the gaff of the sail below. In later years (post 1800) as mast heights increased, the topsail was often replaced by two sails, refered to as lower topsails and upper topsails.
  • Yard - The horizontal spar secured to a mast from which a square sail is suspended.
  • Yardarm - The outermost tip of a yard.

Arms & Armaments

  • Cannon - Any large tubular firearm designed to fire a heavy projectile over a considerable distance.
  • Carronade - A short smoothbore, cast iron cannon, developed by the Carron Iron Works in Scotland and used from the 1770s to the 1860s. Firing a larger ball with less accuracy than a long gun (cannon), they were of limited range and accuracy, but devastating at close range. Often mounted on slides rather than wheeled carriages. Also known as 'smashers'.
  • Chase Guns (also bow-chaser or chase-piece) - Cannons mounted on the bow or stern. Those on the bow could be used to fire upon a ship ahead, while those on the rear could be used to ward off pursuing vessels.
  • Swivel Gun - A small, lightweight cannon, mounted on a swivelling gimbal to allow directional fire. Typically mounted on a rail, gunnel or on a fighting top.

Types of Rigs (sail configurations)

  • Square Rigged - A generic type of sailing vessel in which the primary driving sails are carried on horizontal spars which are perpendicular to the keel of the ship. These spars are called yards the tips of which are called yardarms. Square rig was the main design in the Age of Sail. The LEGO Black Seas Barracuda (6285) is an example of a square rigged vessel.
  • Fore-and-Aft Rigged A sailing layout consisting mainly of sails that are set along the line of the keel rather than perpendicular to it. The Imperial Flagship (6271) is an example of a fore-and-aft rigged vessel (though it does also carry a square topsail).
  • Gaff Rigged - A sailing rig in which a sail is a four-cornered fore-and-aft rigged item controlled at its peak and, usually, its entire head by a spar (pole) called the gaff. The gaff enables a fore and aft sail to be four sided, rather than triangular, and up to doubles the sail area that can be carried by that mast and boom (if a boom is used in the particular rig). The mizzen sail on the Red Beard Runner is gaff rigged.
  • Lateen Rigged - A vessel rigged with triangular sails set on long yardarms mounted at angles on the masts, and running in fore-and-aft directions. The mizzen mast of the Armada Flagship (6291) is lateen rigged.
  • Lug Rigged - A configuration that uses a lugsail; The main difference between the lugsail and square is the location of the yard in relation to the mast. A square sail is lifted with the halyard in the middle of the yard, lifting the sail so it lies evenly on either side of the mast. In the lugger, the halyard is attached much closer to one end or the other of the yard, and when lifted the majority of the sail will lie fore or aft of the mast. Since the yard is only supported near one end, the "free" end hangs down and the "supported" end peaks up. This allows the mast to be shorter than the sail, the peaked yard making up the difference in height. The lugsail is somewhat similar to the gaff rig as well, but the gaff is mounted such that it lies entirely behind the mast, as opposed to both in front and behind as in the lugger. Also, any ship rigged by a LEGO users group.
  • Schooner Rigged - A popular Age of Sail configuration having a triangular topsail over a gaff mainsail. The Skulls Eye Schooner (6286) is not schooner rigged (it is square rigged).
  • Ship Rigged The usual rig for large, Age of Sail vessels, a ship rigged vessel carries square rigged sails on three masts (fore, main and mizzen). The Imperial Flagship (10210) is the only ship rigged minifig scale vessel produced by LEGO. (The U.S.S. Constellation (398/10021) is also ship rigged, but is not minifig scale).

