Image Map 18th & Early 19th Century Sailing Vessels
From the mid-18th century, most European nations divided their principal warships into six 'rates' or divisions, according to the number of guns they carried. The first rate ships carried from 100 (after 1810 this inceased to 110) guns upwards; the second rates carried from 84 )later 90) to 100 (110); third rates 70 (80) to 84 (90); fourth rates 50 (60); fifth rates 32 to 50 (60); and sixth rates, any number of guns up to 32 if commanded by a post-captain. Such ships when commanded by a commander were rated as 'sloops'.

The first three rates, and occasionally the fourth, were recognised as 'ships of the line', that is, vessels with armaments sufficiently powerful to be able to form up in the line of battle during a naval engagement. Fifth and sixth rate ships were known as frigates whose duties were varied, ranging from active participation battle as signal repeating ships to convoy duty. All six rates of ships had the standard three masts, square-rigged on each mast. There were subsidiary smaller types of vessels such as brigs, sloops, tenders, snows etc. whose duties were outside the scope and range of the main battle fleets.

Merchant Ships
Sea-going merchant ships were generally built on the same principles as warships, with the same system of framing and planking, and similar principles of rigging. Vessels of more than about 250 tons were generally ship rigged, with three masts. For vessels between 80 and 250 tons, the brig rig was favoured. Smaller vessels generally used either the sloop rig, with a single fore and aft-rigged mast, or the schooner rig, fore and aft with two or more masts.

The largest merchant ships were the East Indiamen, in three broad classes, of 1200 tons, 800 tons, or 500 tons.

Privateers were privately owned men-of-war, sponsored by merchants and allowed to seize vessels and goods belonging to enemy nations. They were neither paid for nor controlled by their respective governments, though if they possessed a 'letter of marque' privateers could operate within the protection of their nation's legal system.

Without a letter of marque a privateer was merely a pirate vessel, and its crew, if captured, were liable to be hanged as pirates rather than treated as prisoners of war. The number of letters of marque issued by the British Admiralty varied considerably during the Napoleonic War period:

1803 --- 861
1810 --- 167
The practice of licensing privateers was very often a highly profitable exercise, though many of them were not too particular about the nationality of the ships that they attacked and seized; in fact acting more like pirates than privateers. This was a form of warfare that was criticized by all navies of the period, in particular, because the profits from a successful privateering voyage were a much stronger inducement to seamen than service in the navy.

Ship's Boats
The reliance of sailing ships on the wind for propulsion meant that boats were needed for many reasons - for carrying men ashore, for moving the ship by means of cables and anchors, for communicating between ships (and between ship and shore), and for bringing stores and water aboard. Several types of ship's boats were required and each had a separate function or use. The largest boat was the launch which was well adapted for carrying heavy weights. A barge was narrower, and often longer than a launch, and was intended mainly for rowing - and was the preferred vessel for carrying naval officers ashore and transferring officials parties. A pinnace was slightly smaller than a barge, and had fewer oars. Cutters were good sea boats, clinker built, and an indispensable part of every ship's equipment.

Most ship's boats were designed for both rowing and sailing, though, in general, some were more suitable at one than the other. Pinnaces and barges were used primarily for rowing, while cutters were better at sailing. Captains often added other types of boats according to size and availability - these could include a jollyboat (which was essentially a small cutter) and a gig. The larger boats were stored in the waist of the ship, while cutters and jollyboats were stowed near, or suspended from the stern on davits where they could be released easily (and quickly in the case of an emergency). Lachlan Macquarie was familiar with all types of ship's boats, including a fortunate escape from drowning in a pinnace while being rowed ashore at Abushehr in the Persian Gulf on 16 April 1807.

In 1794 the Transport Board was established to organise the hire of merchant ships for naval and military purposes as well as to organise the tendering of vessels for transferring convicts and stores to New South Wales.

Hired transports were fairly typical merchant vessels, with an average burthen of about 250 tons. The ships were usually chartered for a period of three or six months with the possibility of an extension - and among the advantages for both owners and crew was the legal protection that crew members could not be 'pressed' into naval service.

Types of Vessels:

Barge: a boat of a long, slight and spacious construction.

Barque: a sailing vessel with three masts, square-rigged on the fore and main and with only fore-and-aft sails on her mizzen mast.

Boat: any small open craft without decking and propelled by oars, sometimes assisted by a small lugsail on a short mast.

Brig: a two-masted square-rigged vessel, a brigantine.

Cutter: a one-masted vessel rigged with a gaff mainsail, topsail, headsails and usually a square topsail. The name is derived from their fast sailing.

