Piratical Punishments

What happened to the luckless
fool who crossed a pirate?

So your kid is running around pretending to be a Pirate, and now the little loin-fruit wants to head for the high seas, not Dental School?

Well, here are some short backgrounds of some well-known pirates that ought to scare them straight, or at the very least motivate them not to get caught!

Flogging with cat o' nine tails (or rope end)

As flogging was common naval method of enforcing discipline in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, flogging was therefore specifically outlawed on some pirate ships.

Tying to the Mast

Described in a court transcript in graphic detail for the benefit of newspaper readers at "The Tryal of Captain Jeane" of (1726). A lad aged 18 signed on to Jeane’s merchantman ship and was assigned duties as the Captain’s cabin boy. Accused of stealing a dram of rum from the Captain’s quarters, whipped, pickled in brine and for nine days and nights was tied to the main mast, his arms and legs being extended at full Length; this did not satisfy the sadistic Captain, who had his former Cabin Boy untied and laid along the Gangway, where he trod upon him and encouraged all the Men to do the same. The Men refused and Captain Jeane was hanged.

Dunking from the Yard Arm

A traditional ceremony when crossing the equator, a sailor is attached to a spar which is hoisted high above the ocean and dunked repeatedly into the ocean, he’s attached so that he does not let go his grip with the surprise of hitting the water. A functional ceremony given primitive shipboard sanitation. The naval term "heads" refers to a hole in the head of ship for excretion purposes…

Sold in slavery

Piracy was both a rebellion and an economic activity. Pirates were not above selling shipmates as slaves, particularly those who had become outsiders whilst in a pirate company because they had transgressed the pirate codes or agreements. Selling a shipmate into slavery had a clear economic benefit to the ship's company.

Walking the plank

The offender could be blindfolded with hands tied behind the back and made to walk overboard. Not as common as its feared reputation.


The offender, sometimes stripped naked, was abandoned without fresh water on a desert isle such as one of the Tortugas, a group of flat coral reef islands north of Cuba and off the south of the Florida Keys (also known as Cays).  A token of mercy was to be given a firearm or knife, to withhold such means to a swift end was a particular torment.


The most feared pirate punishment of all: a rope was passed under the ship from side to side as would be used for scraping barnacles off the ship's keel. The offender to be keelhauled was attached to the rope and thrown overboard and the rope pulled so as to force the offender underwater, underneath the ship's hull and up the other side. The razor sharp barnacles would cut into the unfortunate sailor like a saw's edge, causing great pain.  The victim might surface, gasp for air and taunting by his pirate comrades and then be keelhauled back underwater for another run.  By all imagining, this would likely be one of the slowest and most painful ways to be killed aboard ship.

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