Types of Ships

  • Barque (also Bark) - A ship typically with at least three masts, including a fore-and-aft rigged mizzen mast, and square sails on the fore and main masts. The LEGO Skulls Eye Schooner (6286) can be considered a barque.
  • Barquentine - A sailing ship with three or more masts, and with a square rigged foremast and only fore-and-aft rigged sails on the main, mizzen and any other masts.
  • Bomb - a vessel whose primary armament is one or more mortars. Often a ketch, but also, and particularly into the late Napoleonic era, ship rigged.
  • Brig - a vessel with two square rigged masts, the foremast generally being shorter than the mainmast. The LEGO Black Seas Barracuda (6285/10040)and Red Beard Runner (6290) can be considered brigs.
  • Brigantine - A vessel with two masts, with the foremast is square rigged. Captain Redbeard's Ship (7075) is an example of a Brigantine, the Carribean Clipper (6274) can be considered one too (although no sail is carried on the mizzen).
  • Caravel - A small, maneuverable, two or three-masted ship used by the Portuguese and Spanish for long voyages of exploration beginning in the 15th century.
  • Clipper - A very fast multiple-masted sailing ship of the 19th century. Generally narrow for their length, limited in their bulk freight carrying capacities, and small by later 19th century standards, the clippers had a large relative sail area. The LEGO set Carribean Clipper (6274) is not representative of a true clipper.
  • Cog - A plank built, one mast, square rigged medieval vessel of around the 12th Century. They were characterized by flush-laid flat bottom at midships but gradually shifted to overlapped strakes near the posts. For AFOLs, this is likely to be seen more for Castle themed building.
  • Corvette - A small, maneuverable, lightly armed warship, smaller than a frigate but (often) larger than a sloop-of-war, usually with a single gun deck.
  • Cutter - A small single-masted vessel, fore-and-aft rigged, with two or more headsails, a bowsprit, and a mast set further back than in a sloop. The term cutter is also used in the LEGO community to refer generically to small sailing vessels, such as the one in Imperial Trading Post (6277). Despite the absence of multiple headsails, the original Imperial Flagship (6271) can be considered a cutter.
  • Dhow - A traditional Arab sailing vessel with one or more lateen sails.
  • Flagship - The ship used by the commanding admiral (officers other than admirals are not entitled to a 'flag'... though commodores fly a broad pennant) of a group of naval ships. The originalImperial Flagship (6271) is not an example of a true flagship, however the more recent Imperial Flagship (10210) can be considered a reasonable representation of one.
  • Frigate - Any of several distinct types of warships at different times. It has referred to a variety of ship roles and sizes. From the 18th century, it referred to a ship smaller and faster than a ship-of-the-line, generally used for patrolling and escort work rather than fighting fleet actions.
  • Galleon - A large, multi-decked sailing ship used primarily by the nations of Europe from the 16th to 18th centuries. Whether used for war or commerce, they were generally armed with cannons.
  • Galley - A large vessel powered primarily by oars rather than sails, generally steered by a rudder or steering oar,
  • Junk - A Chinese sailing vessel, originally developed during the Han Dynasty (220 BC-200 AD) and further evolved to one of the most successful ship types in history. The structure and flexibility of junk sails make the junk easy to sail, and fast. Unlike a traditional square rigged ship the sails of a junk can be moved inward, toward the long axis of the ship, allowing the junk to sail into the wind.
  • Ketch - A ship with two masts (main and mizzen), the shorter mizzen mast forward of the rudder post.
  • Longship - A vessel primarily used by the Scandinavian Vikings and the Saxons to raid coastal and inland settlements during the European Middle Ages.
  • Lugger - A small lug rigged sailing vessel setting lugsails on two or more masts and perhaps lug topsails.
  • Man of War - A warship from the Age of Sail.
  • Schooner - a ship with two or more masts, aft-masts as tall or taller than the fore mast , with gaff rigged sails on each mast (and, rarely, with a triangular topsail over the gaff). The LEGO Skulls Eye Schooner (6286) is not an example of a schooner.
  • Ship of the Line - A large warship with three masts (seldom, four, and only ever three by the 18th century) and a bowsprit, 17th through 19th centuries. Imperial Flagship (20210) can be considered a reasonable representation.
  • Sloop - A vessel with a fore-and-aft rig. A sloop carries a single mast stepped farther forward than that of a cutter. The sloop's fore-triangle is smaller than a cutter's. The Renegade Runner (6268) can be considered a sloop.
  • Sloop of War A small ship rigged sailing warship and a single gun deck that carried between ten and eighteen cannons. Used primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries. See also brig-sloop.