East Indiaman: the name given to the ships of the various East India companies. Ships of these companies were highly gilded and decorated with carving and were often well furnished for the comfort of passengers and crew as well providing large cargo space. They were always well armed as warships for protection against pirates and the warships of other nations. The English and Dutch companies built and serviced their own ships and maintained them in their own private dockyards.

Fireship: specialised vessel converted or built for the purpose of attacking moored or disabled vessels.

Frigate: (1) a large sloop of 16 or 18 guns, (2) any small cruising warship.

Gig: a light, narrow ship's boat, built for speed.

Hospital Ship: an old warship or merchantman converted to serve as a floating hospital, usually to accompany a fleet or to be moored as a hulk. [Not purpose built during this period].

Hoy: a small single masted sailing cargo vessel - used as a dockyard craft.

Hulk: a dismasted ship, usually old and past active service, used as a receiving ship, sheer hulk, hospital or accommodation ship, or stationary storeship.

Jollyboat: a small ship's boat, used for a variety of purposes. It was clinker-built, propelled by oars, and was normally hoisted on a davit at the stern of the ship.

Ketch: a vessel fitted with two masts (i.e. the main and mizzen masts).

Lazarette (or lazaretto): a hulk used as accommodation for seamen undergoing quarantine (to prevent or limit the spread of plague and other infectious diseases between ship and shore).

Lighter: a large, open, flat-bottomed boat, with heavy bearings, employed to carry goods to and from ships.

Longboat: the largest ship's boat.

Lugger: a small vessel with four-cornered cut sails, set fore-and-aft, and may have two or three masts.

Lump: a short, heavy lighter used in Dockyards for carrying anchors, chains and heavy stores to and from ships..

Packet: a small vessel usually employed to carry mails between ports.

Pinnace: a type of ship's boat which was rowed with eight oars (later increased in length to take sixteen oars).

Powder hulk: a vessel for storing and issuing gunpowder - preferably moored at a safe distance from the dockyard to which they were attached.

Privateer: an armed merchant ship, licensed by a letter of marque to cruise against enemy ships to her owners' profit.

Prize: name used to describe an enemy vessel captured at sea by a ship of war or a privateer. The word is also used to describe a contraband cargo taken from a merchant vessel and condemned in an Admiralty Court.

Schooner: a small vessel rigged with fore-and-aft sails on her two or more masts; largely used in the coasting trade - they required a smaller crew than a square-rigged vessel of comparable size.

Sheer hulk: a vessel fitted with a pair of 'sheer legs' (two large spars formed into an 'A frame') to hoist masts in and out of vessels; in effect, a 'floating crane'.

Ship: from the Old English scip, the generic name for sea-going vessels (as opposed to boats). Originally ships were personified as masculine but by the sixteenth century almost universally expressed as feminine. In strict maritime usage signified a vessel square-rigged on three masts.

Ship of the line: a line-of-battle ship.

Sloop: a small man-of-war, rigged as a ship, brig or ketch.

Smack: a small fore and aft rigged single masted coastal craft.

Snow: a small square-rigged vessel (similar to a brig) with a supplementary trysail mast.

Storeship: a ship intended to carry naval stores (spars, timber cordage, tar, etc. - all the material needed to repair naval warships) In contast a Transport was intended to carry men. Storeships were auxiliary vessels wit ha small defensive armament. Most were converted from merchantmen, though in some instances they were pupose-built or converted from first-line fighting vessels of different types.

Tank vessel: Dockyard craft fitted with iron tanks and pumps to provide water to ships in harbour.

Tender: a vessel employed to assist or serve another, an auxiliary vessel.

Transport: a cargo vessel engaged by the government to convey troops, convicts, or stores, [invariably these were chartered merchantmen - the Navy owned and manned only a small number].

Troopship: a ship converted to carry troops. It could be a regular warship or a converted merchantman.

Whaleboat: the name given to an open boat, pointed at both ends so that it was convenient for beaching either on the bow end or the stern. Used under oars, and had no rudder - steered by an oar over the stern. The whaling ship, according to its size, carried as many as six or eight whaleboats.

Whaler: the name used for the vessel, with its complement of whaleboats, which sailed to catch whales with hand-thrown harpoons.

Wherry: a light rowing boat used chiefly on rivers for the carriage of passengers and goods; also a shallow single sail boat indigenous to the Norfolk broads (East Anglia).


LYON, David. The Sailing Navy List: all the ships of the Royal Navy - built, purchased and captured 1688 - 1860. London: Conway Maritime Press, 1993 pp.xi-xv.

LYON, David and WINFIELD, Rif. The Sail & Steam Navy List: all the ships of the Royal Navy 1815-1889. London: Chatham Publishing, 2004 pp.9-11

The Oxford Companion to Ships & the Sea. (ed.) Peter Kemp. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976.

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