Types of Boats

  • Captain's Gig - A boat used on naval ships as the Captain's taxi. In general it was smaller and lighter than the longboat or the pinnace.
  • Catamaran - A type of boat or ship consisting of two hulls joined by a frame. They have been used for millennia in Oceania, where Polynesian catamarans and outrigger canoes allowed seafaring Polynesians to settle the world's most far-flung islands.
  • Dinghy – a small open boat, often with a single sailing mast.
  • Jolly Boat – a small open boat, generally the smallest carried by a larger vessel, and generally rowed with a single pair of oars.
  • Launch - Any of a number of boats, generally oar powered, used to ferry crew to shore when anchored, and typically the largest boat carried by a man-of-war.
  • Longboat - An open, primarily rowing, boat with eight or ten oarsmen, two per thwart.
  • Pinnace - A boat associated with some kind of larger vessel.
  • Raft - Any flat floating structure for travel over water. It is the most basic of boat design, characterized by the absence of a hull. Instead, rafts are kept afloat using any combination of buoyant materials such as wood, sealed barrels, or inflated air chambers. In official LEGO Pirates sets, rafts have been particularly popular as smaller sets of the line.
  • Skiff - A small flat-bottomed open boat with a pointed bow and square stern. This is arguably what the standard LEGO row boat represents.
  • Whaleboat - A type of open boat that is relatively narrow and pointed at both ends, enabling it to move either forwards or backwards equally well. It was originally developed for whaling.

Ranks and Roles

The following are some to the key ranks and roles used in the 'pirate era'. Naval references aim to be generic, but are based on Royal Navy usage, which is commonly used in popular fiction, and popular amongst LEGO fans.

  • Captain The captain is the ultimate authority aboard ship and is in control over its actions, although he may be directed by an admiral or commodore (or even a senior captain) if in a navy, or by the vessel's owner (in the case of a merchantman). Captain is also the form of address used toward the ultimate authority of a vessel, even if that person is not a captain in rank. (For instance, the Commander of a sloop-of-war would be referred to and addressed as 'captain' by his officers and crew).
  • Captain Under Commodore A Captain responsible for the operation of a ship in which the Commodore flew his broad pennant, whereas the Commodore was responsible for the squadron as a whole.
  • Commander (short for Master and Commander) A Commander typically commands a sloop-of-war. If appointed to a smaller vessel (eg a brig), it is refered to as a sloop for the duration of the command. By courtesy, a Commander is addressed as Captain by his officers and crew. A commander is entitled to wear a single epaulette on his left shoulder.
  • Commmodore While not a formal rank during the pirate era (and in fact not a rank in the Royal Navy until after WWII), a commodore or capitan d'escadre is the title given to a captain who has the formal command of a squadron. The Commodore may be the captain of his own vessel, or he may be a 'Commodore with a Captain under him', in which case he directs the actions of the squadron, but not the day-to-day functioning of the vessel he is present in. A commodore flies a broad pennant. A Commodore may have had a Captain under him (See Captain Under Commodore above), but that would depend on the size of the command and his orders.
  • Flag Captain A captain commanding a flagship. The Flag Captain was responsible for the opportation of the ship, whereas the Admiral for the whole fleet/flotilla/squadron as appropriate.
  • Sailing Master or Master. Not to be confused with Master and Commander, the sailing master is a warrant officer who is charged with the sailing of the vessel.

Source Credit

Though edited and organized by the author in Brickwiki, many of the original entries in this article are borrowed directly from the Wikipedia sources listed above.

This page (Pirate glossary) is (all or in part) copied from Wikipedia. It is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License version 1.2. It uses or incorporates material from the Wikipedia article Pirate glossary.


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